[whatwg] article: do we really need this?

Matthew Raymond mattraymond at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 7 16:13:08 PST 2007

Elliotte Harold wrote:
> fantasai wrote:
>> This element would be extremely useful to someone with a screen reader.
>> It would create an implied UA hook for "skip to main content", for one.
>> With multiple postings within a page, it would create a reliable way of
>> "skimming" the main sections (by reading the first bit of content on each
>> posting), even when there are no headers or when the postings themselves
>> have internal sectioning and headers (especially if those are 
>> inconsistent).
> But how would it do this when <section> or <section role='article'> 
> would not?

   I find that anything I use that resembles the semantics of an
<article> usually has a class name attached to it for styling purposes,
especially in relation to fixed headers, footers and navigational bars,
so <section> alone wouldn't do.

   Would <section role="article"> do? Well, first of all, what would it
do that a predefined class name wouldn't, since from a markup point of
view, the only difference is the name of the attribute? Namespaces?
Nope, in XHTML you have to use |xmlns| to define those, so implementing
|role| with namespaces means creating a namespacing standard for HTML.
Good luck on that.

   Are semantics the difference? Well, |role| was designed to be purely
semantic. However, when you're styling an element, are you seriously
going to include a |class| on each element with a particular role, or
are you going to use selectors to style all elements with that |role|?
In the latter scenario, the selector may be just slightly more
complicated, but you only need to write it once and you save on markup.
Therefore, roles end up being functionally the same as predefined class
names, with the only difference being the entirely theoretical purity of
their semantics.

   Let's say, however, that we prefer |role| to |class| anyway. Why
would we want to do <section role="article"> when <article> is shorter:

| <section role="article"></section>
| <article></article>

   And you can't argue fallback, because <section> and <article> are
being defined in the same spec.

   What's more is that an article is more important semantically than a
section, and articles (marked up or not) actually occur with more
frequency, so why would we want to demote it two levels in markup?

   "What demotion?", you might ask. The first level of demotion is to
make it an attribute:

| <section article></section>

   This, however, would annoy the XHTML folk who can't use attribute
minimization, so it's demoted once again to a mere attribute value:

| <section role="article"></section>

   Part of the problem with this kind of markup demotion is that new
attributes that would have gone on an <article> suddenly need to apply
globally to every element, which is cumbersome. (Think <li rel="">
without the |href| attribute and you only begin to understand.) Another
problem is that the more roles that apply to specific elements like
<section>, the more broad the semantics of the element have to be to
accommodate all these roles. In other words, global attribute values
broaden the semantics of elements rather than making them more specific,
 and thus water them down until they loose their specificity. In the
case of <section>, it could eventually become the semantic equivalent of
a <div> with better heading support.

   Now, consider what would happen if you made it so that <section>
could only be contained in an <article>. That makes all <section>
elements sections of an article and reinforces the concept that
<article> represents the primary element for content.

> If the authors can't make the internal sectioning consistent,
> do you expect them to make the internal "articling" consistent?

   It's a matter of subjectivity. You can usually objectively determine
what an article is because it as a distinct topic an author and
frequently encompasses all meaningful content in the page. Sections are
more subjective because there may not be distinct divisions in topic
between paragraphs.

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