Archive for the ‘Standards’ Category

Comic Update: Redefining Resolved

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Today’s comic imagines a scenario where Ian “The Leviathan” Hickson, HTML5 editor, “resolves” an issue as a plumber.

I’ve used quotation marks on “resolves” because the English language lacks punctuation to indicate sarcasm. I can only imagine what such a strange mark would look like, the black sheep that was expelled from the childhood home of Exclamation Point and Question Mark after a dispute with his stern father, Period. What would life on the streets do to such a symbol?

I considered using italics, but I didn’t want to look too sassy.

The @summary attribute has been the source of no little discomfort during the gestation process of HTML5, a token of sorts that is lauded, derided, despised and fought over in what seems like an endless battle. I discuss, in my own rambling fashion, my view of the civility of the issue here, which in turn references Bruce Lawson’s post on the topic, Alternate text in HTML5. It’s been the source of no small amount of contention, which I think John Foliot describes nicely over here.

Despite this, for some reason I’d (perhaps foolishly) thought that some sort of accord had occurred with @summary, allowing it to exist in HTML5 as a non-obsolete, conforming part of the spec (albeit with a great deal of snark involved).

I’d recently learned that not only was peace not occurring, but that @summary had found itself into the middle of another fracas. It seems that in an attempt to get HTML5 to reach Last Call status on schedule, Ian is marking unresolved issues in the bug tracker as “WONTFIX”, insisting that people with problems talk to the chairs, and moving on.

One such example of this in action is available for your reading pleasure in this W3C bug report. For those of you in a hurry, I’ll sum it up: People (such as the PFWG) have issue with @summary being marked in the HTML5 validator as “obsolete but conforming” along with a warning message.  Ian Hickson, man of action, disagrees with the PFWG’s opinion, won’t change the (inaccurate) flag, and has decided that the issue (among others) is resolved and simply marking it “WONTFIX.” Apparently it will keep this status, despite the large amount of opposition to this stance.

This is, as John Foliot puts it (in the same report)  “An affront to the web accessibility community that existing accessibility solutions that the current editor disagrees with have the status of WONTFIX simply because the editor disagrees.

I’m not sure, in the end, if @summary does or does not deserves the bad rap Ian’s trying to attach to it. But I do know, though, that I’m tired of seeing one “benevolent dictator” being capable of deciding the future of the open web single-handedly by sidestepping all the prior discussions and opposing views regarding HTML5 with a simple “WONTFIX” status.

Accessibility: Take 2

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

As I first discussed here, and then officially announced here, I’ve been upgrading CSSquirrel with accessibility features to help make this site more accessible for the vision-impaired. I first considered the idea several months back, when John Foliot approached me with a code sample that I could use to give the comic an alternative long description for screen readers. I’ll admit that I didn’t act on it at the time, though, because it seemed like a low priority. How many blind people read comics?

I realized the mistake in my complacency when I received my first blog comment from a blind user here, where he was testing his ability to post despite the CAPTCHA that was present. At that point I realized that if even one person was visiting my site and incapable of at least knowing what was happening in the comic, they were getting a severely degraded experience, which was a disservice on my part.

My growing awareness of how frustrating such a thing would be is borne out in my Squirrel in the Dark post. As a result of this, I went about adding an aria-describedby attribute to my comic’s image tag. Later, based on feedback from a JAWS-10 user and with another suggestion by John, I doubled up with the addition of the longdesc attribute to the image. In both cases, the value for the attributes is an URL for a separate transcript page.

Thinking all was well, I congratulated myself and went back to poking fun at the HTML5 process and spent a lot of time drawing people in spandex.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy.

First, a new accessibility problem had reared its ugly head. When I built the site’s CAPTCHA, I had actually taken vision-impaired users into consideration and provided description text of each image to allow them to select the proper one for the CAPTCHA (mind you, not including the word that the CAPTCHA asked you to match with the image). However, when someone tabbed through the page’s links and fields, the tabbed indexing would go out of order, going through the other input fields for the comments at a different time than the CAPTCHA itself, making the whole affair confusing.

Secondly, I learned that the aria-describedby element isn’t meant to direct to other pages (which I think is a bit silly of a limitation, but I’m not an expert at these things), but rather should contain the ID of an element on the page containing a description. It’s quite a difference, and one I’ll admit I made by failing completely to do enough homework on the matter in advance.

I’d thank Henri Sivonen for his “bug report” on the aria-describedby issue, but he chose to use the issue to draw a comparison to the Super Friends‘ list of concerns (and its initial posting to a blog instead of the WHATWG mailing list) and neglected to mention it to me directly. So instead I’ll thank Laura Carlson for drawing my attention to my error, Arve Bersvendsen for sharing his opinions on alternate techniques, and Steven Faulkner for suggesting a way to use aria-describedby to link validly to off-page content. I know others contacted me about the error, but I’m sorry to say I don’t remember all the names at the moment.

