We here at urban75 enjoy a good rant,
and as internet designers we particularly enjoyed this delightful essay by
Harry Pattinson, which stirred up a veritable hornet's nest when
it was posted up on several web authoring newsgroups.|
Go for it, Harry...!
Do HTML Aryans Threaten WWW Freedom?
Should Freedom of the Web include Presentation as well as Content?
I am sure no one would disagree that there has to be some kind of common ground which ensures that a document published on the Web will be accessible by all browsers: not only the most prominent such as Netscape or MSIE, but also for instance NCSA Mosaic and Lynx.
That is, a browser which could not accommodate 'accepted' or 'validated' HTML would be like a car which could not be driven on a road.
We all appreciate that the 'unvalidated' extensions to HTML, introduced by the manufacturers of some browsers to extend the capabilities and sales-appeal of their product, in fact limit the potential audience for pages produced to make use of those extensions. Unless the audience use the appropriate browser, they will miss out.
It would be absurd to use these ingenious extensions only to display unnecessary information: another way to lose your audience is to increase their download times to no purpose. Nevertheless, this is often the case, with such extensions being used solely for cosmetic treatment: Java script in particular being used for sophisticated irrelevancies, whilst possessed of a somewhat precarious stability...
Obviously it is possible to produce alternative pages, specific to different browsers, but this multiplying of HTML documents in every Web site to ensure cross-browser compatibility is rightly regarded as a waste of time and effort, and is rather messy, especially for pages which require frequent updating.
These attempts to gain or hold market share through incompatible extensions are generally perceived as something of a nuisance. Some people regard them as an attempt to dominate the Web; many see them as a threat to Web integrity.
The general perspective on this appears to be that the browser-manufacturers [and in particular the 'big two', Netscape and MSIE], are exerting a divisive influence upon the Web.
One ideal is that the Web should be homogenous: that all information uploaded should be accessible without requiring a battery of browsers on your HDD, like keys on a chain, to unlock the various styles of site.
There are a number of people, many of whom apparently favour Lynx [which I admit to knowing by name but not by experience] to obtain their information from the Web, who appear to becoming increasingly irritated by the deviations from 'validated' or 'pure' HTML, and who despise Web documents which exceed those parameters without providing their essential material in alternative 'validated' form.
I recently became involved in a brief skirmish - I call it skirmish because discussion or debate it was not - in a thread on the 'comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html' [c.i.w.a.h.] newsgroup, entitled "Re: Acceptability of framed sites", supposedly over the use of the <FRAME> element.
I said I thought the <FRAME> element could be of value, and gave the URL of a page on a Web site which uses it.
I soon realised that the people with whom I thought I could 'discuss' the matter would allow no leeway on the use of something as relatively 'inert' as frames. To the HTML 'purists' [a class recognisable to everyone else but HTML purists], frames are explicitly 100% wrong, 100% useless, and moreover, if used in the absence of a 'no-frames' version, are a "hostile" act...
Furthermore, it rapidly became apparent that to a hard-core of 'HTML aryans', any site which used frames is by definition defective, the work of a naive amateur who could not expect any credibility in such august company. It was like saying "I've got one of those at home and think it works rather well, would you like to see? And if you can tell me a better way to achieve the same result, I'd be glad to hear it", only to find out too late you have invited a gang of stormtroopers into your front room.
Invited to see the way you'd used drawers and cupboards to store your possessions, they declare "You may only use shelves" and, apparently on the basis of your being a despised 'drawer-user', consider themselves entitled to patronise and denigrate everything else you have arranged [furniture, pictures, wallpaper, lighting: in fact, your whole house]. Few were able to resist being patronising, and even the ones able to confine themselves to the topic would stand by and indulgently watch as their more fanatical fellows ran amok.
On mounting a low-down defence against underhand tactics, I was accused of immaturity: I thought I was responding in kind at a level expressly and tacitly 'validated' by my adversaries. I am sure there will be many others out there to whom their use of this double-standard tactic will be familiar.
One analogy proposed against frames, and tables when used for text, etc., was that using these extensions, unless matched by a 'validated HTML' version, was like failing to provide wheelchair access to a building. There is a sound basis for this assertion, for instance when text is displayed which cannot be enlarged on-screen or easily copied [e.g. to then be pasted or utilised in a speaking program], for the use of the people with poor sight.
