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Re: Microformats and Semantic structure (Part 2)

From: Charles McCathieNevile <chaals@opera.com>
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 11:21:09 +0900
To: "John Foliot" <jfoliot@stanford.edu>, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <op.tg8jhjinwxe0ny@widsith.local>

My good friend John Foliot <jfoliot@stanford.edu> wrote:

> In the context of the discussion of web accessibility, while the first
> concept of "semantic" is important to AT (in a "...if it's a list, mark  
> it
> as a list, don't make a table with 5 rows and 2 columns so that the first
> cell has a bullet and the second some text..." kind of way), the second
> concept of The Semantic Web has not yet (again, AFAIK) been taken up by
> developers and vendors of AT products - although that is an exciting  
> idea in itself.

Well, it is the idea behind the recently announced "ARIA" work from WAI.  
UBAccess and IBM were both working on this last century (probably along  
with others), which might be why they are leading the work today. And yes,  
it is an exciting idea, and it is heavily based in RDF.

> And so while I whole-heartedly agree that "Semantic Web" constructs such  
> as Microformats have their place, I still hope for and maintain that  
> clear
> structural semantics (of the old school variety) are critical for the
> current (and foreseeable future) crop of alternative user-agents and
> Adaptive Technologies.  What we don't need (IMHO) is a web where  
> everything is simply a <div> with some extraneous Microformats style
> association added
> to it.  RDF is cool and all, but there still needs to be a place for  
> human consumable content... It's not all just machines talking to
> machines.
> The statement "...<div class="paragraph"> does not equal <p>..." still
> stands!

Strongly agreed.

There is a potential problem with microformats. While they are a simple  
"poor man's semantic web" that anyone can do, they end up keeping you  
poor. There is no decentralisation process, no formal schema, that can a  
priori disambiguate the use of "date" ('things given', in italian) from  
"date" (the boy or girl we are proposing you go meet). If we assume that  
everyone will make the same use of a free text naming scheme, 2500 years  
of experience suggests we should look more carefully at what we have in  
our pipe and think again. Even with the (in my opinion naive to the point  
of incredibly stupid) assumption that people will always use english in  
the value space.

The greater their success, the more they may doom us to moving on from  
HTML as we love it, unless there is a strict use of the profile attribute  
(or analgous mechanism) to clearly disambiguate and allow validation and  
an out-of-band but automatically processable formal definition of the  
grammar and semantics of a given microformat (or a total centralisation of  
the allowable values of the class attribute) - just the sort of thing that  
simple stuff like microformats starts out trying to avoid. Making the  
decision whether we have gone below the threshold of "as simple as  
possible *but no simpler*" is never easy, but it is not clear to me that  
microformats gets it quite right enough.

Still. The above involves a bit of crystal-ball gazing, and could well  
turn out to be incorrect, since human history and logic are only sometime  
bedfellows, and since there are always assumptions that may prove to have  
been ill-founded.


   Charles McCathieNevile, Opera Software: Standards Group
   hablo español  -  je parle français  -  jeg lærer norsk
chaals@opera.com          Try Opera 9 now! http://opera.com
Received on Wednesday, 11 October 2006 02:21:30 UTC

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