Re: relevance of diverse HTML authoring practices [was: Versioning re-visited ...]

scott lewis wrote:

> What use is HTML except as a set of directions to a UA? 

The use of HTML is to mark up the semantics of a hypertext document.
One deployment of such a document is to render it through a user
agent; but just because that is the primary deployment does not
mean that there are not others (indexing (a la Google), data
mining, typesetting are just three that come immediately to mind).

> How does hiding  the way a UA will process the mark-up from the 
 > author improve things for  her?

Where have I suggested hiding anything ?

That is to say, what intrinsic value does:
>     <ul><li>one<li>two<li>three</ul>
> have? 

Very little.  If it were marked up as

 >     <ul><li>one</li><li>two</li><li>three</li></ul>

it would be immediately clear that it is an ordered list with
three list items.  Even

>     <ul><li>one</><li>two</><li>three</></ul>

indicates this more clearly than your original markup,
despite the sad fact that it is still poorly (if at
all) supported in current browsers.

> The fact that it should be displayed as a bulleted list is a 
> processing requirement for the UA.

What does "displayed as a bulleted list" mean for someone
using an aural rendering ?

> The semantic meaning of "an unordered 
> list with three items" is a processing requirement. I don't understand 
> how HTML could be defined properly in the absence of describing UA 
> behaviour.

All that is necessary is to describe the semantics, and suggest
appropriate renderings for a variety of common media.

> Please correct me if I am wrong about this, but it sounds as if you want 
> to discard the current draft, replace it with HTML 4.01 Strict and then 
> restart the review process from that point.

Absolutely.  I believe that there would be far more concorde
had this been the starting point and evolutionary route.
As it is, we are presented with a starting point that represents
consensus amongst a relatively small group of people (the WHAT WG),
and -- with all due respect -- an apparently dogged determination
on their part to defend their position come what may.

Had we started with HTML 4.01 Strict and worked through it
element by element, identifying where there was near consensus
that an element be retained, rejected or modified, and where there
was noticeable lack of consensus, I also believe that we might
be considerably closer to producing a useful report on the
state of play than we appear to be at the moment.

> The behaviour of the UAs would be defined by the "UA Behaviour 
> Specification", not by the "HTML Author Specification". Thus anything 
> mentioned in the Author Spec that is not precisely duplicated in the UA 
> Spec would not be implemented by the UAs. Even if the Author Spec was 
> just a copy of the UA Spec with commentary, that commentary could alter 
> the interpretation of the spec in a way that would not be reflected in 
> the UA Spec, and thus not implemented in UAs. The greater the difference 
> between the two specs, the greater the likelihood of irreconcilable 
> differences. 

The two specifications are totally different : one defines what is,
and what is not, a valid production in the language, and ascribes
semantics to those productions that are valid.  The other defines
(actually I prefer the word "suggests") how valid productions are
to be rendered, and provides /guidance/ as to how invalid productions
might best be handled.

> Which is precisely the situation we are in today, with the 
> UAs implementing a poorly defined de facto specification that differs 
> from the HTML4 and XHTML1 specifications provided to authors.

And with whom do you lay the blame for this ?

> We are not defining a new language, we are refining an existing one. To 
> borrow your programming language metaphor: if the majority of programs 
> written in that language define common subroutines, that indicates there 
> is a shortcoming in the language that would be filled by adding those 
> subroutines to the standard library. Or, to put it another way: if 
> everyone cuts over a corner of the lawn, you would be better off paving 
> that corner rather than posting more signs saying 'keep off the grass'.

Everyone speeds (modulo epsilon, for very small epsilon); but
speed limits tend to be reduced over time, rather than raised.

> The current state of the web was created in spite of the existence of 
> HTML 4.01 Strict.  This tells us that, faced with a spec that does not
> provide what they want, authors will choose to ignore the spec in favour 
> of non-conforming documents that work in popular browsers and do do what 
> the author wants.  Thus, if we want to see the number of conforming HTML
> documents increase, we would be well advised to adjust the spec in 
> favour of actual practice, not theoretical perfection.

So you would recommend to your legislature that the legal code
be based not on justice, ethics, equality and morality, but on
the typical behaviour of "the man in the street".  Well, if it's
all the same to you, I'd prefer to live in a country where
Parliament understands that "the common man" doesn't always know

Philip Taylor

Received on Monday, 25 June 2007 20:45:51 UTC