The H.E.A.T. Exchange

Free thoughts from the mind of the Anomalous One

The W3C: A Consortium of Sluggish Defenders

Recently, I was told that the W3C is nothing but a collection of companies (Google being mentioned specifically).  This came from a gentleman belonging to an accessibility consultant group that has amongst its members a few individuals who have contributed to W3C’s specifications.

The W3C is not an abstraction of the web.  The W3C is simply a collection of individuals…real people.  Some of these individuals represent companies, corporations, and small businesses.  Some may just be experts in a field of interest important to the overall development of the web.

Most of these individuals are sluggish defenders.

What is a sluggish defender?

Sluggish defenders have been around for ages.  You know who they are, but may have referred to them by different labels.

Sluggish defenders are the folks who will celebrate and support a person or idea when things are going well, but cower in silence when faced with adversaries or opposing views.

Are you familiar with the phrase fair-weather friend?

Wait.  This sounds like something from my high school days?

Exactly.  Sluggish defenders tend to follow the popular crowd even when they know it is wrong.  Wanting to be part of the in-the-know-and-hanging-around-the-water-cooler crowd is very important to a sluggish defender.

They will invest time and effort into a product (for whatever reasons) and promote the product initially with pride and joy.  When enough opponents of the product voice their discontent, the sluggish defender will turn tail and run, often denigrating his own product in the process.

I have witnessed this from people involved in the development of RDFa and JSON-LD. (No need for names because particular individuals are not the point of this post).  I have read comments from folks involved in creating XHTML 1.1 and XML 1.1 turning against their own product when encountering others with differing views.

Ok, so they changed their minds and switched sides. No big deal.

Here is the problem.  A sluggish defender has the effect of making pure gold appear as aluminum foil.  Often, sluggish defenders are opposed not with valid arguments or actual corrections, but en masse by those who simply are hanging with the cool guys.

Fear of losing the status of subject-matter expert is what actually motivates the sluggish defender to switch his stance, not intellectual awareness.

At this point, the sluggish defender, as a representative of his own work, has rendered his product ineffective and invalid.  By choosing to remain silent, or cowering in the midst of opponents to gain popularity, the sluggish defender has defeated his own product before it could even make it out the gates.

Don’t believe me?

I challenge you to take a look at the names on specifications coming out of the W3C’s camp.  Then visit the personal pages of some of the editors and contributors.  Observe how some of them will make mention of their contributions to the W3C, especially if they had some direct input into a specification.  Particularly, look at some of the more controversial recommendations (for example, XML, XHTML, RDF, ARIA, and the like).

Visit the forums these contributors frequent and observe their fervor when addressing opposition (Google Plus is one good place to start).

So, what is the W3C?

The W3C is supposedly a collection of subject-matter experts: highly knowledgeable in their related fields, highly professional in their approach to web development, and non-political when it comes to moving the web forward.

In actuality, the W3C is a collection of sluggish defenders: experts at clever witticism, highly knowledgeable of another person’s shortcomings, very unprofessional in their approach to collaboration, and too political to actually get anything done.

Each sluggish defender represents the W3C as a real, physical entity.  Each person who has contributed to and exploited the resources of the W3C represents that brand.

If the W3C was run by Sun Tzu, the web would be decades ahead of schedule.

Accessibility: A Case for a Different Approach

After I parked by car, I noticed a gentleman getting out of his car.  He was parked in a handicap space.  He told me that he did not need any help and that he parked there because nobody ever uses that space.

I visited by friend to watch a football game.  He couldn’t find the remote control so he used a long stick to change the channels.  After the game, we jogged to the gym to play basketball.

A young man asked me for the time.  I gave it to him and asked him did he see the big clock on the wall.  He told me he had problems seeing.  I asked him if he wore glasses.  He said he didn’t wear glasses because people would poke fun at him.

One of my workers was having problems reading a document.  The document was one-paragraph long, printed with large letters, and using plain language.  After some investigative querying, it became obvious he could not read well.  I asked him why he never asked for help.  He said that he did not want to lose his job and figured he could just nod his head to appear in-the-know.

