[whatwg] Semantic styling languages in the guise of HTML attributes.

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis bhawkeslewis at googlemail.com
Thu Dec 21 06:23:03 PST 2006

Henri Sivonen wrote:
> Moreover, it is just natural that  
> authors want to *optimize* for the visual media first with aural and  
> tactile media coming as second and a distant third. 

I'd suggest the emphasis on text in much current web content is is
itself a product of the comparatively poor transfer rates of audio and
video: a situation that the growth of broadband telecommunications is
changing rapidly. Certainly many people struggling with Blogger and
MySpace markup might be happier with pod and video casting. Conversely,
one of text's major advantages is its greater susceptibility to
machine-processing and hence "free" accessibility.

> Also, it seems to me that the usefulness of non-heuristic machine consumption of  
> semantic roles of things like dialogs, names of vessels, biological  
> taxonomical names, quotations, etc. has been vastly exaggerated.

I'm not entirely sure what "non-heuristic machine consumption" is, but,
given the lack of agreed microformats for these things, I'd say their
usefulness is practically untested. (And given the limited market
penetration of the microformat "idea", I wouldn't conclude anything from
the non-existence of related microformats. We haven't even got hCite off
the ground yet, and the market for that is massive.)

On the quotations front, I'd argue this is largely the fault of W3C spec
writers for:

1. Failing to suggest behaviour for the CITE attribute; consequent chaos
described at:


(Web Applications 1.0 fixes this (a suggestion about how to avoid
conflicts with anchor links would be good though). XHTML2 doesn't.)

2. Failing to suggest how to connect CITE to Q and BLOCKQUOTE in a
machine-readable fashion. (Web Applications 1.0 fixes this. XHTML2

3. Failing to pay any attention to real print typography of quotations
(where the host language usually determines punctuation, not the quoted
language). (Web Applications 1.0 currently dodges this question by not
discussing delimiters. XHTML2 completely confuses the issue by allowing
both in-text delimiters and stylesheet delimiters, even though neither
currently covers the range of quotation punctuation. So not fixed
anywhere really.)

4. Failing to provide adequate facilities for styling Q. (/Still/ not
fixed in CSS3.)

In addition to W3C, we can also blame Microsoft for 1) not including Q
in MSAA (fixed in IAccessible2, not sure about UI Automation) and 2) not
generating quotation punctuation in IE as per the HTML specification
(still not fixed in IE7, and while they've made noises about fixing it
in IE8, they haven't yet fixed their erroneous MSDN documentation

One has to eliminate those key factors from the equation before you can
begin to use past evidence to assess whether authors would be happy to
use Q, and whether any one would machine process it. (Actually the
Window-Eyes screen reader already can report Q; and the Fire Vox talking
browser will in the future.)

(More Q obsession can be found at:

http://www.benjaminhawkeslewis.com/www/accessibility/q-element.html )

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

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