Comic Update: Conversation Sans SemanticsMonday, September 21st, 2009
Today’s comic features Jeremy Keith, HTML5 “Doctor” Mike Robinson and the squirrel having an innocent conversation about Thai food and emails going where they don’t belong, while the poor Google-bot attempts to understand who is speaking without semantic guidance. I should warn you, a specific body part’s medical term is used a few times. All in good taste, mind you.
The reason that these two fine England-dwelling individuals join the squirrel in the strip is that each of them also had a slight issue with something that I found distasteful over the week: HTML5 documentation giving guidance for using non-semantic markup as a solution for marking conversations in HTML. The markup in question for a short time suggested using the b tag to note a speaker, with the text of the speech being in p tags. A short bit of criticism later and that was dropped, but as you can see here, there’s no replacement suggestions yet for any semantic solution.
Look. It’s 2009. We’re working on HTML5. We know that semantic-free markup (or semantically-confused markup) is something best avoided when possible. A conversation is one of the basic methods of human communication. I’m going to guess 99.999% of all people have at least one conversation daily. At least a portion of these end up on the web. Is there any reason to assume that we wouldn’t want to make this data more accessible for machines and screen-readers to understand?
The proposed dialog element has apparently gone the way of the dodo. I don’t know if this is good or bad. But I’d like some sort of method to markup conversation that isn’t arbitrary and devoid of meaning. And, contrary to the opinion put forth in this W3C mailing list email, I’m going to believe that my opinion on this matter is valid despite my tendency to draw squirrels. Ever since making the commitment to providing transcripts of the comics I create, I’m invested in having some method to mark up conversation. I’m also in the camp that prefers that markup to make sense.
I don’t know all the pros and cons, but I like the proposal put forth by the HTML5 Super Friends in their list of concerns: let’s use cite and q, or at the very least do some research to see how well that one works out. It makes sense, it’s simple, and we don’t have to invent new elements. I for one am going to start using them going forward until something that makes more sense comes along.
But enough with suggesting semantic-free elements for markup. We’ve already got div and span, I don’t really see the need for b and i to keep rearing their ugly heads.