Ben Finney/Wikipedia markup

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[context: I edited Wikipedia FAQ so the sections were structured with header markup. LMS responded in Wikipedia FAQ/Talk, and the following discussion ensued.]


Augh! My eyes!  :-) Please change it back to the way it was, or make the headings much smaller. --LMS

If you mean "make the headings shorter", I agree, full-blown questions don't make very good candidates for a heading tag; the heading should perhaps be a topic phrase instead of a full question, with the question included as a paragraph.
If, on the other hand, you mean "make the font sizes smaller", here we meet the problem of separating content from presentation. The heading markup I added had no information about font sizes or other presentation details, only structural information. The presentation of headings at different levels is up to your browser, not the author of the Wikipedia article. Different heading levels are useful for structuring the content correctly; when they are chosen for the presentation effect they have in *some* browsers, are we becoming layout mechanics rather than encyclopedia editors?
-- Bignose

We need to make font sizes smaller. You're using H1. We basically never use that header in Wikipedia articles, because it dominates text. The point you make, that "The heading markup I added had no information about font sizes or other presentation details, only structural information" ignores the fact that H1 is, after all, usually displayed in most browsers in enormous type. I mean, I don't actually care very much (notice, no references to rodent posteriors!) about the fact that H1-H6 are "structural" and not "presentational." I know that.  :-) I care about presentation at this point, and I'm sure you do too. The structure that H1-H6 provides is pretty much meaningless in the context of Wikipedia anyway; we just aren't using those tags except as a quick way to increase font size.

So, it would be nice if you'd change it back to the way KQ had it.

I just went ahead and restored KQ's last version. --LMS

You make a false assumption; my edit did not use any of the HTML header tags, it used Wiki's heading markup (with equal signs). This is more than a quibble; it shows that my intention was to mark a header, not to change the font size.
As a repository of human knowledge, I hope it is a goal of Wikipedia to have as wide an audience as possible. If "we" includes the set of editors on Wikipedia, we are not all "using those tags ... as a quick way to increase font size". Those of us who consider accessibility are using structural markup to mark structure. The top-level heading tag <h1> is appropriate for marking a section of a document. It is not appropriate for changing the font size, or achieving any particular presentation effect, because that makes assumptions about how the content will be presented.
Presentation tags used to simulate structure are at least highly irritating to people who have chosen how they like their text to appear; at worst they are useless in media (such as braille readers, PDA devices, text consoles, text-to-speech converters) which cannot use the information sensibly. Structural tags make the intended context clear, and can be interpreted appropriately in any media. -- Bignose

Heading level 1 should be reserved for the article title. Sections of the article should be marked with H2s. Wikipedia's code for interpreting "==" should enforce this. --Lee Daniel Crocker

That seems reasonable; I've now adopted that convention on Wikipedia. -- Bignose

It's by now a completely hackneyed (and obviously true) point to make, that structural markup in HTML are so often misused as to be meaningless. This is one reason why so many people hate HTML. But if correctness depends on convention, and the original hoped-for HTML convention just didn't take, then we shouldn't feel constrained to follow that convention ourselves--certainly when it means that articles are marked up in headings that appear too large in most browsers. I think appearances for the 99% of our audience are more important than adherence to a more or less outmoded way of indicating structure, even one that (I'll take your word for it) does somehow make a difference for handhelds, for example.

Originally, Nupedia had grand ambitions of extensively marking up articles using XML. We've now reexamined our priorities; it's a heck of a lot more important to us simply to create content, to the detriment of our structural and semantic markup ambitions.

I think that, eventually, Wikipedia articles are going to be fantastic, and when we've settled on some more finalized, professional versions of many articles, we will be marking up articles very extensively using XML. There's basically no point in our caring too much at this point about structural and semantic markup; when we do start caring, we'll do it right. So, as I said, at this point, I think it's a lot more important that we present "pretty" articles.

I think even H2 looks too big in the way most people have Explorer and Navigator set up, personally. I always use H3 for section headings.

-- LMS

I think you are speaking from a position of ignorance on how "outmoded" the notion of structure versus presentation is. The web is currently dominated by the desktop browser with a large screen, but this is rapidly being challenged by portable devices and Internet appliances; also, government mandates on accessibility to information are forcing many sites to consider non-majority users in their markup.
As you say, creating content is the important thing, perhaps the most important thing for most of the life of Wikipedia. I'm saying that this means we should not be using markup for presentation effects at all; if we set a precedent for doing so, it is much more difficult to strip it all out later than it is to add structure to less-structured content.
Please, let presentation be in the control of the user. Any effort we expend on "prettifying" the articles will work for some people, fail for some people, please some people, irritate other people, make the information much less accessible to some people, and become quickly outdated as people access our content with more diverse devices.
The content is king.

-- Bignose


OK, let's get specific: other than using h1-h6 tags, how do you propose to let presentation be in the control of the user?

Whether we use H1 tags or H3 tags :-), the presentation still won't be in the control of the user. It will depend on the combination of our markup and how their devices interpret it. It's incumbent upon us to do right by the majority of our users, in any case. No? --LMS


I too use H3 tags. Using structural markup places the presentation in control of the user because the user can always load a stylesheet into the browser. --Damian Yerrick