The famous logical extrapolation of this argument is that unless you confine your Web-site to material which can be expressed in basic text, people using text-only browsers - such as in libraries in the States - will be deprived of some information. This is known as 'Level 0' conformance, as specified as standardised HTML by the WWW Consortium, as a subset of HTML2, RFC 1866.
My suggestion to the newsgroup was that a few years ago, green-screen monitors and very basic computers were being linked to the internet, and that there were probably many of these still around. Any nuance of information conveyed by emphasised text, whether font size, colour or suchlike, is not apparent on such a screen. Graphics would be invisible, and although the 'Alt' tag may substitute for a few icons, there comes a point at which graphics become informative, and not so easily represented in text.
Typographical emphasis and graphical representations are an immediately-recognisable means of enhancing communication, familiar to - and favoured by - people of every persuasion, all over the world. However, accessing this information requires 'Level 1' conformance: that is, an extension to 'Level 0'. [N.B. As 'extensions' to Level 1, Level 2 introduces Forms, whilst Level 3 - amongst other things - proposed including Tables, which were eventually recommended]
HTML puritans specify that all content should be provided in a form which will gracefully degrade to browsers which do not support certain HTML innovations. On the basis that frames had been denounced as "100% bad" because they could hinder [but not prevent] access to information, I proposed [in effect] that to upload anything with content which relied upon 'Level 1' presentation of information or above, but which did not provide an equally explicit 'Level 0' alternative [i.e. anything which could not be translated, without loss of substance, to such basic equipment], was surely in those terms a "hostile" act.
This apparently was an unacceptably extreme extrapolation. To side-step the inference, this 'Level 0' proposition was dismissed as a 'Straw Man Argument', a favoured term I rapidly understood to be the equivalent of 'does not compute', and glibly used whenever a more 'lateral' confrontation to the issue was made. In this instance what I suggested was dismissed using an apparently favoured technique, along the lines of "You are the fiftieth person I've had to tell this morning: no-one else thinks that."
Elsewhere 'SMA' is used to describe a misrepresentation of the views of one's opponent in an effort to avoid addressing the real issues.
On the c.i.w.a.h. newsgroup 'SMA' is also used in two other ways: persistently as a cheap retort to avoid contemplating an inconvenient perspective; and in a mutant form, factors extraneous to the thread are introduced [e.g. my use of graphics, my site's content, my occasionally referring to a HTML 'element' as an 'attribute', plus unwarranted speculation as to my failure to use ALT and enthusiasm for using <BLINK>, etc.] in an effort to diminish the credibility of an opponent to that of a 'Straw Man'.
If the demand that all significant site content be accessible to 'Level 0' browsers was going too far, I asked, did my critics then regard themselves as the 'supreme arbiters' who defined where the lines of accessibility were to be drawn? Again, the inference could not be allowed to stand: the response was dismissive and insubstantial.
One obvious counter-argument would have been on the basis of 'Web freedom': that is, one should be free to look at every Web-site, without loss of content, with a text-based browser. That is, every Web-site author should produce a synopsis of every 'significant' detail rendered as text only. This would mean that every artist or photographer, for instance, would have to describe in words what they felt they could only express or capture in pictures, and for people who want to use the Web's extraordinary capacities to communicate through animation and juxtaposition, it may prove an untenable limitation.
Although the cultural limitations of HTML purists, and their identification with technological constructs might deceive them into thinking it so, this would not be due to intellectual or Web-design limitations, but simply that the technology has yet to match the limits of human expression. The Web is capable of far more than linking electronic sheets of paper covered in words, and people will naturally wish to explore and push against its limitations, even if this results in a somewhat reduced audience.
Some people are modest and sincere in their aspirations, not obsessed with 100% accessibility, and prefer to do their utmost before a limited audience, rather than parody before a global one.
It is worth at this point considering the origins of 'Web' documents, which were originally intended to disseminate academic papers on physics between computers. To that purpose, it made sense to be able to index the documents, and especially to download them, as fast as possible.
If researching using this 'new' method, download times would be of the essence: computer time was expensive, and there could be overwhelming quantity of material to sift through, so articles delayed by extraneous graphics, or with text chopped up by tables and frames, would rightly be regarded as highly inconsiderate.
