[whatwg] alt="" and the <meta name=generator> exception

Michael[tm] Smith mike at w3.org
Fri Aug 3 23:08:51 PDT 2012

Ian Hickson <ian at hixie.ch>, 2012-08-01 07:56 +0000:
> We briefly brainstormed some ideas on #whatwg earlier tonight, and one 
> name in particular that I think could work is the absurdly long
>    <img src="..." generator-unable-to-provide-required-alt="">
> This has several key characteristics that I think are good:
>  - it's long, so people aren't going to want to type it out
>  - it's long, so it will stick out in copy-and-paste scenarios
>  - it's emminently searchable (long unique term) and so will likely lead 
>    to good documentation if it's adopted
>  - the "generator" part implies that it's for use by generators, and may 
>    discourage authors from using it
>  - the "unable" and "required" parts make it obvious that using this 
>    attribute is an act of last resort

Speaking as a validator contributor-implementor, I support the addition of
this attribute, with the "generator-unable-to-provide-required-alt" name or
at the very least with the characteristics of the name Hixie outlines here.

Moreover, I intend to implement experimental support for it in the
validator.nu engine relatively soon. Henri has also stated that he thinks a
related proposal from Ted O'Connor for a similar attribute but with a
different name ("relaxed") "would be eligible for implementation in
Validator.nu if the proposal were adopted by the HTML WG".


I suspect that Ted would be amenable to updating that proposal to use the
"generator-unable-to-provide-required-alt" instead of "relaxed", so I think
we have convergence on agreement for adding this attribute.

> This attribute would be non-conforming except when provided in markup 
> generated by user agents that find themselves with an image and no 
> suitable alt="" text. It would be a third option in the "Images whose 
> contents are not known" section of the spec. It would be mentioned in the 
> "Guidance for markup generators" section, along with some text about using 
> one of the other two alternatives when the image in question is the center 
> of attention on the page (as in the Flickr case), rather than using this 
> new attribute. It would replace the "generator" exception in the "Guidance 
> for conformance checkers" section. The note in the "generator" section 
> would be removed.

I support all those changes. I can't speak for Henri on all those points,
but note that Henri has also recently indicated he's agreeable to dropping
the "generator" section -

  "I agree that <meta name=generator> is a bad solution both because it
  tries to repurpose existing syntax in a way that's not expected by the
  current generators of the syntax and because of its lack of

> If we do this, I think we should commit to revisiting the issue in a year 
> or two, to examine what impact this is having on Web pages: is the 
> attribute used in inappropriate ways? Is it used badly more than 
> correctly? Are validator users more or less happy? Most importantly, are 
> alt="" texts overall better or worse? Have any generators started using 
> the attribute rather than outputting bogus alt="" values?

Agreed. I support making having some kind of "trial period" like what you
describe, or a year or two or 18 months. If we do that I would prefer that
the spec include some kind of note/warning making it clear that the
attribute is experimental and may be dropped or changed significantly
within the next two years based on analysis we get back during that time.


Michael[tm] Smith http://people.w3.org/mike

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