[whatwg] Context help in Web Forms

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at myrealbox.com
Sun Nov 11 14:08:26 PST 2007

On Oct 30, 2007, at 6:01 PM, Ian Hickson wrote:
> ...
> On Mon, 13 Jun 2005, Matthew Thomas wrote:
>> Or perhaps <a ... rel="help" for="phone-number">, to be consistent 
>> with the for= attribute in <label>.
> This is a possibility, but is it really needed? In general it seems 
> we'd want to encourage authors to put the links near the text and 
> controls to which it applies.

Sure, but I don't see how it's different from <label> in that respect: 
we want to encourage authors to put <label> near the control to which 
it applies, but <label> already has for=. (<label> can have weak 
semantic value even when not related to a particular control, but then 
so could rel="help".)

>> Many applications provide inline help which is not a label, and the 
>> same attributes would be appropriate here: <div rel="help"
>> for="phone-number"><p>The full number, including country code.</p>
>> <p>Example: <samp>+61 3 1234 5678</samp></p></div>
> How would UAs use this?

UAs likely wouldn't, but scripts could. For example, a form might 
include sparing help by default, with a style sheet hiding more 
exhaustive help (as indicated by rel="help"). Then a script could add a 
small help button after each control that has associated help (i.e. 
each control with name="x" where there exists an element on the page 
with rel="help" for="x"). When a control's help button was clicked, the 
control's help would be shown.

Another possible presentation would be reserving whitespace to the 
right of the form, and making <whatever rel="help" for="x"> visible in 
that space whenever <input name="x"> was focused.

<http://uxmatters.com/MT/archives/000191.php> shows these and other 
examples of dynamic help.

>> The cite= attribute was also mentioned in this thread as one that is
>> practically useless because there is no good way of presenting it.
>> (Sometimes authors use JavaScript to pull it out of a <blockquote> and
>> present it as a link underneath. But that still has accessibility
>> problems, because it doesn't work without JavaScript, and the 
>> resulting link text is either a raw URL or the same text for every 
>> quote. These problems make the technique even more unworkable for 
>> <q>.) As a result, authors usually use an <a> link to the resource 
>> they're quoting (look at most self-hosted Weblogs for examples), and 
>> there ends up being no machine-readable connection between the link 
>> and the quote. This could similarly be achieved in the <a> element 
>> with a for= attribute giving the ID of the <blockquote> or <q> 
>> element.
> Interesting idea.
>> The majority of authors still wouldn't use these attributes, because 
>> it would give them no presentational benefit. But at least authors 
>> would be slightly more likely to use them than to use attributes that 
>> they have to re-present using extra elements or JavaScript.
> We should probably aim higher than that though...
> ...

I'm suggesting either replacing <foo cite="url"></foo> with <bar 
rel="citation" for="id-of-foo">, or dropping cite= altogether.

Matthew Paul Thomas

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