Today there are many people whose main interest in the Web is still to download mainly text-only documents, and for them, the same downloading criteria still apply. This is not to suggest that anyone relishes extended download times, but this tradition of textually-based, unadorned information continues, and for some purposes, it is sufficient, and highly efficient.
To people whose interests are well served by this tradition, the sudden explosion of non-standard extensions, which hinder access to textual information and are often used to novel but informationally barren effect, is an abuse of the original purpose for which the 'net arose. I would suggest that many HTML 'purists' and 'aryans' are heavily computer-orientated, and therefore fit into this category.
Add in a preponderance of graphics, 'eye-candy' as it is emotively called, with 'cute' animated Gifs and distracting backgrounds, and no wonder many Web-scourers browse with graphics turned off, cursing the immaturity of the author.
Ultimately, the exponential increase of Web-sites of little or no relevance to computer-orientated Web-users represents an invasion and crowding out of what used to be an exclusive playground. From a sober academic network we have gone to a full-scale party to which anyone and everyone is invited. And this, I suspect, is nearer the crux of the HTML purist's psychosis: simply, they just can't help being party poopers.
The Web is no longer the exclusive province of the academics who originally determined its structure. Everyone with a modem, who pays for the Web's maintenance by subscribing to their ISP, has become an internet shareholder.
The majority of these 'shareholders' are non-academics, people whose interests are not confined by its 'information technology' origins, but who see it as a means of communicating on any level, and to any purpose, previously served by the 'analogue' media: letters in the post, magazines, telephone, faxes, brochures, recording tape, canvas, photographic prints, and so on. The I.T. component is moving further and further behind the scenes, in an echo of radio's and sound-recording's progress into the public domain.
Businesses have latched onto the Web, as an offer they can't refuse, and often wish to incorporate into their pages the logos or insignia they have used to ensure rapid recognition on the high street. This is of course somewhat irrelevant on the Web. Certainly when looking for a branch of your bank in an unknown town, we can spot the bank's insignia - or characteristic logo typeface - from a considerable distance. If all shops were forced to use the same typeface for their banners, and to remove insignia, it would not improve recognition-speed.
Obviously, this does not apply when looking through indexes for material on the 'net: we search indexes by name, and then are whisked to the site: to then be confronted by a large logo is essentially pointless, it supplies no further information. However, it may exert a reassuring effect: confirmation that we are viewing legitimate - trademarked - pages, and for many customers it certainly brightens up what would otherwise be a very dull exercise in information gathering. Not everyone is preparing a thesis.
All of which leads inevitably to another group with a vested interest in securing influence over the parameters of Web-site design: the 'professional' web-site designer. Perhaps more so than any other sector, they perceive the need for compatibility, so that the sites they produce on behalf of their clients are accessible, virtually no matter what equipment is being used to view the site. It is their lament that their clients often want 'the works', all the tricks of the trade, and are immune to advice that long download times and incompatibility between browsers will not give them the results they want.
But - arguably - the Web's greatest feat is that it has suddenly allowed anyone with an internet connection, and some spare cash, to publish their efforts on a truly international, multimedia stage. Not everyone is capable of achieving elegance and eloquence, but it is undeniable that what they do produce speaks volumes about them. Even that gnat of HTML, the infamous element, communicates something of the author who put it there - perhaps more so than any emphasis it was intended to produce.
And artists - that traditionally suspect group of anarchists - are losing their reservations, as the now obsolete image of the 'anorak' [that legendary 'anal-retentive' persona associated with anyone who ferrets around behind the scenes in computing] fades away. They are manipulating HTML to their own experimental and innovative ends. Rather than regard HTML as a science project, conforming to established formats and accepted structural conventions to Web-site design, they are now exploring the capabilities of its notoriously limited components, juxtaposing them in ways unforeseen and certainly unintended years ago. There is no reason why Web-sites should not be works of art.
These non-academics have developed ingenious tricks to get around HTML's dry limitations, and are creating pages which by-and-large produce some form of layout, similar to that more appropriately associated with desktop publishing. HTML was never intended to be used to this end, and invariably creaks and groans under the strain.
