A Rant about HTML

All we are saying is give Lynx a chance

Remember SGML? It was a protocol for describing ways of laying out documents. An SGML document could be rendered in a variety of ways, but the essential structure would be intact: a heading stayed a heading, a quotation was a quotation, etc. SGML didn't care; it left the format of the content up to whatever was displaying it.

Remember HTML? It once was a protocol (a species of genus SGML) for describing World Wide Web document structure. You could even add links to other documents. First text-only browsers appeared, then this very cool graphic browser appeared (remember Mosaic?) - and you could get it absolutely free!

Then Netscape happened. Suddenly the power of HTML expanded dramatically: people were formatting text in new ways, adding cool things like tables, and controlling how text flowed around images.

Wait a minute - "controlling text flow"? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of having a protocol that can be interpreted differently by different programs?

Now we have a situation where the popularity of the Web and Netscape's Navigator having pushed HTML even further. And we get such interesting artifacts as this:

Try creating a page with a very long line of text (several hundred characters) enclosed in <pre></pre> tags. Before that put an <img> tag with the attribute align="right". Use a tall image for the src attribute. What happens?

That's right. We have a case of Navigator having to decide which is more important: a line of text it isn't allowed to break, or an image that it can't move. I've seen it truncate the text at the image, and also write the text over the image, depending on the cirumstances. It's the unstoppable force and the immovable object paradox. Netscape provides you the answer.

My personal favorite is the fact that Navigator nows allows you to control the color of text. Since I don't like having underlined links, I turn that option off in Navigator. Instead, I rely on the color of the text to indicate the presence of a link.

Well, now that's useless. Last night I ran into a page that was using the color attributes in exactly the opposite way from what I expect. What looked like links were static text, and vice versa.

That's when I decided to write a rant. Also, that's when I realized I needed to do two things:

  1. Make my Navigator preferences override those of any page I visit

  2. Clean up my own pages

So I've been busy. Going are all the <font> tags. Images of text are being replaced by text. Background images are being eliminated.

While I'm at it, the other annoying home page tricks are these:

  • Animated images. They are annoying. The only practical use I have ever seen is to spell out words in ASL, so they can be a good teaching tool.

  • Poor frame use. Frames can be useful, but having four frames on a screen, each with its own set of scroll bars, proves nothing except that you're a poor HTML writer.

  • Putting cute messages in the browser status line. That isn't what the status line is for. It's to (drum roll please) ...show the browser's status. I like to see the information there, and it shouldn't be covered up by a greeting or ad.

Pardon me. I have to go improve (i.e., simplify) my Web pages.

And remember - if you have a page that's nothing but external links, then you really need to add some content. Otherwise, you just show that you have nothing to say. Be creative! Make something. Do yourself proud.

This might seem like, well, a rant, but there is a good reason for not using all these nifty tags to specify exactly how your page looks: some people are handicapped and cannot see as you do. Here are some pointers for creating more accessible HTML:

  1. Do not color text. (Some people are colorblind.)

  2. Review your pages with the typeface set to 24 or 36 point, and again at 8 point.

  3. Use relative font sizes rather than absolute.

  4. Always include alt="descriptive text" in <img> tags. (Think of people using text-only browsers or text-to-speech programs.)

See the Rant about Web Design.

Last updated 23 September 2003
All contents ©1996-2003 Mark L. Irons

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