Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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HTML is a strange thing. It's easy to learn, you can lots of stuff with it and while being quite powerful it isn't really powerful. I also usually refer to HTML as trivial. All this may be due to my TeX/LaTeX background. Given that you won't find the concepts seen in HTML alien but you'll miss the trickery and programming capabilities as well as the widespread support for maths display and be even more sceptical considering the pain of actually using MathML.

I found it very interesting to read Mark Pilgrim's musings about the cite tag in particular and semantic markup in general. He challenges people to Find me another site that is as semantically rich[...].

Surely Mark wants people to find a site with an equally rich markup. There are loads of semantically rich pages out there - they're just not as machine-readable as Mark's. While it may be an added value for Mark's site to include rich machine-readable markup and while this kind of markup is in a way mandatory for databases and such, I still don't quite grasp why exactly this matters for my homepage or that of anybody else. These pages aren't meant to be computer-analysed, nor does anybody care too much about their structure. If people look for something on my pages that is of any relevance, they'll happily find it via Google.

In other words: Cheers to Mark for technical excellence, may his spirit catch up with people who publish database-style things which are also made to be computer-analysable (and which probably be the last to be machine-understandable as that may help competitors as well - the joy of capitalism). But for private publishing and consumption? I don't think it matters. People are writing for people mostly. And human intelligence normally knows what to make of some text and hyperlinks without failing to understand what's going on.

How practical things are may also be an issue here. Taking the example with the cite tag, it will take a lot of time (or perhaps programming skill) to make sure every citation you make is properly referenced. Of course having a perfect reference may enable you to find things again more easily once a link breaks, but often the time required is too long to justify that advantage. For people to do this kind of thing, that doesn't even have an immediate advantage, you'd need an easy-to-use editor that inserts the necessary tags for you automagically. Surely nobody will mind having better links.

I also found Mark's latest post with people's thoughts on blogging quite interesting. I particularly liked the post 'On Lighthouses' by Dennis Mahoney, reminding us of that it's writing things somebody is interested in that's much more important than having a pretty site. And taking it further, I'd say the same is true for having clever markup. Of course I like the look of my site (and I also liked the clean old look of Mark's site) - but I much prefer reading things in NetNewsWire these days, so most of these niceties are lost on me.

form follows function blogging may prevail, we'll call it Bauhaus blogging and start the whole naming-logo-branding crap again (scnr).

Looking around Mark's site within the links referring to him, I found a long-sought solution, though, that does give immediate improvement to the experience of these pages and is so easy to use, I've been doing it for ages now. I am referring to the hreflang parameter for links. As I frequently refer to German sites from within English text and vice versa, I mark the links to a different language with the hreflang tag to warn people about the language change.

I've always wondered why no browser seems to use this tag, say, to display a little flag as a warning if the link's language is different from the text's language and put it down to the fact that while the web originated in multi-lingual Switzerland, the trends in browser-making are dominated by U.S. companies and people who aren't aware of the importance of this (unless they pass one of those cheeky bastards who have innocent links going to different-laguage pages, that is). When reading the links on one of Mark's pages, though I found an e-mail by Karl Dubost who not only promotes the hreflang tag as well but also gives a solution to mark those links accordingly. The best thing is that it's dead-simple if you know that these kind of things can be done. Following Karl's mail, I added the following to my stylesheet:

a[hreflang]:after { 
	content:"[" attr(hreflang) "]";

Yep, that's all. A little, very neat change. It seems to be advanced CSS magic, however (read: CSS 2), meaning it won't work in all browsers. It works in Chimera (so I guess it also doesn in Mozilla or current versions of Netscape), doesn't work in Mac Internet Explorer and semi-works (i.e. something happens, but nothing useful) in Safari. Gosh, my site is becoming more and more incompatible every day.

January 19, 2003, 22:26

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