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The History of <aside> for sidebars (was: Re: HTML5 feedback from prominent designers)

From: Lachlan Hunt <lachlan.hunt@lachy.id.au>
Date: Fri, 04 Sep 2009 14:51:25 +0200
Message-ID: <4AA10D4D.40009@lachy.id.au>
To: Jonas Sicking <jonas@sicking.cc>
Cc: James Graham <jgraham@opera.com>, public-html@w3.org
Jonas Sicking wrote:
> James Graham wrote:
>> Hmm, possibly I'm weird because there is no way that I get from the term
>> "aside" to "sidebar". I would really be interested to know how you make that
>> connection because (apart from the obvious fact that "side" is a substring
>> of both words) I honestly don't see it. Indeed I assumed for a long time
>> that<aisde>  mean "pullout" rather than "sidebar" even though I must have
>> been involved with discussions where it was mentioned that it could be used
>> for a sidebar.

Originally, the element was named <sidebar>, and it was introduced to 
address the common case of left and right columns, of which one of the 
most common names classes/ids was "sidebar".  The first email I found 
indicating the intention to add it is here, where it says:

| Yeah, <header> and <footer> or similar elements are almost certainly
| going to be defined at some point, along with <content> (for the main
| body of the page), <entry> or <post> or <article> to refer to a unit
| of text bigger than a section but smaller than a page, <sidebar> to
| mean a, well, side bar, <note> to mean a note... and so forth.


(Interestingly, that also appears to be the first suggestion for the 
introduction of a <content> element for the main content of the page, 
but the idea appears to have been dropped)

It's intended use for the purpose of page level side bars is confirmed 
by this e-mail:


Which references this analysis of common naming conventions showing the 
use of "sidebar" for naming left and right columns.


It's meaning then seems to have been broadened to encompass more forms 
of "tangentially related content" and the apparent reason for changing 
the name of <sidebar> and the suggestion to rename it to <aside> is here.


There doesn't appear to be any further discussion about the name before 
it was changed, but other e-mails from a few days after that seem to 
describe it as:

| <aside> is for what are typically rendered in printed media as
| floating sidebars. Short inline comments are catered for by the
|  "title" attribute:
|     <p>Put the disc in the <span title="that cup holder thingie">cd
|     drive</span></p>
|  ...or, more typically, simply by marking the comment with
|  parentheses, as you did in your example:
|     <p>Put the disc in the cd drive (that cup holder thingie)</p>


And then another e-mail again still seems to suggest that it's still 
suitable as a page sidebar.


However, given what the spec currently says about <aside>, it's clear 
that there's been a gradual shift in meaning a page sidebar to more 
general forms of asides.

> I feel the same way. Not sure if this is because of the fact that
> English isn't my first language or not. (Though I suspect most web
> authors doesn't have english as first language). I always thought of
> <aside>  as being used for footnotes and floating "infoboxes".
>> I am still unconvinced the semantic or UA-behaviour overlap between the two
>> cases (sidebar vs pullout) is great enough that a single element for both
>> makes sense.

I can understand the argument about how the content of a typical page's 
sidebar is tangentially related to the other content in the page.  But 
it's clear that the use case of a pullout-type aside is conceptually 
different from that of a page sidebar, and for that reason, I think it 
might be worth reintroducing the <sidebar> element as a distinct 
sectioning element, and limiting the uses of <aside> to things like 
pullouts, footnotes and other non-sidebar uses.

> Agreed. One thing that I'm wondering is if sidebars aren't really
> <header>s, from a semantic point of view. Looking at wikipedia for
> example, it seems like the sidebar is basically just a<header>  laid
> out to the side.

Look at most blogs and you'll see better examples of sidebars.  They 
often contain things like blogrolls and archive links, search forms, 
latest twitter status, etc. which would be inappropriate for a header.

Lachlan Hunt - Opera Software
Received on Friday, 4 September 2009 12:52:13 UTC

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