31 Oct

Gold-plating the cow paths

I was quoted a couple of weeks ago as saying, albeit in private, the following:

“HTML fails to be simple if it can’t provide what authors regularly need and end up turning to other encodings” — @phae


For context, that was in response to a remark made by a friend that HTML fails if authors can’t use it because it has become too complex and attempts to describe too much. My response was that it fails not because it’s complicated, but when an author cannot express their content accurately with the toolkit they’re supplied and have to go to another encoding to find what they’re looking for. That’s the language passing the buck, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting HTML should cover every niche semantic everyone is ever going to want to express ever. That would be crazy and confusing. HTML should express what is most commonly used, and at the moment it doesn’t – which is why we still see microformats, microdata, component model, schema.org etc. trying to fill the gaps. And not just trying to fill the gaps, but trying to provide data on which decisions can be made about what should be in HTML.

HTML, and a platform that provides, should be the end goal. Microformats, et al., are the research grounds that should be directly contributing with the evidence and data they are able to garner. In fact, the most popular microformats, shown through demand and usage, should just be in HTML as a standard, by being provided for with semantically appropriate new elements.

We’ve seen this work. Microformats started doing things with dates, most specifically, hCalendar. It had a slightly cludgy way of marking up time, using abbr. The accessibility lot were rightfully less than impressed, and other patterns were tried – title and spans and all kinds of things. But in short, it was shown that time gets talked about a lot, and we needed something better. We got <time> in HTML. Hooray! The system works! Well, except when it doesn’t. Go read Bruce Lawson’s take, as the powers that be removed time and replaced it with data. Gee, thanks.

We shouldn’t expect authors to go in search of richer mark-up from other sources when what they’re trying to do is really common, when a need has been shown, and a pattern has been proven.

2 thoughts on “Gold-plating the cow paths

  1. You wrote:
    “…as the powers that be removed time and replaced it with data.”

    To be crystal clear, it wasn’t “…the powers that be…”, but rather Ian Hickson, dictator for life at WHATWG who made this unilateral decision, which is proving to be extremely unpopular. While hixie’s move has had a short term impact on the W3C draft spec, there are serious moves afoot within the W3C to revert this back, and soon. We will likely be successful at the W3C, as that organization has a consensus based process, and clearly there is no consensus here. What happens at WHATWG of course is that hixie has final say, so he may or may not change this decision.

    This simply goes to show why the WHATWG non-process of 1 author calling all the shots is fundamentally flawed when it comes to such an important community resource like the Web.

  2. Thanks John.

    Yes, I agree that it shouldn’t be one person. That’s exactly why I think we should be leaning harder on the likes of microformats to generate the data on which decisions can be made. More science!

    And I think that’s a momentum that should be gained on either side – the mf community should be pushing their specs further, perhaps suggesting where and how they should be represented in HTML.

    The data element was just a timely, pardon the pun, example of things going wrong.

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