[whatwg] contenteditable, <em> and <strong>

Alexey Feldgendler alexey at feldgendler.ru
Tue Jan 9 17:49:29 PST 2007

On Wed, 10 Jan 2007 01:20:50 +0100, Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis  
<bhawkeslewis at googlemail.com> wrote:

>> Instead of doing that, people just swapped <proper> in place of
>> <capitalize>. The adherents raged. "What fools these people be. The
>> first word of a sentence is not a proper noun. We need to proselytize
>> more!"

> I don't however your fable persuasive, because it presents the
> acceptance of markup as a dialectic between elite proselytization and
> authorial pragmatism, whereas I would allot greater explanatory power to
> the conservatism of tools and a certain disinterest on the part of tool
> developers in the meaning of text content.

What happened to <b> and <i> -- because of the tools -- isn't random.  
Every presentational markup that today's web contains has this very  
reason: WYSIWYG. This approach is by design targetted at producing a  
document for presentation on one single, chosen media (which is usually  
either screen or paper). WYSIWYG is always presentational because its goal  
is to produce a document which is as close as possible to the “original”  
that exists in the author's imagination. If the author has imagined  
boldface text, it means that he has already performed the irreversible  
mapping from semantics to presentation in his head, and there is no way to  
precisely map it back to semantics. And it never was a goal for WYSIWYG;  
the task of every WYSIWYG tool was to give the user the right buttons to  
press for bold, italic, and underlined. There are indeed different reasons  
why the author may want an italic font, but making a separate button for  
each of those reasons won't do any good because the interface between the  
author and the tool takes place after the conversion from semantics to  
presentation, and a choice of “semantic” buttons wouldn't make any sense  
at that point. What would happen is that authors would pick a random  
button out of those which produce italic rendering, and consider the  
tool's interface overcomplicated.

<b> and <i> are not alone here. Continuing the capitalization example, I  
can say that text editors have used to provide capitalization when the  
user holds the Shift key (pretty much like Ctrl-B for bold). Having  
several kinds of Shift keys for different purposes of capitalization  
(Start-of-sentence key, Proper-noun key, Acronym key) would not, in my  
opinion, help preserve more semantic information: the authors would pick  
the key to use randomly because it doesn't make any difference on the  
media this particular WYSIWYG tool targets.

The only radical way to make semantic markup work is to abandon WYSIWYG  
and start thinking in a media-independent way (or, to reuse the word,  
multimedia). I'm not sure if it's feasible on the scale of the entire web  
authoring community, and what model should replace WYSIWYG in that case.

Alexey Feldgendler <alexey at feldgendler.ru>
[ICQ: 115226275] http://feldgendler.livejournal.com

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