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Re: HTML5 script start tag should select appropriate content model according to src

From: Patrick H. Lauke <redux@splintered.co.uk>
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2007 18:06:27 +0100
Message-ID: <462CE793.5060203@splintered.co.uk>
To: XHTML-Liste <www-html@w3.org>

Henri Sivonen wrote:

> If italics didn't carry any signal, why would authors use italics?

Oh fer chrissakes...

The use of italics to denote certain "special" things (names of ships 
etc) comes from a print tradition. In print, there is no other way to 
"mark" something up than to use some visual, presentational signal. So 
yes, on paper, italics denote that there's something special going on 
with those words.

Now, in machine-parseable languages like HTML (whichever number), you 
don't have to rely on a purely visual way to denote what something is.
You have a far more unambiguous way to denote things with markup. 
However, the necessary markup is not present in HTML at the moment, so 
content authors (mostly coming from print tradition) use the thing that 
is closest to their experience...the <i> element. Again, this does not 
make them right. Imagine if HTML didn't contain H1-H6 elements...would 
you argue that <font size="+3"> carries meaning because bigger text is a 
heading? Same argument here!

> Semantics in and of themselves are not interesting unless they address 
> problems posed by real use cases.

Automatic aggregation of content, possibility of tools such as screen 
readers and similar assistive technology to understand the different 
semantics and provide their users with better information, etc. And 
"media independence", as you say...the fact that something is italic in 
print doesn't give me any information if the content has to be read out, 
for instance (other than the software reading out the content would have 
to say "(italic) blah blah", which the listener then has to mentally 
translate to "ah yes, in print tradition, italics are used for ship 
names, latin phrases, etc".

> If you've got all conceivable media covered, what would you use the 
> semantics for?

Because your "all conceivable media" still doesn't cover user choice and 
user control over the content. Let's take the example of headings, 
again: say you just use <span class="h1"> and provide all conceivable 
output styles, even one for voice output (though that's currently not 
supported). Now, a screen reader user wants to just skip from one 
heading to the next, or get an outline view of the current document read 
out...now the software can't help here, because it doesn't actually 
understand what is a heading and what isn't. You've sent a soup of 
completely generic text, provided loads of rules to make it look/sound 
right, but as far as the screen reader is concerned this is all pure 
text with no particular structure or meaning.

> Do you have realistic data mining use cases in mind where 
> the content producers would have the incentive to help the data miner 
> and not lie?

Leave your little "they just want to use it to boost their search engine 
ranking" dig out. Think of a library/archive resource that wants to 
offer smart access to its contents to users. Search is not all eeeevil 
corporations, you know?

> To sprinkle disguising semantic pixie dust to sooth the concerns of 
> anti-presentationalists, I guess.

Ask a biologist if they'd rather say "just make it italic" or "this is 
an animal genus", or whether a technical writer would rather say "this 
is italic" or "this is the defining instance of this term"...you simply 
assume that all authors don't give a damn about semantics, without 
proof. Sure, Joe Bloggs editing his MySpace doesn't care about 
semantics, but he's unlikely to be using italics to actually mark up 
these very specific cases we're discussing. For him, a generic span with 
italics styling via CSS would be most appropriate.

> How do you expect the spec to have been shaped to your liking without 
> you participating in the process on the WHATWG list?

The usual "if you don't like it, join the list" gambit. When shaping a 
supposed standard, should the standards body (official or not) look at 
the community at large, and gather requirements there, or should the 
community make sure that it's involved in the standards process? I'd say 
both...simply putting the onus on the community is miopic.

Patrick H. Lauke
re·dux (adj.): brought back; returned. used postpositively
[latin : re-, re- + dux, leader; see duke.]
www.splintered.co.uk | www.photographia.co.uk
Co-lead, Web Standards Project (WaSP) Accessibility Task Force
Take it to the streets ... join the WaSP Street Team
Received on Monday, 23 April 2007 17:06:37 UTC

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