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Re: Clarification of rational for deprecation of @longdesc and @summary

From: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Date: Tue, 5 Feb 2008 19:40:40 +0000 (UTC)
To: Joshue O Connor <joshue.oconnor@cfit.ie>
Cc: HTML WG <public-html@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.62.0802051929340.20115@hixie.dreamhostps.com>

On Tue, 5 Feb 2008, Joshue O Connor wrote:
> I am wondering if you could expand a little on your response.
> > I also think longdesc="" and summary="" have thought us that placing 
> > attributes for specific disabilities into the language itself will 
> > result in overwhelming abuse to the point where the target audience of 
> > those features actually have to turn them off.
> I guess you are referring to using @summary for black hat SEO, but even
> so, is this a solid enough reason to drop it from the HTML 5 spec?

The summary="" attribute hasn't been studied as carefully as longdesc="", 
so it's probably easiest to look at the longdesc="" data (though 
eventually we will of course have to look at summary="" specifically as 
well). For longdesc="", it's pretty clear that the attribute is used so 
rarely, and when used, is so overwhelmingly often used in a way that would 
annoy users, that I simply cannot see a scenario on the open Web where a 
user would actually benefit from a user agent impementing the longdesc="" 
attribute. I would imagine that summary="" (and other attributes, as in 
the context of my original missive) would be subject to similar abuse. 
Obviously, for existing attributes, we would have to continue doing 
research to determine whether the attribute is used usefully enough to be 
usable; for new attributes, we have to use our design judgement based on 
research and experience with existing features.

Mark Pilgrim summarised the longdesc="" research in his controversial 
article on the WHATWG blog:


> FWIW @summary is a very, very practical and useful attribute for screen 
> reader users

Well, as noted above, I haven't yet done much research on summary="", it's 
waiting with all the other table issues. However, with all due respect, 
one of the most convincing pieces of research I have seen examining 
summary="" -- and most excellent research it was -- was your own usability 
study video, which showed a screen reader user dismiss summary="" out of 
hand as being useless and annoying (paraphrasing from memory). Indeed, in 
that video, it was only after prompting that the subject acknowledged that 
the attribute could theoretically have some use. When the target audience 
dismisses the feature, and the authors dismiss the feature, and the only 
people left saying that the feature is useful are self-appointed advocates 
for the feature (no offense intended, I'm a self-appointed editor!), it is 
usually worth reconsidering whether anyone is really benefitting from the 
feature. (With summary="", though, I haven't yet studied enough data to 
really be able to say with certainty what the conclusion should be.)

> Surely even new and hitherto undreamed of attributes and elements are 
> potentially as susceptible to misuse - but is this a solid reason for 
> not developing them?

We must design a language that is more likely to be used correctly than 
wrongly, yes.

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'
Received on Tuesday, 5 February 2008 19:40:54 UTC

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