These approaches will almost certainly fail to meet the stringent standards demanded for 'HTML Validation'. They have also led to one of the Web's most common and - especially to HTML's 'purists' and 'aryans' - irksome features: the "This Site Best Seen with #####" and its attendant "Download Browser #### Now" link button.
I dug out the URLs of Web sites prepared by some of c.i.w.a.h. HTML purists and aryans, and discovered that they were, shall we say, in general 'unadorned', even Spartan, in comparison with many less 'valid' sites. It seems this is a characteristic of 'validated', or 'pure' HTML: it is a 'low-risk' strategy [certainly there is little chance of your presentation posing a health-hazard due to over-excitement amongst your site-visitors], which is, of course, not in itself a problem, and its author can stick a little 'validated' "Well done" Gif on their page: rather like '10 out of 10 for neatness' given in a primary school to the work of an excruciatingly unimaginative child.
In order to introduce some measure of layout control, to "get around some of those stupid dodges" [Chris Lilley, W3C's CSS Working Group], the WWW Consortium is recommending Cascading Style Sheets. These provide a greater degree of control over layout.
CSS were 'recommended' to browser manufacturers years ago by the WWW Consortium [W3C], but have only been partially adopted by MSIE3 and NN4.
CSS enable the setting and altering of document layout across an entire site from just one reference document: such as enabling authors to define paragraph indentation, drop capitals, and to download fonts etc.. A document prepared using CSS will be visible on a non-CSS compatible browser, but any applied 'style' or layout will be lost.
The sole attraction of CSS is that all important 'academic paper' requirement: instantaneous download [although how that would be affected by using it to download fonts - surely within purist terms an essentially superfluous exercise - I do not know]. CSS convey no information, and do nothing to reduce file sizes if graphics are used on the site.
CSS therefore might sound convincing if one agrees with such comments as "a front page that's a whopping great 50-Kbyte GIF" as an example of "the most horrible blight on the face of the World Wide Web", in an article devoted to knocking Tables and extolling the virtues of CSS [Simpson Garfinkel: that a 20-second download proves so traumatic prompts concern as to his physical - or mental - well being].
That article exhorts us to learn and implement a whole new set of rules and abandon the "stupid dodges", despite the fact that [of NN4 and MSIE3] "Neither supports the standard completely or very gracefully" [Paul Anderson 1996]. In fact, we have the absurd situation where the writer, who I would suggest fits into the HTML 'purist' category, declares without any sense of irony: "Web designers, don't be afraid to use the technology. Just tell your users to view your site with Internet Explorer"!
Here we have another 'extension' to HTML being proposed by an interested party, which then attempts to have the extension incorporated into the commercial Web-browser manufacturer's next generation products. How this policy differs from - and is more legitimate than - Netscape and Microsoft competing to produce ingenious extensions, defeats me, especially when reviewed in the context of CSS itself basically being the empty prettification of dry documents.
Presumably because it comes from the W3C, it is sanctified, and therefore HTML purists feel justified should they add "Best seen with ####" and "Download #### now" badges to their pages, demanding that people upgrade their Web browser merely to see some cosmetic enhancement. The magnitude of the hypocrisy is stunning.
As I have already stated, no-one likes prolonged delays whilst a series of irrelevant Gifs are assembled to colour-up a page otherwise lacking in content. But to most people, whether consciously or unanalytically, even apparently meaningless graphical content conveys information: we learn much as to the author's tastes, their artistic and intellectual ability, their consideration for others, and so on.
And [most non-aryan] people certainly appreciate a Web-site which has been produced with originality and an honest endeavour to please - which includes a considered compromise between visual appeal and download times - and are disappointed in a site which just churns out page after page of text set against a bland background: unless of course this suits the message, i.e. the 'academic paper'. Indeed, it is complimentary to your visitor to expend effort on its presentation, even at some increase to download time. One has only to consider L.P. and C.D. album cover design: expensive and essentially irrelevant, it nevertheless is a highly popular art form, and few recordings are released with text-only sleeve-notes.
Certainly if I upload information which may be of import, I should endeavour to make it visible. If I upload a site which is primarily to do with graphics, I should include ALT tags and ideally offer thumbnail images, but surely eventually some responsibility shifts onto the viewer. To browse such a site with graphics off seems rather perverse.
