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Re: ***DHSPAM*** Re: Request for clarification of the case where 'the image isn't discussed by the surrounding text, but it has some relevance'

From: Ben Boyle <benjamins.boyle@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 2008 00:57:36 +1000
Message-ID: <5f37426b0808250757j624931e8vbf517baa04481ef3@mail.gmail.com>
To: public-html@w3.org
Cc: "W3C WAI-XTECH" <wai-xtech@w3.org>

Isn't it at the page author's discretion whether or not such a picture
warrants alt text?
(I certainly believe it is at my discretion when authoring HTML).

I read the section and found this:
"In these cases, the alt attribute must be present but its value must
be the empty string."

Is the issue here:
(a) the example could be improved to illustrate the concept (provide a
better example)
(b) the concept is at issue - alt text should be allowed
(c) the concept is at issue - alt text must be provided

I opt for B. (But I always choose flexibility for the author.)

Here's a bunch of examples from one page. A typical product page from
Amazon. (First product that was listed on the homepage).


There's a product image. The alt text is "Brisingr (Inheritance, Book
3)". The product name is "Brisingr (Inheritance, Book 3)", already
included in the page title, heading (h1).
(a) That's useful alt text
(b) That's not very useful alt text, this would be better alt text: ___________
(c) There is no need for alt text, alt="" should be used
(d) It could be alt="{product photo}" to indicate the type of image.
(e) It should be a background image using css.

So this is a bit like the poem example. This page is about a product
(not a poem), that's its purpose. The image is supplemental, you can
learn all about the product and purchase it without needing to know
about the image. If it didn't have the image, it wouldn't need alt. If
it were a background image, it couldn't have alt. Because it is
included and it is an img element, then alt text becomes a question.
It could have it? It mustn't have it? It should have it?

I don't believe the answer is clear cut, but I do like that HTML5 is
gathering all these scenarios together.

Sometimes I might decide "any text I put in there is only going to be
redundant, so I'll use an empty string to suppress it. I know all the
necessary information is already on the page". If I wouldn't write the
page with that text in it, then I shouldn't be slipping it into the
alt attribute either, is my thinking. I normally wouldn't write
"Brisingr (Inheritance, Book 3) Brisingr (Inheritance, Book 3)" and I
don't intend to start (n.b. I don't believe anyone on this mailing
list has advocated doing so btw!)

At other times, I might decide "that is worth describing, it's an
interesting feature on the page... even though it's not necessary, it
enriches the experience". And I might write me some alt text.

But I always try to write alt text into the page... its got to be part
of the content, not stick out like a sore thumb. There's some good
words about this in the spec, and a good example about ensuring the
language flows properly. If I can't do that, I think alt="" is the
better option. (Again assuming the image is non-essential. I still
reserve the right to make that call, on the basis that I know what I
am doing... most of the time...!)

I really like the Audio Description tips from
I think there's a lot in common between good AD and good alt text.

I especially like that it calls for judgment:
"How you prioritise and edit the information you give and the amount
of detail you can give will be decided by how much time is available,
how many times what you say will be heard (i.e., whether or not it is
going to be put onto a tape for the listener to hear at leisure) and
how relevant and appropriate the information is in terms of their
understanding and appreciation of the presentation. "

I find these two particularly relevant tonight:
"Do not be tempted to fill every pause.  Allow the atmosphere and
background noise to come through."
"Disappear.  Good description directs attention to the presentation,
not to itself."

I hope we are aiming for the same with @alt.

Btw, there are heaps more example images on that amazon page. Knowing
amazon, you'll find some differences if you visit that URL...

Underneath the product image is a picture of a hand holding the
kindle, with the text "Please tell the publisher: I'd like to read
this book on Kindle". The image is a css background, there is no alt
text. Is that appropriate?

A bit further down we encounter an embedded video. It is an image
link, with alt text: "Click to watch this video". This alt text
functions as link text... is it good? The picture has the words
clearly "A message to fans of INHERITANCE from author Christopher
Paolini" set over a dark background... peering closely I can make out
it's a part of a map. This one can't be alt="" because it is a link,
but I think it could be improved ... definitely better information in
the image than the alt text. (We can tell it's a video at a glance
because of many visual cues: the aspect ratio, the play button, it
says "Amazon video" in a footer toolbar, and has a "04:04" duration
given.) Also, there are two other video thumbnails to the right of
this image. These images omit the alt attribute, so naughty! The
pictures are a bit too small to be useful, but you can tell one is a
small thumbnail of the bigger video, and the other is a "talking head"
(head and shoulders, facing camera, nondescript background) which the
link text clarifies as "A Message to Amazon Customers from Author
Christopher Paolini 03:15"
Interesting use (or non use) of alt? (I'd go for alt="" on the
thumbnails, and work on that main video alt text).

Further down the page we find "Best Value" which list two products
(with text and links). They are images which repeat the product names
in the alt text. I think that's a waste of bytes ...

Then we get to "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" ... there
are numerous additional products here. Pictures are available too,
these all use alt="". The product titles are available as links. Makes
sense to me. Would be even better if the product pages did describe
the product images, then you could click through for that description
and not need it here. Is it wrong of me to think that just a thumbnail
is a "hint" of an image, it should use brief alt text only or alt=""
if there is sufficient description surrounding it. In this instance, I
think alt="" is an appropriate choice.

Product names are repeated as alt text again in the "What Do Customers
Ultimately Buy" section. Redundant.

When we get to "Customer Discussions" we find a column (on the right).
Each community is a link, containing three (random?) images customers
have chosen as their avatar. All use alt="". There is additional text
to function as link text. These images are small and would be hard to
describe... some a headshots, some sketches, some montages of
colourful blobs ...

A number of image submit buttons (input type="image") appear, all the
same saying "Go", but using different alt text that reflects the title
of the form, e.g. "Explore related forums" and "Search Listmania!".
Except one near the page footer for searching (amazon.com by default)
which uses "Go" for its alt text. Slightly inconsistent, but I'm sure
it works.

A couple of amazon ads have supporting pictures. "Save $10 on Conair"
is the alt text for a picture of a hair dryer and accessories (Save
"$10 on Conair" is the title of the ad). "Bargain books" is alt text
for an image containing that text (and a circle, does that need
description?). "4-for-3 Books" is alt text for an image that only
contains "4 for 3" (the 4 and 3 are bold and large, in orange and
green respectively, whilst "for" is small, navy blue text). "Best of
the Month" contains exactly that text, on some shiny gold disc that
could be a medal or a circular sawblade (this seems unlikely).

There is a banner ad with the compelling "Click here to find out
more!" alt text (should advertising get better alt text? will people
need ad-blockers for alt text?) I'm not going to describe it, I am
employing a useful technique known as "banner blindness".

And lastly we find their logo in the footer, with the alt text
"amazon.com". This is pretty much their logo, and does match the HTML5

Apologies to amazon.com for singling them out. They just happen to
have pages using a variety of images, useful for an email like this.
And apologies to Christopher Paolini for singling our Brisingr (which
I am looking forward to reading!)

Received on Monday, 25 August 2008 15:28:33 UTC

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