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RE: Paving Cowpaths

From: Dailey, David P. <david.dailey@sru.edu>
Date: Thu, 17 May 2007 16:07:44 -0400
Message-ID: <1835D662B263BC4E864A7CFAB2FEEB3D258C0F@msfexch01.srunet.sruad.edu>
To: "Debi Orton" <oradnio@gmail.com>, <public-html@w3.org>

On Thu 5/17/2007 12:15 PM Debi Orton wrote:

>All it takes is one misinformed programmer working for a
>tool vendor and voila -- instant cowpath.

>I do hope we exercise some caution on which cowpaths to pave and
>which to close down.

In my mind there are sorta two different things that a spec provides (and probably more):

1. Instructions to folks who make browsers

2. Instructions to folks who make web pages

I would like for the folks who make the browsers (and other UA's)  to make browsers that have lots of fault tolerance. I don't really want pages that I wrote 10 years ago under very different assumptions about "good authoring" to become inaccessible because of changes in those assumptions. Backward compatability is nice. If a standard can help to promote backward compatabilty and cross-browser consistency that is all good for both authors and browser makers.

On the other hand, I think a clear and authoritative voice for what constitutes "best practice" is utterly welcome. When an author needs to figure out how to do something that works across browsers and finds that the six texts published in the past three years (hence written in the six years) have no advice on some curiosity of markup/DOM/script/style, what do they do? Following hours of experimentation, they are tempted to search the web, where, if lucky, they will find a path from A to B simply because the odor the cows have left behind appeals to a search engine's olfaction*. Does this constitute  "a best practice"? Perhaps not.

If the working group produces not just a spec, but a guide to authors, then perhaps continued support for legacy content need not trouble the forward-thinking author. We tend not to discard Shakespeare just because his barely modern English is oft mispelt. Saying that Shakespeare is worth keeping in the libraries does not mean we should re-introduce the usage of "thou" , "thee" , "thy", "thine" into our grammar school curricula. (We now have ya'll, you's and you'ns to take their place.)

I do get the sense that the good folks from Apple, Mozilla, Opera, Nokia, Microsoft, AOL etc. are not trying to encourage the use of bad grammar, but merely a tolerance for how the dialects of the language and its various specialized vocabularies might have changed over time. HTML as a successful medium for human communication shares much in common with other human languages -- successful ones tend to evolve. 

Indeed let us make sure that once the browsers all agree on how content should be rendered, that we empower authors to learn how best to produce exactly the best kind of content to meet that specification.

The "tutorial development, quick reference, course materials, ..." part of our work, as Murray Maloney says "is a huge undertaking. Bigger than the actual specification by far. And more difficult to manage because of the dependencies." http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-archive/2007Apr/0076.html

It is also, in my estimation, a vital companion piece of the work to be done. Maybe that'll be the place for those of strong pedagogical convictions to have the biggest impact.


* Certain grasses in the diet, for example, may be more likely to produce methane than others. 
Received on Thursday, 17 May 2007 20:07:53 UTC

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