[whatwg] Menus, fallback, and backwards compatibility: ideas wanted

Alexey Feldgendler alexey at feldgendler.ru
Wed Dec 14 21:39:18 PST 2005

On Thu, 15 Dec 2005 06:42:37 +0600, Ian Hickson <ian at hixie.ch> wrote:

>> One possible solution that comes to my mind is describing a site map
>> with some tree of nested elements, with page titles, URIs and other meta
>> information, but without any presentational information. As this site
>> map is common for all or most pages of a site, it could be included as
>> an external XML resource.

> Many people have tried this kind of thing in the past, with little
> success. As far as I can tell, there is little interest from Web authors
> in describing their site map (which is more a graph than a tree, and  
> which is getting all the more dynamic with things like wikis).

Well, it's not necessary to describe the complete graph. Not many authors  
would want it.

In my opinion, there are two kinds of systematic navigation usually  
included on the pages of a site. I'll refer to them as "relative" and  

Relative navigation includes links to pages which bear a specific fixed  
relation to the current page. For example, it's common for a page to  
include a link to the "next" page. Following a relative link is like  
moving to an adjacent vertex in a graph, or resolving a relative pathname  
on a filesystem. The relative navigation is pretty decently covered with  
the <link> mechanism because there's not many possible relations.

Absolute navigation includes links to fixed pages, the same on all pages  
of the site. Usually these are links to top-level sections and subsections  
thereof. Following an absolute link is like skipping to a fixed vertex in  
a graph, or resolving an absolute pathname on a filesystem. The absolute  
navigation is somewhat covered with the <link> mechanism (rel="toc", for  
example), but it's not enough because the fixed nodes referenced by  
absolute navigation is rarely described with specific roles like "TOC";  
more often, these are just top-level sections of the site.

Currently, we have <link> which works great in browsers which understand  
it. For those who don't, authors usually duplicate relative navigation in  
the page body. For absolute navigation, though, they have no choice  
because there is no appropriate mechanism similar to <link> to instruct  
browsers to include absolute navigation somewhere in its UI outside the  

> My theory is that there is an inverse relationship between the level of
> abstraction involved and the level of interest from authors. Site maps in
> external files are a kind of abstraction beyond most authors.

Why? Everyone puts CSS and JS in external files -- just to avoid repeating  
the same text on all or most pages of the site. And, well, everyone puts  
links to top-level sections of the site on every page, which is actually  
repetition. Also many authors put links to subsections of the top-level  
sections, which is even more repetition. To avoid the repetition, some use  
external JS to generate the menus, with JS arrays actually describing the  
site map. It's an ad-hoc solution to the same problem (how to not write  
the site map on every page), it's effectively the same level of  
abstraction, and it's just worse because it's not semantic, requires  
programmatic evaluation of JS, and is not standardized.

-- Opera M2 9.0 TP1 on Debian Linux 2.6.12-1-k7
* Origin: X-Man's Station at SW-Soft, Inc. [ICQ: 115226275]  
<alexey at feldgendler.ru>

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