Can Hixie’s <Data>leks Exterminate <Time>?

November 03, 2011
CSSquirrel #88: Can Hixie's <Data>leks Exterminate Time?

Edit: Roughly twenty minutes after I posted this, the W3C took action on the issue, insisting that the <time> element be placed back into the specification. You can read about it here. But please read on. It’s a good primer for the next time something like this happens.

Contrary to what you may have already heard, the <time> element hasn’t disappeared from HTML.

Yes, officially <time> is currently not part of the HTML spec. (Thanks to the muddle that is “HTML Living Specification” I’ll be honest and admit I’m not sure if is no longer part of HTML5 or it’s in some sort of Schrodinger’s Cat quantum-zombie state of existing in HTML5 but missing in the “ongoing HTML” that the WHATWG is proud to keep rolling down the conveyor belt.)

That doesn’t mean it’s not being used by authors (how’s Drupal builds, 2.6 million WordPress installs and the Boston Globe for you?) nor does it mean that is it not being used by user agents (ever-plucky Opera supports it).

What it means is that a single human being has decided that he doesn’t care for time one wit, and that a rather vague element called <data> can replace it instead.

This human is none other than Ian “The Benign Leviathan Dictator For Life” Hixie, editor for the HTML specification.

I could give you an explanation on how this scenario came to exist, but two Brits who are far more informed than I am (and likely slightly smarter) have made their own summaries. If you like knowing what’s going on (and I do) then go read them. These pair of fine gentlemen, Jeremy Keith and Bruce Lawson, both guest star in today’s comic as the good Doctor thanks to a little spot of regeneration, where they’re fighting the good fight against Hixie’s <data>leks.

Virtually every problem I have with a single person wielding so much power over such a fundamentally important pillar of the web as HTML can be summed up in this incident. <Time> is officially out, despite the lack of merit or consensus in that decision. And it took just one man to make that happen. Either through a lack of awareness or a genuine disregard for what authors are already doing, Ian has claimed incorrectly that <time> isn’t seeing adoption, isn’t useful, and should be canned. And because the only balance to his power is a rather tedious process to oust him, there’s no official remedy to bringing <time> back into the HTML fold than trying to convince him that its existence is a good thing.

From what I understand, it’s easier to keep red shirts alive on away missions than it is to change Ian’s opinion on something.

Fortunately, there’s a big difference between having no official remedy and having no remedy whatsoever.

As “authors”, we are the 99% of HTML5. We can follow Jeremy Keith’s sage advice:

We can make a stand and simply carry on using the time element in our web pages. If we do, then we’ll see more parsers and browsers implementing support for the time element. The fact that our documentation has been ripped away makes this trickier but it’s such a demonstrably useful addition to HTML that we cannot afford to throw it away based on the faulty logic of one person.

So as I said, <time> hasn’t disappeared from HTML. It’s still there on millions of sites already. And nothing is stopping us from putting it on millions more. It’s our chance to send those <data>leks packing. As soon as this post is finished I’m going to edit my site’s theme to make use of <time>. Hixie can go stuff it.

Occupy HTML5.

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6 Responses to “Can Hixie’s <Data>leks Exterminate <Time>?”

  1. I love that the new stance of the religious right of web standards dogma is to tell everyone to keep on using the time element, even if it’s not in the spec.

    How far we’ve come from the idea that validation is everything.

  2. To Jeff’s remark above, it’s always been about markup that makes sense. For a long time, sensible markup = valid markup. And even sensible markup artists were cool with bending the rules where applicable. But this is one man trying to steamroll over something that makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. I say bully for those who have thrown down their validators to side with the semantics evangelists!

  3. On Thursday November 3rd the chairs of the W3C HTML WG instructed the editor of the W3C specification to revert this change and reinstate back into the spec. Whether or not this will also be reflected in the WHAT WG spec remains to be seen, but in the consensus-driven process that is the W3C, the process won the day.

    So the next time you are sitting around, slagging off the W3C as being a bunch of old out-of-touch gray-beards, think back to this day, this move, and contemplate what the real value of the W3C is to you: it let’s *you* have some ownership of the Open Web, and doesn’t hand off all your rights to one not-always-perfect editor.


  4. What does validation even mean if the language can be jerked around by one guy? We’re out here trying to do it right and be conscientious, thoughtful and semantic, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

  5. Hilarious.

    To be clear, despite the revert request, it’s a bit more complicated than that, and the bug/issue is being split into 2-3 issues.

    Per the HTML WG meeting today (see minutes), there was rough consensus on:
    * keep <data>
    * keep <time>
    * among the <time> keepers, consensus (and no objections) on enhancing <time> to include a few additional practical/popular/useful expressions of time (year, year-month, month-day, duration, timezone).

    Now we walk the path from consensus to changes in the specs.

    More details in links posted here:

    In summary: keep calm and <time> <data> on.



    P.S. Kyle, how often do you get ad hominem (“religious right”, “dogma”) and strawman (“idea that validation is everything”) arguments in comments?

  6. Tantek,

    Thanks for the clarifications! :) Frankly, I’m pleased to see that not only is <time> being kept, it’s also being enhanced.

    I’d have to go over my comment history to accurately answer your question, but from my recollection I would say that discussion in the comments rarely appeal to dogma. Typically the more heated conversations involve people utilizing research or other data points as their backing (although I suspect if I looked that I’d find some of the accessibility conversations fall into dogmatic arguments from time to time).

    As for strawmen arguments, it happens at times. I see it most often when a proponent or opponent of a HTML5 change would create a theoretical use case to justify their foe’s reasoning and then tear it apart.

    Now I’m curious enough to go looking back through my comment history.