[whatwg] Web Apps 1.0: On-line help

Dean Edwards dean at edwards.name
Mon May 9 15:51:06 PDT 2005

Ian Hickson wrote:
 > 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.

It is not all about user agents. I once had to build a web application
with extensive context sensitive help. The app even recalled common
entries for data fields. To make it work we invented an attribute called
"helpID". If the "help" attribute were defined we would have used that

 > 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.

This provides some feedback at least. But Windows apps don't tend to
provide this form of feedback anyway.

 > * 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).

An application is something that might be used often. People can
discover F1 for themselves. The UA could at least let the user know that
help is available by enabling the "help" point and click icon.

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

The help menu could be updated with page specific help items.

 > * 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.)

A web developer might want to indicate that help is available though:

[help]::after {
   content: url(help-icon.png);

I think that a help attribute is useful in the realm of web
applications. Applications tend to be more complex than web documents. A
good application is sometimes only as good as its help system. Even if
UAs make nothing of it, web developers would have a standard attribute
to hook their own help systems from.


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