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Archive for October, 2009

HTML5 at Last Call

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

For a brief period today, there were no outstanding e-mails or bugs on the specs, and so I took that opportunity to transition us here at the WHATWG to the next stage of HTML5's development: Last Call! This affects three specs at the WHATWG:

There's also a version of the spec called Web Applications 1.0 (for nostalgic reasons) that has all of the above as well as a number of other specs, namely Web Storage, Web Database, Server-sent Events, and the Web Sockets API and protocol, all together in one document. With the exception of the Web Database spec, they're all now in last call at the WHATWG.

So if you've been waiting to see if someone else would report the problem that you had seen, well, if it's not fixed, they didn't! So you should now send that feedback in yourself.

There's two ways to send feedback. If your feedback is something short and simple, you can just load up the spec in your browser, click on the section with the problem, then type in your message using the review comments box that appears at the bottom of the window, and hit the "Submit Review Comments" button. This works for the HTML5 and Web Applications 1.0 specs. (Thanks to the W3C HTML Working Group for making their bug database available to us for this purpose.)

If your feedback is more elaborate, then you should subscribe to the mailing list and then send your feedback there.

Note: Lest there be any confusion, the W3C HTML WG has not yet transitioned HTML5 to Last Call at the W3C. HTML5 is a joint effort of W3C and WHATWG groups, but we have different issues lists and different criteria for going to Last Call. For more details on the W3C HTML WG's processes, see the W3C HTML WG charter.

Posted in WHATWG | 16 Comments »

This Week in HTML5 – Episode 38

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Welcome back to "This Week in HTML 5," where I'll try to summarize the major activity in the ongoing standards process in the WHATWG and W3C HTML Working Group.

This week, there were some more refinements to microdata. r4139 changes the names of the DOM properties that reflect microdata markup. r4140 renames the content property to itemValue Since no browser has actually implemented this API yet, these changes shouldn't make any difference. Standards are like sex; one mistake, and you're stuck supporting it forever! r4141 and r4147 fix up some microdata examples, in particular this example from Gavin Carothers about marking up O'Reilly's book catalog. Hooray for real-world examples!

There were also some noteworthy changes to the <video> and <audio> API. r4131 says that setting the src attribute on one of those elements should call its load() method. r4132 removes the load event for multimedia elements, and r4133 removes the "in progress" events (loadstart, loadend, and progress) that used to be fired while the video/audio file was downloading.

Other noteworthy changes this week:

Around the web:

Tune in next week for another exciting edition of "This Week in HTML5."

Posted in Weekly Review | 5 Comments »

This Week in HTML5 – Episode 37

Friday, October 9th, 2009

The big news this week is microdata. Google sponsored a usability study on microdata syntax, which resulted in significant changes to the spec [r4066]. Also related: r4067 fixes a microdata example, r4068 updates the algorithm for extracting RDF triples from microdata, r4069 does some spec cleanup, and r4070 splits out the predefined microdata syntaxes into their own specs:

There was also work on events this week. r4032 defines what events are involved in copy and paste, closing bug 7668. r4037 defines when the reset event fires, closing bug 7699. r4039 defines when the abort event fires, closing bug 7700.

This week brings another milestone, one which went mostly unremarked in mailing lists, blogs, and IRC chatter. As with any large project, Ian Hickson has maintained an informal wishlist of things he would like to clarify, define, or otherwise include in HTML5. The list has grown and shrunk over the years. The list was stored in HTML comments, so it has never been visible unless you viewed the source of the HTML5 specification itself. And as with any large project, there comes a time when you realize you're not going to get to everything on your wishlist.

This week, the wishlist shrunk a lot, as Ian finally "punted" on several issues. Some of them may be tackled in HTML6. (Of course, if someone feels strongly enough, they can certainly argue that an issue still needs to be tackled in HTML5.) r4023 shows the deletions from the wishlist, including: "ability for a web app to save a file to the local disk," proposals for new attributes on the <title> element, partial form validation, multi-column select widgets, auto-formatting of number fields (like many spreadsheet programs do), relative dates, input controls for repeating dates (like anniversaries or other repeating events), and input controls for currency.

Other noteworthy changes this week:

Around the web:

Tune in next week for another exciting edition of "This Week in HTML5."

Posted in Weekly Review | 2 Comments »

Usability testing HTML5

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Over the past few weeks, Google has been preparing and then running a usability study to test the microdata feature of HTML5.


