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Re: [html] "title" text semantics, and "minor" element discussion

From: Jukka K. Korpela <jkorpela@cs.tut.fi>
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 2005 15:14:43 +0300 (EEST)
To: Jens Meiert <jens.meiert@erde3.com>
Cc: www-html@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.GSO.4.63.0510181454470.19757@korppi.cs.tut.fi>

On Tue, 18 Oct 2005, Jens Meiert wrote:

> * In general, why ain't it allowed to include markup within the "title"
> element [1], what's the historical background?

If you look at the good old HTML 2.0 specification, you can see some of 
the intended uses of the content of the <title> element. Many of them 
involve treating the content as plain text. It is probably better that you 
directly write it as plain text, rather than let some software 
transmogrify it into plain text.

> Aren't at least abbreviations
> a perfect example for the usefulness of semantics here?

Software that makes use of <title> elements generally doesn't recognize 
any markup there. Whether it is useful to use markup for abbreviations is 
debatable, but in any case, the <abbr> and <acronym> confusion and lack of 
reasonably well-defined semantics and lack of any useful processing 
(e.g. in search engines or browsers) have made such markup a failure in 

> And since I could
> theoretically even show the "title" element ("title { display: block; }") on
> the page, doesn't this even require the possibility to include other
> elements as well?

You can show it in practice too, on browsers with good CSS support, though 
you may need to set head { display: block !important; } too (to override 
the common and natural browser default head { display: none; })

It by no means requires the possibility of using markup inside a <title> 

> * Also in general, why is there no way to designate rather "unimportant"
> text?

Do you want the real answer or a good explanation? The real answer is 
being important was not really important.

> I can use "em" and "strong" for emphasis,

You can, while others use <i> and <b>. The <em> and <strong> were 
introduced just as clones of <i> and <b> for academicians. The official 
story is different, but you may make some conclusions from the fact that
- there is no real semantic definition for <em> and <strong>
   (e.g., how they relate to each other, and what does it mean
   to nest them?)
- nobody cared to add markup for "unimportant" or "de-emphasis",
   despite the obvious need as soon as you start thinking semantically.

> but what about text that is
> rather unimportant, because unrelated, for example? The "span" element does
> not do this, so what about a kind of "minor" element? From an usability pov,
> this is a "questionable" approach, and it surely (and hopefully) is a rare
> case, but why hasn't this been addressed anyway?

There's nothing questionable in the idea of "unimportant" or "side note". 
Problems arise if the idea is _implemented_ using fine print (especially 
if a dee-ziner has already decided to use 9px for copy text). A decent 
browser could use a 10 to 15 % reduced font size, with a built-in function
of the browser to turn such text to normal size (or open in it an new 
window in normal size, or remove it from the display). Without some 
browser support along such lines, using "unimportant" markup would be
impractical, and would indeed reduce usability and accessibility.

That's why using <small> as a semi-semantic element (after all, in most 
cases when we wish to make some text smaller than the surrounding text, we 
do so to indicate it as less important) does not work well. Sometimes it's 
a tolerable solution, though.

Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/
Received on Tuesday, 18 October 2005 12:14:50 UTC

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