# Re: MathML is a failed web standard (or not?)

From: William F Hammond <hammond@csc.albany.edu>
Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2016 18:32:23 -0400
To: "www-math@w3.org" <www-math@w3.org>
Cc: Andrew Robbins <andjrob@gmail.com>, Peter Murray-Rust <pm286@cam.ac.uk>, Paul Topping <pault@dessci.com>, William F Hammond <gellmu@gmail.com>
Message-ID: <i7twj7aia0.fsf@hilbert.math.albany.edu>
Going back to April 1, Andrew Robbins writes in part:

> In my humble opinion, the reason why MathML has failed
> isn't because of Content MathML, it's because of
> Presentation MathML, and it's not because it isn't
> accurate, or because it doesn't look good, it's because
> people prefer TeX over angle brackets. MathJax provides
> people the ability to show the same beautiful math
> expressions on web pages, that Presentation MathML
> promised but with many fewer keystrokes.

I believe that almost all extant MathML content that I've
seen originates, one way or another, with LaTeX or
LaTeX-like markup.

> superscripts. The only thing that interests me with
> regards to Content MathML, is the fact that it is, at a
> fundamental level, a LISP where symbols are selected from
> URI/RDF/XML/MathML namespaces.  . . .

I think it's rather difficult to generate reliably useful
content MathML from LaTeX markup as commonly seen, for
example, at arXiv.  On the other hand, I believe that adding
a LaTeX package for type declaration of mathematical symbols
would go a long way toward improving this.  Even better
would be the use of a suitable LaTeX profile (such as I
spoke about at TUG 2010 and TUG 2014) with provision for
symbol type declarations.

> . . .  As I said earlier, I agree that Presentation MathML
> has failed, but that's because it's a failed viewpoint.
> Math isn't symbols, it's semantics. From the beginning,
> MathML should have been about Content, not Presentation. I
> think if we had focused on Content all along, then we
> probably wouldn't be having this conversation now.

>From the beginning the development of MathML has had two
tracks with content MathML focused on content interchange
and presentation MathML designed for minimizing the amount
of work required for a web browser to provide a TeX-quality
rendering of mathematical content from an extension of HTML
markup.

I disagree with the assertion that presentation MathML has
failed as a web standard.  It works quite well in Firefox
and other Gecko browsers, and one should not forget W3C's
Amaya.  It is, of course, disappointing that, for the moment
and for most of the time since the beginning of MathML in
the late 1990s, three of the "big four" browsers have not

It's a failing in the market based on crass market thinking.

It was also disappointing that for the period from 2001 (if
not 1995 with the dropping of HTML v 3.0) to 2011 the W3C
banned any form of math content from the media type
"text/html".

Of course, there would be breakage of existing content if
web browsers that now render MathML ceased to do so.

It continues to be disappointing that search engines do not
cover mathematical content well.

The disappointments are not failures, but rather the
result of a world where a relatively small number of
individuals have any interest in mathematics.

Still, native browser rendering of MathML could happen.
Didn't Murray Sargent just say so?  There is no reason
to stop wishing for it.

-- Bill

Received on Monday, 11 April 2016 22:32:52 UTC

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