[whatwg] Web Apps 1.0: On-line help

Ian Hickson ian at hixie.ch
Mon May 9 15:04:01 PDT 2005

On Mon, 9 May 2005, Ben Meadowcroft wrote:
> Discoverability would be left to the user agents.

Unless someone can come up with a way to make discoverability practical 
and usable, there is no point us having this feature. The user agent 
manufacturers have already looked at this for some time and failed to come 
up with any reasonable mechanisms, which is why we removed help="" from 
Web Forms 2. Saying it is "left up to the UAs" doesn't help us when we 
_are_ the UAs. :-)

> This kind of help is fairly well established in windows, just look at 
> the internet options dialog of Internet Explorer for an example.

Context-sensitive help is well established in modern GUIs, yes. But the 
mechanisms by which it is made available are not available or discoverable 
to the end user in a Web scenario.

For example:

 * A cursor doesn't help, since it requires the user to hover over the 
   element in order to discover there is help needed.

 * A hot key is not useful since there is no way for the user to know when
   it would work (and since in the overwhelming majority of cases it would
   do nothing, there is no reason for the user to think to try it).

 * A menu item has the same problem as a hot key.

 * A button that can be pressed like in Windows dialogs is not an option
   because such a button doesn't exist and UA vendors object to 
   introducing new buttons due to the noticable effect it has on 
   usability (based on studies that have been made).

 * An icon that appears next to controls with help is unworkable since
   the icons would interfere with the page layout and thus need to be
   stylable to satisfy authors. (Furthermore, such help is already
   possible in a backwards-compatible way simply using hyperlinks.)

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'

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