If I produce a site with frames, it is polite to offer a no-frames version, even if this breaks up the navigational flow within the site. If I provide a block of text as a Gif which cannot be enlarged to be read by sight-impaired viewers, it is only polite to provide 'wheelchair access', by providing a text-version. And so on. It is in no-one's interest to casually render a section of their site off-limits to their potential audience.
However, just because I put up a Web-site, it does not mean I am obligated to do anything with it. As in life, I do not have to do anything, except ensure that I do not cause harm to, or subtract from, someone else's life.
If I want to put up a 5Mb picture of the sky above my home, and nothing else, that is my prerogative. If I post a 5Mb+ 'index' file, as I discovered 'coincidentally' under the name of one of the most respected and incomprehensible HTML aryans from that newsgroup 'skirmish', the many articles it referred to apparently being so similar in topic that they presumably could not be subdivided or given a tree structure, that is all right too. Of course, this latter example presumably conformed to W3C validation requirements and is therefore an example of 'good HTML'.
If I want to put up a site which is nothing but 2,000 pages each divided into 25 frames, and every one recursive without a 'back to top' link, that again is my prerogative.
If I want to demand payment and define password access to my site, that too is my choice.
If I want to upload an essay couched in language which may demand the occasional use of a dictionary from a few readers, I am not obligated to put up a simplified version, despite the fact that not doing so may reduce my audience far more than any use of frames. Some may regard this as snobbery, some as exhibitionism: others may perceive and share a love of language.
Not everything is 'degradable' without loss: attempts to do so, unless accomplished with panache and an application which could exceed the effort demanded to produce the original, may well result in a diminished version which may result in underestimation of the author's intent, or even confusion as to which version is representative.
I am constantly amazed at the amount of information available on the Web which, let's face it, is nothing more than a conglomeration of people's obsessions: it is not an encyclopaedia. I have searched for obscure snippets of information, and have found them, maybe tucked away within some Web site which in design terms would have to be called 'ghastly'. But given that someone has gone to sometimes enormous trouble to gather the information, to arrange it in some sort of order, to learn HTML, design a Web site, and to upload it, all for no reward whatsoever [but certainly some continuing expense], is wonderful to me. It would seem churlish to carp, should it be garish, rather indulgent with Gifs [animated or not], or even somewhat tortuous in navigation.
It is obvious that many Web sites are labours of love, not cold-blooded exercises in academic data-exchange.
One common factor I have discovered with the Web sites of HTML purists and aryans is that they are as stylistically barren - and even as self-obsessed - as are their arguments against liberalism. That is not to say there is no information: there is, but its presentation does nothing to render it more palatable. Indeed, the objective seems to be to remove all traces of taste, and leave just the chemical structure of nutrition. One HTML 'aryan' on the newsgroup made it repeatedly plain that he regarded Home pages as "masturbation": certainly his own had little other content but 'this is me', 'this what I like', 'this is how I do it', 'this is how good I am at it'.
The point is that it is the content which will draw people on. Sites which favour one browser, never mind failing to provide 100% cross browser compatibility, may not be good examples of Web site design, or by any standards polite, but they represent someone's effort, and are no more hostile than adding another door to your home, and leaving it unlocked. It may be narrow and have a flight of steps leading to it: but it is an attempt to be sociable.
Obviously it is charming, praiseworthy, and polite to ensure 100% access to your site, but to many, just getting it up there at all is quite a feat, and it seems crass, objectionable and impolite to complain that it falls short of some stilted ideal.
'Home Pages' are often constructed as the equivalent of mounting an informal exhibition in one's living room. To continue the analogy, some people live in apartments, and to demand that before they can 'open to the public' they would have to provide lifts, ramps and 'hearing loops' with recorded guidance for anyone physically disabled, would be to deny them the opportunity of offering some cultural contribution.
'Hostility', which to HTML aryans may be construed from merely failing to provide a 'no-frames' option, is by every other standard - in the 'real world' - an aggressive action, an invasive act, something which causes harm.
Surely the greatest negative adjective one can apply to poorly designed Web sites is 'inconvenient' [or 'drab']. How pathetic, to perceive as "hostile" that which presents no threat or danger.
