[whatwg] Thesis draft about HTML5 conformance checking

olivier Thereaux ot at w3.org
Tue Mar 13 21:40:16 PDT 2007

Hi Ian,
Thank you for the insightful comments and information about parsers.

On Mar 12, 2007, at 16:21 , Ian Hickson wrote:
> Why do you think search engine behaviour is more important than  
> browser
> engine behaviour? For what it's worth, search engine engineers I have
> spoken to have told me that what browsers do is far more important  
> than
> what a particular version of a search engine does in terms of what the
> specification should say, because their results are better when their
> algorithms match the browsers' behaviours.

My opinion, which may be wrong, is that the current balance of power  
is not the only factor in importance for the design/study of markup  

* browsers mostly determine (largely) whether and how the documents  
are presented to the user. Most of it is actually a question of CSS  
support, not relevant to this discussion. The rest is a matter of  
parsing model and element/attribute support, where the browsers do  
have an enormous influence, but even that may shift as more people in  
the world move to lightweight browsers on mobile devices than desktop  
browsers. If lightweigh browsers with less tolerance of tag soup  
carry more weight, the state of the art will be whatever parsing  
model is standardized, less so what browser foo or bar does on the  
desktop. Ditto for apps/widgets in non-browser environments. There's  
more to browsing than the desktop computer.

* Authoring tools and CMSs determine (largely) how documents are  
structured, and what features go in documents. If a feature of a  
markup language gets no adoption from them, then regardless of  
browser support, it will remain in the confidential little world of  
web geeks (no disrespect meant, I'm putting myself in this category)  
who edit their pages by hand.

* Search engines and their indexing mechanisms determine (largely)  
how documents get found. I've seen estimates that content-rich sites  
get half of their traffic through search engines. As you aptly point  
out, search engines are mostly mimicking browsers' behavior in  
parsing HTML documents, but that's not all.
An example: 10 years ago any serious Web page had to have meta  
description and keywords information, because that was the key to  
being listed in search engines. When search engines started ignoring  
those because of spam, usage fell. If today a feature of HTML, or  
RDFa, or microformats, caught the fancy of the major search engines  
and gave their user a serious visiting boost, the adoption rate would  
soar, regardless of browsers support.

* Servers, proxies, cache have their say too, though probably not  
much when it comes to markup languages.

All considered, of course I understand your point that desktop  
browsers *today* have a considerable influence in defining the state  
of the art of the web. But any standardization work, or study of the  
web, made under the assumption that other classes of product only  
have a minor importance because for the most part they follow this  
current balance of power and mimick the desktop browsers, is IMHO  
missing a good chunk of the "big picture".

I hope this helps clarify why I was wondering if Henri had considered  
other classes of products than browser desktops in his study.


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