My solution, therefore, was what Steven suggested in the W3C mailing list. The aria-describedby attribute on the image tag now has a value that is the ID of an anchor on the page. That anchor then links to the comic’s transcript page. The anchor is hidden by CSS to avoid distracting sighted users. You can examine a recent comic, like this one on the Super Friends, to see it in effect (if you’re on a normal browser you won’t notice much unless you view the page source).

The CAPTCHA’s messed up tabbing issue turned out to be an easy fix as well. Stéphane Deschamps pointed out in a comment that there was tabindexes on the form’s fields, which was causing the tab order to go screwy. I didn’t know these existed, having failed to examine the blog software’s default fields very much. Now that he’s pointed it out, I’ve taken them off, hopefully making the CAPTCHA less burdensome.

As I’ve stated in the past, I’m a non-expert at pretty much everything that doesn’t involve vector squirrels. However, I have an appetite for absorbing as many web-related skills as possible to help better the web through direct effort or comic-related advocacy. One of these areas of the web that I realize that I need a great deal more knowledge about is accessibility, and it’s a deficit that I seem to share with almost every designer or developer I meet.

Having admitted my deficiency, I’d like feedback on this issue, if you have it. Does the updated aria-describedby technique for serving the transcript actually use the attribute properly? Is the CAPTCHA usable by vision-impaired visitors with approximately the same level of annoyance all people feel when they use a CAPTCHA? Is there another feature on the site that causes accessibility issues that I haven’t mentioned or considered?

To those who contact me with these problems, thank you. I’m in your debt.

Comic Update: Behold Leviathan, Confused

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Sooner or later HTML5 will not be the most interesting topic to wax poetic about. This is not that day.

I’m usually in sync with the web-related posts written by Jeremy Keith over at his personal site, Adactio. He’s usually saying something I’m thinking (albeit with more eloquence than I could muster), or spouts some gem of wisdom that I wish I’d thought of first. As such, it is safe to say that I respect him and, normally, his opinion.

This weekend, however, he wrote firmly on the topic of HTML5 and its process, in The HTML5 Equilibrium. In doing so, he made a sort of sandwich. The opening and closing of his post were two delicious, carefully toasted buns of high quality. But firmly settled in between them was a rank egg salad segment where he detailed his view on the W3C/WHAT WG “split personality”, ruining my appetite for his creation.

I’ve never been able to stomach egg salad sandwiches.

My reaction was spawned by his discussion of the status of Ian “Hixie” Hickson as the dictator-for-life of HTML5, sitting astride a position of absolute power in how the spec is edited. As readers probably know by now, there’s been plenty of friction lately between the HTML5 efforts and every other W3C group known to man as Ian’s been refuting their expert advice in exchange for his own pseudo-expert opinion on a wide range of topics.

Keith comes to Hixie’s defense by stating that although an unelected autocrat is horrible, it can work quite well. He evokes the power of dictatorship by referencing Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and quoting Shakespeare’s Henry V. Specifically, he states that by doing so we transfer “moral responsibility” from the populace to the dictator, then goes on to say that Ian has taken this mantle and used it evenhandedly and fairly.

In short, Jeremy uncouples the means from the ends. Leviathan, written in the 17th century, is a text that firmly opposes Separation of Powers and refutes the Right of Rebellion, claims the sovereign’s acts are incapable of being considered unjust, and makes it unjust for the populace to attempt to unseat the sovereign.

In short, do what you’d like, Hixie. It won’t be our fault, because we’ve given you all the power, and from here on out we’re blameless. But at the same time, should we disagree with you, tough for us. It’s all your show now.

And really, that’s what it’s become. The Hixie Show. The amount of “not invented here” mentality that evades the modern HTML5 spec is odious. Accessibility in HTML5 isn’t being decided by experts. Process, when challenged through W3C guidelines, is defended as being “not like the old ways”, in essence slapping the W3C in the face. Ian’s made it clear he won’t play by the rules. When well-meaning experts carefully announce their opposing positions and desire for some form of closing the gaps, Ian and the inner circle constantly express how they don’t understand. This understanding issue has reached a comedic point. When Sam Ruby pressed them on the subject during an objection by John Foliot (as noted here), Ian’s response is a glib “I don’t understand John’s concerns. He hasn’t explained them. He has just made unsubstantiated demands.

This phrase (“I don’t understand”) is used by Ian so frequently that I’m genuinely concerned. He’s ostensibly a bright man. The usual objections and positions by other parties in the HTML5 dialogue are incredibly well documented at this point, in staggering detail. To claim the inability to understand exhibits one of two traits: Either Ian is a simpleton, or he is deliberately “misunderstanding”.

I don’t think it’s the former. Ian has clearly demonstrated his phenomenal intelligence. Yet, the latter option is part of Ian’s well documented deny, delay, too late methodology for handling people. Engaging in this sort of behavior is disrespectful of his community of peers, and more than discouraging when its coming from our empowered Leviathan.

