[whatwg] Joe Clark's Criticisms of the WHATWG and HTML 5

Niels Fröhling niels.froehling at premper.com
Tue Nov 7 15:59:48 PST 2006

>   I thought Joe Clark's opinions and criticisms of the WHATWG and HTML5
> might be of interest to people here.
> http://blog.fawny.org/2006/10/28/tbl-html/
> I don't agree with everything he said, but he points out a lot of issues
> and lists several limitations and suggestions.  Some of the suggestions
> are already included or have at least been discussed, but some a new and
> worth looking into.

 I would like to put this into discussion:

	A view into the past:

		In the beginning HTML's only ability to define presentation was through
		tags (with predefined visual behaviour/presentation) and it's modification
		through attributes.
		This obviously leaded to the invention of tags for presentational purposes.

		The definition and invention of tags, it's semantic and presentational
		meaning was (and is) developed by various groups with various interests,
		browser-developers (who sometimes also re-used HTML for alienous
		applications), work-groups and companies that really re-(or miss-)used
		HTML for their proprietary needs.
		Most of these groups developed/extended HTML under a commercial point of
		view: 'How can I offer a feature more excessive and faster than the others'.
		It was rather not developed under the LCD (least-common-denominator) of
		all participants, long ignored (and still yet) the end-user.

		With the shift of presentational definition away from tags and inline-
		attributes to CSS, and shortly after the introduction of free-formable
		HTML (in the sense of tag-name freedom) by XML the situation has
		fundamentally changed, is fundamentally different.

	The situation:

		From a technical point of view there don't exist a reason of existance
		for the majority of the tags anymore (in effect most browsers do NOT make
		any difference between the majority of the tags, with the ONLY exception
		that they have different CSS-templates, which is a consequence of the
		transition of the ability of the parser-engine to display from HTML to
		XHTML to XML).
		From a semantical point of view the majority of the tags are poluted/biased
		by presentational meanings, and under the belief to rescue compatibility
		the cleanup-forces stick with the majority of the old concepts without
		attenting new needs.

	The change in the paradigma:

		At this point I suggest the complete break with the semantical past. And
		it's easier than at any time before. There is quasi no software that
		depends on semantic (except screen-readers, I'm going to talk about that
		later) as mentioned above.
		It's time to reflect actual streams in development of HTML; now, with the
		introduction or the dusk of RIAs the semantic camp got split in three:

		* metaphorical semantics (the meaning of the things)
		* structural semantic (the order of the things)
		* purposal semantics (the purpose of the things)

		Let me denote some examples:

		* metaphorical:
			- <joke> marks something to be funny, sarcastic or zynic
			- <strong> emphasises a content strongly
		* structural (aka. define dependencies):
			- <p> marks text to belong together, to be connected sentences
			- <chapter> marks sections to belong together
			- <formular> marks an interactive region
		* purposal:
			- <control> marks a region to be inside an interface-element
			- <nav> marks a section to contain the/a navigation
			- <title> marks a region to be a chapters/documents title

		In the order written it's sensefull to assume, that metaphorical
		semantics may be contained by structural elements, and structural
		elements by purposal elements.

		Though this doesn't solve the LCD-problem it makes it way more easy as
		the variety within each LCD-problem becomes less much smaller (for
		technicians: 2^9 < 2^3 + 2^3 + 2^3), and it has an elegant fall-back
		The split of responsability and area of application makes it way more
		easier to meet the needs of:

		* more metaphorical semantic, which is an inherit need of screen-
		  readers, which is liked to be blamed for being not 'smart' enough
		* more structural semantic, which is an inherit need of typography
		  and in effect every transportation and abstraction of information
		* more purposal semantic, which is an inherit need of RIAs and
		  seamless integration of alien-functionality into Web-Browser
		  (aka. live-plugin)

		That list is not verbose and by no means complete, but it triggers
		the basic idea.

	The change in the process of progress:

		Another consequence of the XMLization of HTML and it's further
		consequences within the parser-engines of the browsers is the
		occurance of Micro-Formats, which take advantage of their be-
		haviour, not to complain about undefined tags but maintain CSS
		In the moment Micro-Formats only cover presentational and
		behavioural aspects. The logical step - to add semantic in any
		way - is complex but nesessary, because it guides to the ability
		to make semantic definition dynamic/fluid and independent of
		centralized and incestious groups of interest.
		Semantics, and the nesessity of the demonstration of a specific
		semantic has to be defined by the user, has to be definable by
		the user - over time.

	The open question:

		Where is the influence on decisions, definitions of the end-user?

 I hope it survives 80-char wordwrap.


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