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

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at myrealbox.com
Wed Jan 10 03:26:08 PST 2007

On Jan 10, 2007, at 9:31 PM, Henri Sivonen wrote:
> On Jan 9, 2007, at 23:29, Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis wrote:
>> Henri Sivonen wrote:
> ...
>>> <strong> and <b> are both primarily used to achieve
>>> bold rendering on the visual media. Regardless of which tags authors
>>> type or which tags their editor shortcuts produce, authors tend to
>>> think in terms of encoding italicizing and bolding instead of
>>> knowingly articulating their profound motivation for using italics or
>>> bold.
>> Yes, it's a bad habit picked up from WYSIWIG word processing. If 
>> people were still habituated to typewriters you'd be insisting on the 
>> intrinsic utility of <u>. ;)

Robin Williams' /The Mac is not a typewriter/ -- which, if I recall, 
advises against underlining -- was first published in 1990 and is still 
in print. Probably the underlining of links quelled underlining for 
emphasis on the Web.

> More to the point, there is utility in being able to typeset a word or 
> two differently in a paragraph. In theory, that's <em>. But in 
> practice the choice between <em> and <strong> is motivated by the 
> default visual rendering.

I don't think there's anything wrong with that, in itself. It's shorter 
than <emphasis class="italic"> and <emphasis class="bold">. :-)

> ...
>>> <em>, <strong>, <i> and <b> have all been in HTML for over a decade.
>>> I think that’s long enough to see what happens in the wild. I think 
>>> it is time to give up and admit that there are two pairs of 
>>> visually-
>>> oriented synonyms instead of putting more time, effort, money, blog
>>> posts, spec examples and discussion threads into educating people
>>> about subtle differences in the hope that important benefits will be
>>> realized once people use these elements the “right” way.
>> If we accepted that only a few people have heard about the theoretical
>> advantages of em and strong, wouldn't that suggest that the web
>> standards community has not done enough communicating, not that
>> communication has been understood but ineffective because its
>> prescriptions are somehow impractical?
> Perhaps, but what's the payoff of vehemently communicating more about 
> this? Is it worth it? Would there be a different way to get the same 
> payoff?

I think the problem is not with how few people have "heard about the 
theoretical advanges of em and strong", but with how many have got the 
mistaken impression that they are replacements for and improvements on 
<i> and <b>.

This is where we really need results from Google Markup Search (paging 
Mr Hickson): What proportion of pages use <em> and/or <strong>, what 
proportion of these appear to be generated using a Wysiwyg tool, what 
proportion also use <i> and/or <b>, and can a sample of their URLs be 
provided for the purpose of surveying how often <em> and <strong> are 
used inappropriately?

The message "please use <b> and <i> unless you really know what you're 
doing, and generate <b> and <i> unless your users really know what 
they're doing" is *not* well-known. It has not yet consumed much time, 
effort, money, blog posts, spec examples or discussion threads. In the 
absence of other evidence, I think it is worth trying.

>> There are consequences to using <i> and <b> instead of <em> and
>> <strong>. Being ambiguous, <i> and <b> are insufficient hooks for 
>> speech CSS styling by the author, at least not without additional 
>> classes.)
> <em> and <i> are exactly as stylable. <strong> and <b> are also 
> equally stylable.

Benjamin's statement would have been more accurate if he'd said "for 
speech CSS styling by the screenreader", because a screenreader would 
be more likely to specify different default intonations for <em> and 
<i> than an author would. But even if there are any screenreaders yet 
that make such a distinction (are there any? I forget), that's a very 
small benefit for a very small audience. Fantasai's example of emphasis 
in Chinese text is much more interesting.

Matthew Paul Thomas

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