Certainly it is polite to assist visitors to your 'home' whose sight is impaired, but if someone insists on trying to negotiate your 'rooms' with their eyes closed, i.e. the graphics turned off, and walks smack into the first doorpost, that does not necessarily mean they can sue for damages. It may even be permissible to laugh yourself silly.
If someone genuinely needs assistance, the beauty of the Internet means they can usually e-mail the site's author directly, and in my experience, people prove astonishingly helpful. I doubt that a request from a blind person for a text-only version of a site's essential material would be turned down. But it is surely ungracious to whine that one's time is too precious to waste opening the 'drawers and cupboards' in which an author has generously arranged his material.
Genuine 'hostility' on the Web might be some defective piece of Java scripting, or of course to offer a virus as a useful program. It is hardly applicable to someone whose life or preoccupations distract or preclude them from an in-depth study of HTML theory and practice, or from trying to reduce their material to a loss-less text-only rendition - let alone spending hours learning the latest 'dead language' of CSS - to equate with a professional elite of Web-site designers and theoreticians.
Currently, CSS as an extension are somewhat lifeless. They may even have been stillborn. For those with a browser capable of some recognition, the results are hardly hair-raising. The demand for rapid download times banishes graphics: a bit of colourful text in standard font, a drop capital, and an indented paragraph or two, are not my idea of stimulating presentation. They appear to be an 'anorak's' attempt to jazz up a Web-site: a partial solution. One site I downloaded as an example of CSS presented me with cut-off titles, disappearing off the left-hand side of the screen...
It is hardly surprising then that people who want a Web site designed tend to want something they find attractive, and - if unable to spare the time to learn how to accomplish this - will find someone who will achieve that result on their behalf. Obviously they will use a designer whose work they esteem, whether this conforms to concepts of HTML validity or - in all probability - no. Provided they are acquainted the with the facts - that they may miss out on a proportion of their audience by failing to adhere to certain principles or by relying on CSS for their presentation - they should be, and indeed are free, to have what they want.
If they want to produce a site which is accessible only to three other people who live next door, and to whom it is completely irrelevant, that is up to them.
In our haste to define levels of accessibility, we should surely not lose sight of the fact that the web itself is as yet a very limited medium. The greatest portion of humanity has no access to a computer, and to millions the 'Internet' is merely a word of mysterious connotations. Everything we upload is inaccessible to thousands of millions.
It may be a matter of supreme significance to HTML aryans that access should be 100% [as near to 100% as is convenient to them], but this in itself is an absurd proposition, and will not be achieved on the internet presumably for decades. We must retain a sense of proportion and modesty in all this. People without access to the 'net are voiceless: we must not allow that fact to render them conveniently easy to ignore whilst indulging in petty infighting. We should also note that a 'validated' site, which enables 100% access, may still be a waste of Web-space: but who is to deny its author that freedom?
It is a curious fact that the 'Freedom of the Web' has come to be synonymous with 'content', whereas surely it should apply to every aspect: if it fits down the cables, even if all it does is go up to a server and get downloaded back again twice a day and four times on Sundays, who is to say it is illegitimate?
Nevertheless, the c.i.w.a.h. 'skirmish' I became embroiled within centred on one main theme: that the <FRAME> element was 100% useless and unjustifiable. Doubtless there are several legitimate objections to this feature: it may make direct access to individual pages a convoluted procedure; it presents navigational and indexing restrictions; and it is often used to pointless effect, such as a short index which remains in place after you have picked a link, when the page itself could provide navigation links.
As I mentioned, I stated that I had used the feature on one page in particular, and invited examination of the result. The page is a photo gallery, with thumbnails in a scrolling side frame, and larger versions displayed in the main frame. Some people wrote to me and said that it was a sufficiently practical application that they were converted, and now accepted that frames could be used to advantage: or at least no disadvantage. [I was also assured that they had learned to keep their heads down and not get involved with those who were many-times described to me as the 'HTML fascists'.]
An immediate response from an HTML aryan on the newsgroup was the patronising comment "Tell us what you were intending to do, and we will tell you how you could have done it better", to which I replied that what I intended to do was what I did. My aim had been to enable a viewer to scroll through the thumbnails whilst a larger image was downloading.
