[whatwg] Authoring Re: several messages about HTML5

Dave Raggett dsr at w3.org
Wed Feb 21 04:02:33 PST 2007

Thanks Charles for that really inciteful response. I very much agree 
with the need to get authoring tool support for semantically richer 
markup. Microformats are great - but how many people find that they 
can't be bothered with that level of detail, especially when using a 
wysiwyg style of editor? Rather than considering this to be somebody 
else's problem, it seems timely to try and do something about it 
myself. I am therefore devoting a lot of my time into developing a 
new kind of authoring environment that combines a semantic view with 
a wysiwyg view, and which will use dictionaries to generate the 
markup that few of us can be bothered to write directly.

What has this to do with HTML5, I hear you asking?  The answer is 
not about markup per se, but rather about the scripting interfaces 
that browsers provide, and which make possible writing such 
authoring tools as cross-browser web applications. It has taken a 
great deal of effort to coax IE into providing DOM2 ranges, as 
needed to support detecting the location of mouse clicks and to 
moving beyond "italic" and "bold" as the only kinds of emphasis that 
IE supports with execCommand and text ranges. Keyboard events are 
the other major source of pain. The good news is that editing 
support can be implemented in an interoperably way across all modern 
web browsers without the need for changes to HTML and without any 
dependence on designMode or contentEditable. Improvements to 
keystroke events would be valuable and I look forward to widespread 
support for DOM3 events.

This brings us back to what kind of innovation is needed for the 
creation of web content. One thought is to respect the separation of 
roles in teams, for instance, text content, graphics design, user 
interface design, data modelling and information flows. Authoring 
tools need to respect this separation of roles and avoid burdening 
people with tasks that are inappropriate to their roles. If you are 
a journalist providing copy, then you shouldn't be worried about 
layout and styling. You would also expect help with finding and 
linking to appropriate references and photos, although these might 
be added by someone else. It is quite unlikely that you would be 
interested in element class attribute values etc.

Paper still has lots of advantages for editorial work, and I rather 
like Malcom Gladwell's "The social life of paper"


We need to think more about how to enable the kinds of affordances 
that pen and paper provide for various tasks, and what kinds of web 
authoring tools this would permit.

  Dave Raggett <dsr at w3.org> http://www.w3.org/People/Raggett

On Wed, 21 Feb 2007, Charles McCathieNevile wrote:

> On Wed, 21 Feb 2007 03:40:09 +0100, Lachlan Hunt <lachlan.hunt at lachy.id.au> wrote:
>> Vlad Alexander (xhtml.com) wrote:
>>> Thank you Ian. Just one follow-up question. You wrote:
>>>> ...We could require editors to do this, but since nobody knows how
>>>> to do it, it would be a stupid requirement. ...
>>> Is it due to a flaw in HTML that it is difficult to build authoring
>>> tools, such as WYSIWYG editors, that generate markup rich in
>>> semantics, embody best-practices and can be easily used by
>>> non-technical people? Since much of the content on the Web is created
>>> using such authoring tools, can we ever achieve a semantically rich
>>> and accessible Web?
>> It's not so much a flaw in HTML's design, as it is the refusal of
>> popular WYSIWYG editor vendors to replace common presentational UIs,
>> such as font styles and colours, with much more useful semantic UIs.  I
>> don't believe it's particularly difficult to achieve.  It just requires
>> thinking outside the box a little and not simply copying what typical
>> word processing software has done in the past.
> (Summary: What Hixie said. But I show my reasoning ;) ).
> Hmmm. It is more complex than that, but not much. It is very easy 
> to use Word to create good clean structured content, which can be 
> straightforwardly transformed to good clean semantic HTML (or PDF 
> for that matter). And likewise, it isn't that hard with other 
> tools. The thinking outside the box a bit has been a solved 
> problem since before Word was a WYSIWYG tool. Deployment, and 
> getting the right features used, is a different story.
> The trick is in the workflow, or ecosystem, or whatever you call 
> it. People started out in the 80s learning to press the BOLD 
> button, or the larger font button, to make headings. This was easy 
> - it matched what they had done with a typewriter or more commonly 
> with a pen at school, and the set of semantics available matched 
> the small number of possibilities (CAPS, underlining, bold or 
> italic with a fancy golfball typewriter. As people got printers 
> and desktop publishing a few people made the crazy multi-font 
> unreadable pages that were all the rage in the mid-80s (just as 
> multi-coloured headings like the google logo were all the rage in 
> the mid-90s - but seem to have all but vanished now except for 
> that example). Those quickly died out in the serious world, where 
> people used the increased variety in typesetting to create 
> documents that were visually very semantically clear. Even today, 
> calls for academic papers will require very strict formatting for 
> photo-ready copy, and there must be millions of documents adhering 
> to the most popular of these formats.
> What is lacking, all down the line, is the idea of understanding 
> that the Web is not just a simple visual representation. Most 
> people still don't think of looking at the Web on their phone as 
> "real" (at least in the small group of western countries that 
> dominate development of Web standards). Nor do most people know a 
> lot about accessibility. Most people comissioning content want it 
> to look good on their machine, and assume it looks good to 
> everyone else too (after all, how many people are prepared to 
> admit they have horrible design sense and make things that most 
> people find ugly?).
> Which reinforces the initial patterns we have for learning how to 
> use tools. In most places children still learn to write with a 
> pencil, which shapes their idea of conveying semantics. Then they 
> are taught to use a keyboard, and convey semantics by people who 
> learned it a long time ago, when visually was the only meaningful 
> way. And then they get tools for creating the Web. Surprise 
> surprise, in general the people who produce content (and are 
> experts in content and couldn't care less about the underlying 
> structure of the Web) keep doing what they have always done, and 
> look for tools that are easy to use.
> We are trying to change the way the world thinks about semantics. 
> Little by little, it happens. Little by little people are 
> realising that accessibility, or being friendly to mobile devices, 
> or being able to repurpose the things they write, or something 
> else, means that noting the underlying semantics is valuable. In a 
> century we have made a little progress in changing things. People 
> use underlining much less than they used to as a highlight, since 
> they have learned that it means a link.
> This change of approach to expression takes a long time to filter 
> through to the world. One of the crucial things is working very 
> hard on authoring tools, since only a tiny minority really writes 
> code by hand. The tools themselves are often hand-crafted to 
> produce code, but even that is not a given (and IMHO regarding 
> that as a valid constraint is missing the most important point of 
> the last decade of markup language history). The changes will come 
> (and are coming, bit by bit). But looking for a rapid sea-change 
> is somewhat naive. The old ways will last for decades, come what 
> may. If we spend too much time working out how to make them seem 
> reasonable and valid, we can prolong their life by generations.
> The question is how to really promote the things that we want to 
> see - the production of semantically rich and therefore more 
> useful markup. If we are not working with authoring tool 
> developers, we are probably not doing ourselves any favours. If we 
> are not looking at the whole thread that leads to how people learn 
> to express themselves, we're probably going to find that we can 
> never make much progress. (And when we do, we start to deal with 
> things like the semantics of graphics, or of sound, or motion. All 
> of these are critical to people's expression now, in some cases 
> more so than the semantics associated with text documents. And 
> then it becomes interesting...)
> cheers
> Chaals
> -- 
> Charles McCathieNevile, Opera Software: Standards Group
> hablo español  -  je parle français  -  jeg lærer norsk
> chaals at opera.com          Try Opera 9.1     http://opera.com

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