W3C gets 'SUCK'ed

Rohit Khare (khare@pest.w3.org)
Fri, 16 Feb 96 13:46:43 -0500

Well, Dave and Bert take it on the chin in this one...



"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 16 February 1996. Updated every weekday.

Xanadu Redux, Part I

The World Wide Web Consortium
could learn a few things from

Not about the lack of
bidirectional links, versioning,
transclusion, transcopyright,
or the remainder of the
Microsoft Word-long laundry list
of features outlined in Where
World Wide Web Went Wrong (get
it?), but about the use of
appropriate literary metaphors.

Ted Nelson's Xanadu got it right -
name your technical project
after a drug-induced poem that
was never completed (or, as
some literary critics argue, was
never meant to be completed)
and follow suit with a series of
confused ramblings and
managerial blunders, jettisoning
several million dollars for
"development" in the process in
order to secure the legend.
Then, exile yourself and your
followers to Pacific Rim
countries, and redefine your
product as a licensable
"concept," not a technology.
Never shipping product will only
cement your reputation of being
too far ahead of anybody's time.

The Tim Berners-Lee -led band of
implementing heretics made the
mistake of veering from the path
set out by Nelson into the true
madness of attempting to make
the dream real. Luckily,
Netscape came along to save the
Web from itself, and when we can
all browse the networked
hypertext universe with set top
boxes and remote controls, the
world will once again be safe
for visionaries like Ted.

But the Berners-Lee legacy of
the W3 Consortium still has a
chance at making history - not
through creating "standards"
that will be routinely ignored
by those who actually control
the Web (or ignored by Netscape,
which amounts to the same thing),
but by drawing up specifications
that, in their own disregard for
market realities, challenge the
status quo by demonstrating the
impossibility of all situations.
Like any piece of performance
art, the W3C should reject its
marginalization by embracing it.

To those ends, the W3C is already
well on its way, with three
draft specifications that, taken
together and with slight
modifications, can set out a
bold new path for academic
efforts on the Web.

Perhaps the W3C's strongest
pending spec is Dave Ragget's
" The HTML3 Table Model ." A
master rhetorician, Dave truly
shines when unhampered by
technical details in his "design
rationale" section: "For the
visually impaired, HTML offers
the hope of setting to rights
the damage caused by the
adoption of windows based
graphical user interfaces."
Insight like that, of course,
takes true vision.

The most appealing aspect of
Dave's "specification," however,
is that it's based entirely on
fantasy; as every schoolboy
knows, the only good thing a
table can be used for is a
page layout grid. Dave's text
resonates with the same perverse
beauty as a pierced scrotum -
art unfettered by outmoded
notions of "practicality" or

Tables in HTML might have less to
do with page design and more to
do with rows and columns of
numbers if it weren't for the
spectacular failure of style
sheets. The cascade effect of
the W3C's " Cascading Style
Sheets, level 1 " - unveiled a
year too late last winter in
that city of dreams, Paris,
France - couldn't have been
better planned. By then, page
layout via tables and
Netscapisms like FONT SIZE had
become entrenched, making style
sheets an excellent standards-
committee product - not only in
its simple elegance, but also in
its superfluousness and

Admittedly, there might be
certain benefits to using style
sheets, but Netscape
representatives have stated that
they have no plans of
implementing them, so never
mind. True luminaries such
as those at the W3C, though,
would continue to revise and
polish the specification, using -
in a Xanadu style that could only
belong to Olivia Newton-John -
the browser mode of the Unix
text editor, Emacs, as a
reference implementation for the
mostly graphical style sheets.
The apex of the committee's work
on style sheets, however, may be
Joe English's poem on the
subject, which should remain
forever true:

"So tell me then, what does it
look like?"
Afraid I can't - nobody knows!
I guarantee you're gonna love it,
Just wait and see, that's how it

Had style sheets succeeded,
tables might have served their
intended role better if there
were ways to represent
mathematical formulas in HTML -
after all, rows and columns of
numbers are often produced
through the application of
numerical equations.
Unfortunately, after four years
of Web development, we still
don't have mathematical entities
to represent things like
division signs - but the W3 has
given us a spec for " HTML
predefined icon-like symbols ,"
with shamelessly bad classics
like &sadsmiley;, sure to put
blink to shame if they were ever
to be implemented in a Web
browser that's actually used.
Luckily, there's no chance of

We'd like to offer a humble
suggestion for a further
extension to HTML, to build upon
the W3C's fine work: the ability
to place an ampersand in front
of any word in the English
language. Any word preceded by
an ampersand would indicate
that the browser should generate
the proper icon-like symbol for
the word, allowing the user to
determine size and color, if
desired. If these icon-like
symbols, or "glyphs," would see
widespread use, content could be
further abstracted, rendering it
more accessible to those with
basic literacy and comprehension

Ted would be proud.

courtesy of Webster