However, I was readily convinced as to the advantages and courtesy of providing a 'no-frames' option, which I produced within 24 hours of entering the thread; but nevertheless I remained convinced as to the value of the frame, and in my opinion, no-one came up with a more attractive or more practically beneficial suggestion.
Several curious [SMA] objections were expressed, including that the frame occupied a certain amount of the screen, which could have been better utilised to show larger versions of the pictures. I had decided to keep the main images down to below 40Kb each for swift downloading, which ideally suited using a slightly-reduced screen area... I can well imagine that if I had produced full-frame files, the HTML aryans would in turn have criticised them as being far too large - at say 150Kb per - which is precisely why I didn't do it... One particularly deranged aryan went on at length about how the pictures [all jpegs compressed to the point of ejecting their pips], far from being the 24-bit graphics he expected, appeared to be 256-colour images. I even had one pompous individual assess my site solely on the basis of how it 'validated' - or rather how it didn't - and declare that it 'wouldn't work with the big two': he had not actually bothered to look...
To me, when people criticise on the basis of irrelevancies and absurdities, or shift the ground away from the core issue, it is an attempt to distract attention from the fact they have little ground for dispute - and their unstated objective of simply being objectionable..
Simply, frames allow the juxtaposition and updating of page elements in an unique and most useful manner: what better way, for instance, of including footnotes to a document? Like everything else, tables, graphics, photographic images and text, all are capable of being abused - no different to virtually any other aspect of life - but that does not mean they are inherently 'useless', or that to use them is 'hostile'.
In short, my use of the <FRAME> element entirely contradicts the "100% wrong" diagnosis categorically stated by the HTML aryans on the newsgroup, a perspective not in any way mitigated by the purists. It presents an attractive - even preferable - alternative, which works well and introduces no drawbacks. That this fact proved entirely unacceptable to the HTML purists and aryans at c.i.w.a.h. serves to demonstrate their insincerity: which factor is the basis of all Internet flaming.
It is also worth noting that the WWW Consortium, belatedly building upon Netscape's innovation, have acknowledged the value of the <FRAME> element, and are working towards including it in HTML version 4. No doubt it will, in the fullness of time, be a much improved version, but in the meantime they are considering the format:
which of course differs crucially and in every respect from Netscape's corrupt and deranged abortion:
However, since I understand it took a fair old while for the W3C to recommend HTML version 3.2, HTML aryans presumably have plenty of time to practice their deep breathing exercises.
I suggest that such intolerance, coupled with a kind of sneering contempt for the inferior efforts of lesser beings, hardly commends such a 'collective' to any position of influence on the uses of HTML at any level. Furthermore, when years of internal debate prove insufficient for the W3C to graciously bestow their approval upon something as useful and as [relatively] innocent as the <TABLE> element, people are bound to become irritated, and will eventually decide to go ahead anyway: rather like someone waiting at traffic lights which are evidently stuck on red, and who would like to obey the law, but who also has a life they'd like to be getting on with...
People will not - nor should they - wait in awed immobility while the WWW Consortium play at being 'royalty', ponderously slow in agreeing upon simple enhancements, and unable to come up with any viable alternatives. No doubt any W3C-approved version will cure some of the current problems associated with the <FRAME> element, but that could be years away, and in the meantime - even in its present form - it can be used to commendable advantage.
In fact, let us give the browser manufacturers a round of applause. They have creatively introduced such tools for the imagination as 'client side image maps', which are seized upon with delight by countless thousands of others and put to highly imaginative effect - whilst leaving the WWW Consortium humming and hawing for years and the HTML aryans gasping because not only are they not 'validated' but they also use - aaargh! - graphics. It may not all work perfectly, but someone has to take a practical lead, and the I.T. cauldron ferments the most volatile evolutionary technology today.
The fact remains that the essential ingredients of Web design remain highly transferable: text, pictures, even sound are suddenly flying around the world with a miraculous facility, and no browser offers any hostility to this wonder [presumably users of text-only browsers have the maturity to acknowledge the limitation, which is probably congruent with their application].
While HTML purists primly mount a rear-guard action, clinging to the skirts of the W3C, virtually [sic] everyone else has run off and - heaven forbid that the 'net should come to this - are out there ENJOYING THEMSELVES, and far from looking for things to complain about, we should - and by and large the rest of us are - rejoicing in the fact.
