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RE: "Text-Only" Versions Considered Harmful

From: Wayne Myers <wayne.myers@bbc.co.uk>
Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 17:11:38 -0000
Message-ID: <6F99E54D359CD3119FAF0001FA7ED9500178FE72@w12wcedxu02.wc.bbc.co.uk>
To: "'Jon Hanna'" <jon@spinsol.com>, WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Dear Jon,

A good article in terms of kicking off some discussion of the topic. I don't
think I agree with much of it. Obviously... disclaimer: I wrote a thing
called Betsie which provides an on-the-fly text-only view of the BBC website
and others.

The quick version of my objection to the article is that you are confusing
poorly implemented text only versions of sites with the overall concept.

I agree that a poorly implemented text only version of a site is harmful. I
do not agree that there is anything intrinsically wrong with a text only
version of a site, and further, regardless of the accessibility issues - as
long as there are Lynx users like myself around, there will always be a need
for a text-only optimised view of websites. A text-only view need not be a
'ghetto' and indeed will not be, provided it is properly created as an
on-the-fly re-rendering of the core data through either stylesheets or a
filter such as Betsie.

Here's are more detailed set of replies to some of your arguments.

"Text-only makes false assumptions about users"

Not true. You are correct in that there may be some providers of text-only
versions of sites who believe, wrongly, that they have therefore 'complied'
with all necessary accessibility guidelines, but you are wrong to say that
text-only is in any way intrinsic to this wrong belief. A text-only version
of a site can contribute to the overall accessibility of a site as part of
an overall accessibility strategy, and if it is produced in a sensible way
(eg on the fly, rather than maintained as a seperate version), there are
many users who will prefer this view, for whatever reason. Making false
assumptions about users is bad. Text-only has nothing to do with that.

"Text only encourages bad practice"

Your body text here assumes that the text only view of a site is being
maintained as a seperate set of documents. Yup. That's bad practice. But
that's also the wrong way to have text-only - you either have a style-sheet
based text-only view or use a text-only transform tool like Betsie. In that
way, text only actually encourages *good* practice, since writers of the one
source document have to think about the multiple views it may be rendered

"Text only links can be lost"

So what? A site can be poorly designed in a number of ways. This has nothing
intrinsic to do with text only.

"Text only sites do not guarantee accessibility"

Sure. And no-one is saying that they do. But they don't half help in many
cases. You say "it is perfectly possible to make a site which contains no
graphical elements, and yet is still inaccessible to some users," which is
true, but which does not constitute an argument against text-only.

As it happens, since this is the case, having a text only view of a site
forces designers to think more about the text only view that is created -
it's pointless if it still doesn't work, after all - which, to my mind,
becomes an argument for text only. If a designer believes in the myth of one
type of rendering of their page, they may be liable to fall into a number of
accessibility errors. If they know from the outset that there will be a
number of different renderings of their pages, and these renderings can be
shown to them, they will have to think far harder about how they code what
they code and why.

"A "text-only" link increases the number of links to be followed by one for
every resource."

Again, this is not an argument, because it is not necessarily the case. A
site where a users preference for the text only view is retained in a cookie
(as the next version of Betsie will... :) will not suffer from this.

"The extra effort involved in producing the text version of the site was

If the text version of the site is maintained as a seperate collection of
documents, this would be quite right. Since a sensible text version of the
site is maintained as an automatically generated view of the 'original' or
'master' data, this is not an argument against text only, just an argument
against badly done text only.

"Text Only Is A Poor Use of Technology"

This is a highly arguable statement, which seems to ignore the possibility
that the text only view is being created on the fly from the original
document set. Along, perhaps, with other 'different' views appropriate for
various contexts. You say that "any good graphical design should work well
as text," but this itself makes the assumption that the design is somehow
intrinsically *graphical*. Why on earth should that be the case? If the
design of webpages is intrinsically anything, it is intrinsically text based
- hit view source if you don't believe me - but better yet to think of it as
intrinsically *code* based, and then get that code to perform well when
rendered in graphical, text-only, audio or whatever other environments the
pages may be rendered under.

"Text Only makes false assumptions about text-based users... Website
designers often assume that text-only users are all blind, and that there
are no circumstances in which a blind person may wish to download a

You are confusing your argument against poorly implemented text only with an
argument against text only itself. So you have no argument. Sorry. Looks
like you are making false assumptions about implementors of text-only
views... :)

Cheers etc.,


Wayne Myers
Betsie Project
BBC Interactive F+L (same department as before with shiny new name)

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Received on Friday, 16 February 2001 12:11:51 UTC

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