Hey, what is the point of all this?

Can we easily and correctly identify people by observing their behavior?  False negatives and false positives is a high risk when dealing with people in society.  Fear of embarrassment, ridicule, loss of status, or being negatively categorized will cause many to hide their shortcomings.

Some people are simply lazy in both mind and body.  They will use assistive tools not out of necessity, but for their convenience.  This is the case for Accessibility-as-a-Convenience.

Picture the guy who cannot find his television remote.  He will spend hours looking for that device instead of spending a few seconds to walk to the television and hit a few buttons.  Why?  Because he is lazy-minded. Advanced technology has caused him to forget his basic physical and mental functions.  Is he disabled?  No, but he will complain as if he were disabled.

Again, what is the point?!

As it stands, people are grouped based on superficial, or observable, characteristics.  As with skin color, this act does not always bear good fruit.  Accessibility is often argued and studied as the result of group associations: the aged, the blind, the mentally challenged, and so forth.  What if accessibility were to look at these groups as simply sources of issues instead of as the issue.

Take for instance: a study group consisting of blind people.  Now take the results of their issues and apply it to people who cannot see well and those who can see, but will use features to enhance their experience.  Remember, accessibility-as-a-convenience.

Keyboard accessibility may be a benefit for folks who rather use their keyboards instead of a mouse or for those who may have lost their mouse (or cannot afford to purchase a new mouse at the time).  This will have nothing to do with lack of hand-mobility or motor skills, but convenience.

Sounds about right, but what’s in it for me?

Newer generations of people will be weaker than the ones before them.  This is made evident by the obesity rate and increased criminal activities in our society.  We no longer hunt for food, but go to grocery stores.  Even some grocery stores are starting to deliver directly to the homes.

We no longer walk miles to school, but take buses.  Many folks are even home schooling.  We no longer handle disputes with our fists, but use comments on Facebook and Twitter to do our fighting…and bullying.

Accessible features will be needed by the off-springs of this bunch because the weak cannot teach strength.  The lazy cannot (or will not) teach effort.  Though not disabled in the purest sense, new generations will rely on accessible features to keep life easy and effortless.  This will be the target demographic for new technology for the present and in the near future.

Sidebar: What’s the Point?

I prefer to code with markup to the strictest of the rules.

XML and XHTML 1.1 are my markup languages of choice because of their well-formedness constraints and strict rules.

I understand HTML5 is the new kid on the block, but HTML5 (to me) is nothing more than HTML 4.01 with a boob job. Repurposing the B and I tags using long-winded phrases from academia is as fake as Joan Rivers’ looks.

ARIA 1.0 has been in development for many years. ARIA supplies attributes to help assistive technologies (AT) better understand the web author’s intent in markup.

ARIA is supposed to make visible to AT those parts of a web document previously invisible.

I would say read the ARIA 1.0 recommendation to learn more about the attributes and their purpose from the people who know, but this is the problem. This is the reason for my frustration.

ARIA 1.0 is BULLSHIT! Plain and simple.

After all these years, the ARIA 1.0 specification reached recommendation status. Inside the spec, the recommendation is still referred to as a draft (take a quick look at chapter 1).

Chapter 10 mentions an XHTML + ARIA DTD and states that documents can be validated using that DTD. Nowhere else in the spec does it say otherwise.

The W3C validators do not recognize XHTML + ARIA. Let me put this in perspective.

In the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, under Success Criteria 4.1.1, two of the sufficient techniques provided by the W3C are G134 (Validating web pages) and G192 (Fully conforming to specifications).

Simply put, if I were to add ARIA attributes to an XHTML 1.1 document that previously met single A conformance, it would now fail miserably.

In other words, using a specification from the W3C with one of its own host languages will cause my XHTML 1.1 documents to fail WCAG 2.0 single A conformance.

Why? Because XHTML 1.1 + ARIA 1.0 will not validate and, based on some feedback that supposedly is from a reliable source, it will never be made to validate.

