Are the semantic inline elements really useful? (Re: [whatwg] What exactly is contentEditable for?)
hsivonen at iki.fi
Tue Aug 30 12:16:43 PDT 2005
On Aug 28, 2005, at 11:02, Lachlan Hunt wrote:
> Although some editors do also provide some semantic options, they're
> usually limited in their abilities. Some have some semantic block
> level elements like headings, paragraphs, lists and maybe blockquote.
> However, few have semantic elements like abbr, cite, code, dfn, kbd,
> samp, var, q and strong/em (some, like contentEditable, mistakenly use
> bold and italic options for those). I often have to jump through
> hoops just to get <code> in my markup while using dreamweaver, by
> using the buttons for <b> and/or <i> and then running search and
> replace to fix up the markup.
Could the user interface difficulties with this semantic inline
elements stem at least partly from problems with the semantic inline
Consider <cite> for example. What's it really good for? Why should an
author bother to use <cite> instead of <i>? Once you have learned to
press command-i (or ctrl-i), why should you have to learn to do
something else when all you really want to get done is to italicize
titles of works?
I think making the case for <cite> fails the explaining to mother test.
Chances are that there is something wrong with <cite> if I don't know
how to explain to my mother why she should use it instead of the
semantically empty italics. I cannot come up with any tangible
advantages. And I have been able to make the case for paragraphs and
When mother was putting literature lists (eg.
http://www.helsinki.fi/~rkosken/kirjallisuus/pukuhistoria.html ) on the
Web, she asked something about the technicalities so I to look. My
immediate thought was that there are titles of works and they should be
marked up using <cite>. However, when I thought how I should make the
point, I couldn't come up with any good explanation why the effort
should be expanded. The scenario that perhaps in the future there will
be a need to style the titles of works in a different way (for example
bold strike-through fuchsia) seemed ludicrous. Also, the point about
pieces of software doing something cool with the data did not seem like
a truthful explanation, because <cite> has been around for a long time
and still there are no reports of a killer app emerging around it. So I
did not recommend <cite>.
Aside: Now that I looked at the source of the literature list, I
noticed that some titles of works were marked up as <em>. my hypothesis
is that after an upgrade Dreamweaver has started using <em> when
pressing command-i. Sigh. See
Having been involved in two ambitious government-funded metadata
projects, I have observed that people who get drawn into the metadata
mindset tend to get carried away thinking what they can express in a
supposedly machine-readable way and forget if anyone is really
interested in processing what they think they can express and if such
processing requires an AI-complete system (or whether real users want
to be bothered with all the data entry) and they happily forget
focusing on full text search in the process.
Semantic markup is metadata of sorts, and it seems to me that
proponents of semantic markup often forget practical motivations of
semantic markup and go into the astronaut mode trying to come up with
things they can express forgetting to think whether there is demand for
what they plan on expressing in the receiving end and whether the
granularity of their expression serves a useful purpose. I thought
http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-html/2005Aug/0054.html was a
joke but the followups seem to go on seriously!
P.S. Using <cite> and <code> is relatively easy with OOo Writer/Web but
not as easy as pressing command-i. I have used <cite> myself when
writing using OOo Writer/Web, but I admit I should consider the
motivation rather cargo cultish.
hsivonen at iki.fi
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