[whatwg] ---

Eduard Pascual herenvardo at gmail.com
Mon Nov 10 14:34:46 PST 2008

On Mon, Nov 10, 2008 at 8:46 PM, Matthew Paul Thomas <mpt at myrealbox.com> wrote:
> The earliest surviving HTML draft from 1992 includes the <PLAINTEXT> and
> <LISTING> elements, both entirely presentational.
> <http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/MarkUp/Tags.html>
<PLAINTEXT> was aimed to mark the end of hypertext in a document,
hence the contents beyond it were to be treated as plain text instead,
ignoring anything that could look like markup. That's quite
structural, IMO. The fact that the draft described an obvious
preferable rendering (intended to make the plain text stand out as
plain text) doesn't make it "entirely presentational": if that were
the case, almost all elements described there would be presentational.
The case of <LISTING> is more of the same: it was intended to denote
listings (such as code, terminal output, or directory listings), hence
the name, and the draft proposed using monospaced rendering for this
element because it generally makes these kinds of listings much easier
to read.
On both cases, the elements are quite structural, and the rendering
described in the draft is simply an obvious consequence of the kind of
structure denoted by them.

> HTML+ in 1993 went further: "In many cases it is convenient to indicate
> directly how the text is to be rendered, e.g. as italic, bold, underline or
> strike-through". <http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/HTMLPlus/htmlplus_16.html> Those
> presentational elements continued into HTML 2.0.
I wouldn't take too seriously specs that never went beyond the "draft"
stage, but if you insist, it'd be interesting to point out that in the
introduction of the HTML+ proposal those elements were described as
mere "hints".
About those elements "continuing" into HTML 2.0, it's worth saying
that only three of them (<i>, <b>, and <tt>) were actually included in
that version, and for all of them the spec allowed for "alternative

> HTML has always been a dance between structure and presentation. Too
> structural, and humans won't understand it; too presentational, and
> computers won't understand it.
It hasn't been such a dance: there were a few presentational elements
at the beginning, because there was a need to describe the
presentation for such cases; then when the presentational needs became
more exigent there was an attempt (known as 3.2) to make the language
presentational, which soundly failed; and thanks to this failure the
W3C realized that HTML couldn't be the solution to these
presentational needs, hence they created CSS and added some hooking
and embeeding mechanisms in HTML4. All the presentational stuff that
is still in HTML after 3.2 is only retained for compatibility with
older documents. If there was a dance, it was a quite short one.
Actually, it's easier for most humans to understand a document with a
clear structure than a non-sense of eye-bleeding presentational
tag-soup. Of course, presentation can help humans understanding a
document, but it works best when it's used to highlight and emphasize
the structure of the document. I'm afraid you are understimating
And, besides that, computers actually "understand" completely
presentational markup: they understand that something is italic,
something is underlined, and some chunk of text is red and
right-aligned. Of course, they won't be able to figure out why is
something italic, or underlined, or red; but that's not because a
limitation of the machines, it's simply because the document doesn't
really convey that information.

Besides all of this, may I ask you what was the point of your message?
I mean, I hope I understood the contents, but I fail to see the intent
of it: you just quoted a small comment and tried to prove wrong a
point that, even if it is indeed wrong, was not the main point of that
comment; mostly because it was taken as the basis for a comparison.
Actually, after reviewing in more dept these "pre-histroric" specs, I
now see the paralelism between presentation and semantics even more

Eduard Pascual

More information about the whatwg mailing list