On the surface, this is no big deal.

The problem is that no word was put out from the W3C, especially to all those using XHTML Family of markup, that ARIA 1.0 will not apply to the host language (XHTML).

This is like the store manager looking at a long line of customers waiting for 10 days for the new video console and finally decides to open the store and say, “We will sell only to those driving a Ferrari.”

“Hey! Did you not see us waiting for this?!”

Specifications are supposed to specify, in detail, the technology…period. No inferences need to be made by the reader. The detail is in the specification and, though boring, explicit in nature.

A specification should not waste anyone’s time mentioning things that are extraneous or irrelevant. Specify and be specific!

The esoteric nature of the recommendations that come out of the W3C is bad enough. As much as their own WCAG 2.0 asks developers to acknowledge those with cognitive shortcomings, recommendations seems to fail in this miserably.

Still, with the aristocracy of the W3C editing the specs, I sometimes can hear their voices saying, “These recommendations are really not for the hoi polloi, but provided to you as a generous gift from on high.”

BULLSHIT!

If the W3C wants the web to move forward, then making sure those in the trenches bringing folks to the web with their great designs and applications understand both the intent and practice of their (W3C) technologies.

A specification that cannot be relied on is not a specification, but a fairytale.

I prefer XML 1.1, XHTML 1.1, RDF 1.1, and RDFa 1.1. I am still reluctant to actually use RDF or RDFa (I don’t really want to make it easier for the NSA to find information).

After waiting all these years for ARIA 1.0 and realizing its unfulfilled promise, I am left with only one question:

What’s the point?

A Social Network, Part 12

You have just built a social network.

You have in mind the type of community you want to establish. You have a draft of some rules and guidelines for your future members to follow.

You are eager for others to see your innovated features and design. You are using the latest and greatest of all the technologies available to you.

Step back for a second.

Imagine your new social network from the perspective of a person unfamiliar with online social networking or even computers. They will land on your site looking for…something.

Picture that same person standing alone in the middle of a completely blank area of nothingness. What is going through this person’s mind?

Fear. Confusion. Anxiety. No sense of attachment. No sense of direction. Loneliness. Abandonment. Frustration. Anger. Hatred.

The leader of the community, the social network, will need to grab immediate hold of this person before he or she reaches the third characteristic in the previous paragraph.

A Social Network, Part 11

Knowledge is the enemy of fear and confusion.

A community of people riddled with fear and confusion will search for answers to better understand the events taking place around them.

“Where can I go to get answers?” “Is it easy for me to access these answers?” “Will I even understand the answers once I access them?”

Speaking technically, which a lot of web designers and leaders will do, tends to increase fear and frustration in the community.

Why?

Because technical talk tends to be over the heads of most people. People will not trust someone, especially a leader of a community, who is not direct and truthful, even if the information is not favorable.

Therefore, along with multiple methods of communicating with the community, the character of the communicator and communications is also important.

A Social Network, Part 10

The leader of a social network or community is more than just the designer. This person also motivates actions in the proper direction.

Only through open and direct dialogue can the leader enforce structure and behavior. This dialogue cannot come from third-party sources.

New features? Why? Removing features? Why? Removed a member? Why? Redesigning the entire site? Why?

Legitimate questions deserve legitimate answers. Only the leader can legitimately inform the community of actions deemed necessary to maintain the site.

One of the first considerations when establishing a social community is deciding methods to communicate with that community. Of course, more than one method is often necessary to address the urgency of the situation.

A Social Network, Part 9

Site administrator. Webmaster. Developer.

These are just a few names to describe the person creating a social network (or the one person responsible for operating the website).

This person has many tasks to perform to not only keep the site operating properly, but to improve on the site as well.

Still, often missing (in practice) from the task list of this person’s responsibilities is leadership.

As a matter of fact, Community Leader would be a more purposeful and necessary title other than those technical ones mentioned at the top of this post.

A social network is still a community of people and the leader provides direction for the community. The leader makes sure everybody understands the community goals and its charter.

The leader keeps the community on track!

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