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[whatwg] The utility function for semantics in HTML

From: Matthew Paul Thomas <mpt@myrealbox.com>
Date: Sat, 4 Nov 2006 08:00:09 -0800
Message-ID: <8547a65ef824e15ed858fb636872b30b@myrealbox.com>
On Nov 1, 2006, at 11:55 AM, James Graham wrote:
> ...
> To take a slight detour into the (hopefully not too) abstract, what do 
> people think the fundamental point of semantics in HTML is?

To maximize the utility (usefulness) of documents using it. But this is 
a complicated function.

*   Less presentational -> more medium-independent -> accessible to more
     people -> greater utility. (Examples: people using screenreaders or
     search engines.)

*   More semantic -> harder to learn and understand -> fewer documents
     using it -> less utility. (Example: DocBook.)

*   More semantic -> harder to learn -> simpler alternatives invented
     -> learning and/or transcoding-to-HTML effort required -> less
     utility. (Examples: Markdown, BBCode, the various
     partly-incompatible wiki syntaxes, and any Web comment form that
     allows -- or doesn't convey whether it allows -- a subset of HTML.)

*   More semantic -> more machine-analyzable -> greater utility.
     (Examples: Google's PageRank with <a>, Google Sets with <ul>.)

*   Less presentational -> more semantically-misused -> less
     machine-analyzable -> less utility. (Example: XHTML2's attempt to
     kill <b> and <i>, resulting in more misuse of <strong> and <em>.)

Many people concentrate on one or two of these effects and gloss over 
the others, so their idea of the overall utility function is warped.

Matthew Paul Thomas
Received on Saturday, 4 November 2006 08:00:09 UTC

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