We must accept this, though. Because it’s the results that matter, right? If we get a HTML5 spec, any HTML5 spec, we should be happy about it. Despite all the assurances to the contrary, I can’t really believe that it’s acceptable to consider a product’s method of construction to be independent from its quality. If so, I should be paying far less for my garments, right?

There’s a thought process here that is so far removed from the 21st century as to be terrifying.

In today’s comic, Jeremy Keith reveals the Leviathan to the Squirrel. Things go badly. But remember, it’s only the Leviathan’s fault, because we’ve absolved ourselves of both power and responsibility.


Comic Update: The W3C/WHATWG Community Theater Group

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I can’t help but be shocked at times at the drama and ugliness that builds up around the HTML5 effort. Good men and women, thinking that they can make a difference, time and again enter the dangerous mailing lists of the W3C and WHAT WG only to be ignored at best or belittled and chewed to pieces. These are zones (allegedly) of collaboration, but instead seem more at times like zones of war.

Go ahead and take a look for yourselves.

I’d think that this was just me overreacting, but when I tweeted on Sunday about my thoughts on the drama in the lists, I got a number of responses that illustrate that I’m not alone in my perception.

Jin Yang indicated that popcorn was a good snack while watching the drama unfold. After I made a bar brawl analogy, David Peterson suggested that whiskey might help them calm down, and that his two year old has progressed farther in the manners department. John Foliot provided some perspective sharing that this “us & them” mentality is a relatively new thing. And Manu Sporny joked that the W3C and WHAT WG originated as community theater groups.

Naturally, his joke was comedy, not fact. But I couldn’t help but think, what if…? So today’s comic portrays Manu Sporny and the Squirrel attending a fateful showing of Our American Cousin.

I want to say that I do see a lot of polite dialogue in the lists. I’m just amazed at how much bad behavior (sometimes well dressed, mind you) makes it into the discussions. Here’s hoping the good outweighs the bad by the time Last Call rolls around.

(As a closing note, I like the term Dundrearyisms.)

Comic Update: The HTML5 Suggestion Box

Monday, July 20th, 2009

In one of his recent lengthy, marathonesque comments in other people’s blog posts, John Allsopp said the following quote in response to Bruce Lawson’s post HTML is a mess: “I guess one of the reasons folks are resorting to raising their legitimate concerns in public fora, rather than directly with the HTML WG (or should that be the WhatWG, or maybe both?) is possible they don’t have a tonne of faith in the process.”

This comment by John sent me down several interesting paths of consideration. Firstly, it made me think that Mr. Allsopp might spend more time writing in other people’s blogs than his own, much like Jeff Croft (who I had the fortune to see at Refresh Bellingham last week) appears to spend more time in every other city in America than the one in which he lives.

Secondly, I briefly thought that I’d start spelling “ton” (American spelling) like “tonne” (which appears to be the Australian, and I’ll bet also the UK spelling). I quickly discarded that plan, since it’d just limit my word count in Twitter. Which made me wonder, do Japanese users of Twitter get to use kanji in their tweets? If so, that seems highly unfair. They could fit a War & Peace sized comment in a single tweet that way. (Note to self: learn Japanese.)

Finally I really got to the meat of what he said in that sentence (one of many that expressed his thoughts on the mess topic Bruce had posted about). Why should you or I bother with figuring out how the hell to send an email to the proper mailing lists for the HTML5 WG? Or the WHAT WG? Heck, I’m not even sure which group is more relevant. The former has more technical authority, but the latter is actually making all the calls. RDFa, ARIA, and other fruits of the loins of other W3C chartered working groups are being disregarded by the HTML5 people consistently, or being carefully argued away with a pleading for use cases, a suggestion that their expertise is flawed, or that alternate solutions (read that: the WHAT WG’s solutions) are the better option.

People who’ve spent decades in service to their fields are being shot down by non-experts. Consider the issues with accessibility. Laura Carlson recently sent a proposal (signed by a lot of notables including accessibility guru John Foliot and HTML5 doctor in residence Bruce Lawson) that suggested the audacious idea that there be a formal procedure that describes how HTML5 will seek accessibility guidance from the W3C WAI groups.

HTML5 editor-for-life Ian Hickson evaded the issue by listing all the unanswered questions he has waiting on such topics instead of addressing the proposal. Sam Ruby one-upped Ian by expressing his disappointment that the proposal even existed.

In a situation like this, where motivated, caring experts in their fields are being ignored or deflected when using the official channels, why should your average John Everyweb even consider unraveling the process involved enough to attempt to address concerns, knowing the almost certain result of such efforts?

I can’t think of any motivating reasons.

Today’s comic features John Foliot (representing accessibility efforts) submitting such a suggestion to the HTML5 group(s), with my squirrel alter ego looking on in horror at the results. Consider it a softened metaphor that reflects my own growing dismay at the direction HTML5 seems to be heading when working with others.