All kinds of gadgets proliferate, offering new ways of sending material across the wires: it resembles an automobile accessory shop, with 'all manner of bolt-on goodies available for the enthusiast'. A lot of it is admittedly tasteless and of dubious merit. So what? I've never come across anything I felt was important that I couldn't open with basic tools: it is almost inevitable that the more incompatible the medium, the less relevant the content.
I would like add that my site was only uploaded for the first time at the end of July: and that until spring this year, I had no knowledge of HTML at all. It has been tremendously exciting, and the responses have been truly gratifying: including a "pretty damn impressive", a "beautiful", and even an "awesome" [which although OTT was nevertheless charming]. I am looking forward to the coming year with great anticipation: to me, the internet is an instrument of awesome flexibility, and I would hate to see anyone constrain its potential to some sterile Bauhaus notions of purity.
Curiously enough, in a welter of off-topic disparaging comments, the only page of my Web site which gained a grudging compliment from a member of that newsgroup's 'anti-frames' coterie was a site which was divided into three frames... and this was not disputed by anyone else!
Certainly I shall in time produce a no-frames version of this site, which appears to tax some systems, but there is currently no way to make a no-frames version approach the level of presentational and aesthetic appeal of the framed original [at least not one which will not reduce its accessibility even further!]. I have accepted that it has a slightly limited audience, of say nine out of ten Web users: but this is nowhere near as limited as the zero to forty-million it was before I uploaded it!
Since it has a frameless introductory page, in which its text contents are summarised, I regard the indexing constraints as minimal to the point of irrelevancy. However, such is the symptomatic obsession with 'frames=bad' equation amongst HTML aryans, that this simple work-around - not to mention its politely including an apology to frames-incapable-browser-users - is merely an inconvenient detail to be ignored.
Virtually every point raised above, with the exception of my recently researched comments on CSS and HTML 4, and touched upon in my 'contributions' to the <FRAME> thread, were dismissed by the HTML aryans on c.i.w.a.h. as SMAs: a tactic they will not perceive as being provocative, or 'hostile'.
In conclusion, I propose that notions of HTML purity [not my phrase or concept] are in themselves inimical to - and even in conflict with - freedom of the Web, and should be resisted when arising from any self-appointed pressure group, no matter how central they were [or regard themselves as being] to the Web's inception and original purpose.
Furthermore, any such a group which denigrates as 'illegitimate' [or 'invalid', or "100% useless"] any extension proposed by a browser manufacturer, on the basis that it restricts utilisation of that extension to that particular browser, but which sees no irony when proposing a similar exercise itself [requiring people to upgrade/download yet another browser/version to utilise the dubious benefits of CSS], cannot expect to - and should not - be taken seriously.
If they indulge in, or tolerate exhibitions of sneering snobbery, then maybe they deserve to be shunned by anyone who values freedom of expression and the validation of our right to a degree of self-esteem, whatever our capabilities. They may regard themselves as an elite, and all insinuations to the contrary as impertinence, but maybe they are the epitome of Straw Men: highly flammable, and therefore well advised to water down their rigid constructs.
Perhaps like the <FRAME> element, though somewhat flawed, HTML purists have their uses: for although the Web is surely too large to be dominated by any one browser, perhaps we cannot entirely entrust its future to market forces, and we need watchdogs to alert us to such problems. Their advice may be valuable, but their opinion suffers from over-inflation.
But HTML aryans - through sheer arrogance and a failure to acknowledge that people want to do much more with the Web than upload dry academic documents - are 100% useless, and are hostile to Web freedom.
However, both purists and aryans overestimate their own significance and influence, which is now peripheral, and will be further marginalised by their unwillingness to condescend to integrate the Web's people-powered evolution. Impotent, only their posture is rigid.
© Harry Pattinson 1997
Disclaimer: all opinions stated are those of the author, and as he's thoroughly argued the points in a multitude of newsgroup follow-ups, he will not engage upon private disputes on this or any associated matter by e-mail. So don't go bugging him. And don't go boring us either - we here at urban75 certainly can't be arsed to indulge in lengthy debates about the worthiness of correctly validated coding and the the socio-economic consequences of using frames, when there's drinking to be done....
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