We first created three different variants based on the original microdata proposal:

  1. One based on what the spec said (documentation)
  2. One trying to put types in an explicit itemtype="" attribute and moving "about" to item="", and replacing itemfor="" with just having multiple item=""s with the same name (documentation)
  3. One trying to remove types altogether and using item as a boolean attribute. (documentation)

Our plan was to run six studies, two for each variant, with each participant running through the following steps:

  1. Read and comment on a couple of motivating slides explaining why one would care about microdata
  2. Read the provided documentation for the variant being tested
  3. Look at and comment on the animals example with microdata (variant 2, variant 3)
  4. Exercise: try to extract the data from the "flickr" example (variant 2, variant 3)
  5. Exercise: try to annotate the blog example (variant 2, variant 3)
  6. Exercise: try to annotate the review example (variant 2, variant 3)
  7. Compare and contrast the "yelp" example with microdata to the equivalent of one of the other two variants (variant 2, variant 3)

We made some changes along the way. After the first three, it became clear that "about" was a very confusing term to use for giving the item's global identifier, and so we changed the documentation and examples to use "itemid" instead (which turned out to be much less confusing). Early on we also introduced some documentation text to explain the differences between the variants in the last exercise, because just showing them the two side by side wasn't getting us anything useful (1 to 3, 2 to 1, 2 to 3, 3 to 1).

After our sixth participant canceled on us, we decided to create a fourth variant (documentation) based on what we'd learnt with the first five, and to get two more participants to test this variant specifically. For these participants, we used the following methodology:

  1. Read and comment on a couple of motivating slides explaining why one would care about microdata
  2. Read the provided documentation for the variant being tested
  3. Look at and comment on the animals example with microdata
  4. Exercise: try to extract the data from the "flickr" example
  5. Exercise: try to extract the data from the review example
  6. Exercise: try to annotate the blog example
  7. Exercise: try to annotate the "yelp" example


Some interesting things came out of this study. First, as mentioned above, the term "about" turns out to be highly non-intuitive. I originally took the word from RDFa, on the principle that they knew more about this than I did, but our participants had a lot of trouble with that term. When we changed it to "itemid", there was a marked improvement in people's understanding of the concept.

Second, people were much less confused about types than I thought they would be. In preparing for this study I discussed microdata with a number of people, and I found that one major area of confusion was the concept of types vs the concept of properties. This is why variant 3 has no types: I wanted to find out whether people had trouble with them or not. Well, not only did people not have problems with types, several participants went out of their way to specify the type of an item, for example using the attribute name "type" instead of "item" in variant 1.

It seems that while reasoning about types at the theoretical level is somewhat confusing, it isn't so confusing that the concept should be kept out of the language. Instead, types should just be more explicitly mentioned. This is why we renamed "item" to "itemtype".

Third, people were confused by the scoping nature of the "item" attribute. Some of our participants never understood scoping at all, and most of the participants who understood the concept were still quite confused by the "item" attribute. We were encouraged, however, by one variant 1 participant's sudden enlightenment when they saw variant 3's "itemscope" attribute, and by the reaction of the variant 3 participant to the "itemscope" attribute compared to the reactions that the other two variants' participants had to their "item" attributes. This is why we split "item" into "itemtype" and "itemscope", instead of just using "itemtype".

We found that people who understood microdata's basic features also understood "itemfor", but while we were doing the study, it was pointed out on the WHATWG list that "itemfor" makes it impossible to find the properties of an item without scanning the whole document. This is why we tested the <itemref> idea in variant 4. People were at least as able to understand this as "itemfor".

In general, the changes we made for variant 4 were all quite successful. With one exception, that's what HTML5 now says. The one exception is that I hoisted the "itemid" property to an attribute like "itemtype", based on the argument that if people want to scan a document for the item with a particular "itemid", <itemref> would make it impossible to do it for the property without creating the microdata graph for the entire page.

One thing we weren't trying to test but which I was happy to see is that people really don't have any problems dealing with URLs as property names. In fact, they didn't even complain about URLs being long, which reassured me that microdata's lack of URL shortening mechanisms is probably not an issue.

Overall, this was a good and useful experience. I hope we can use usability studies to test other parts of HTML5 in the future.


(Added based on Twitter feedback.) Some people have asked to see the raw data we collected in this study. I've uploaded the raw files as they were at the end of each participant's one-hour session. This data on its own isn't especially useful; what matters is how the participants reached their conclusions. There are seven hours' worth of video to document that, but we can't publish the video online, since that would be a violation of the legal agreement we have with the participants to protect their privacy.

The study was conducted by one of Google's usability study moderators, and the participants were screened and recruited by a separate team of usability study recruiters specifically for this study. Our criteria were intended to find Web developers who were somewhat comfortable with HTML and who had at most a passing knowledge of the HTML5 effort.

Bear in mind, when looking at the raw data, that the participants had just one hour to go from not knowing about this at all, to being expected to read and write code in a new syntax, with no hints other than the examples and the documentation (which most only glanced at!).

Posted in WHATWG | 7 Comments »