I have been having a go at a Lynda.com course called HTML Essential Training. I have been writing HTML since … well, rather not say. I have seen DHTML and XHTML come and go, and competing 'standards' from Netscape and Microsoft battle it out. So it is interesting to get an overview of current HTML best practice.
A couple of things I thought I knew a lot about … Accessibility and the Semantic Web.
An early web project I worked on involved a lot of Word documents, which were formatted in weird ways - some document headings would have a heading styles, others would have styles directly applied. And a lot of the formatting was inconsistent … font sizes, styles and faces would vary. Even things like phone numbers were named and formatted in a variety of ways. Every time I thought I'd got them all, I'd find a new variation.
These documents were being taken into a page layout program and then formatted all over again manally. I was using scripts to take the documents and put the data into a database, then outputting a static HTML web site. So the value of consistently naming and applying styles is painfully clear to me.
The Semantic Web is kind of like this … making sure the parts of the page are tagged so machines can figure out what they are.
This is not just so pages can be catalogued and displayed correctly, but also to make sure the content can be output in different ways. For example, so screen reader software can correctly identify the headings and subheadings and allow visually impaired people can navigate the page. Snippets of information … such as the authors name … can be defined and given a unique identifier … changing the web from collections of linked pages into a massive database.
The accessibility standards are designed to ensure everybody has access to this database. Although mainly aimed at disabled people, it is also hoped that new devices can access the data as well. We saw, with the introduction of smart phones and tablets, how the web needed to be reformatted to fit smaller devices using responsive design techniques.
These two areas definitely deserve more attention. But the whole course has been worth while. I have had to resist the temptation to skip the 'bits I know' and to jump to the newer or more interesting stuff. That way I am picking up a few nuggets I would have otherwise missed.
I'm also going over my themes to see just how accessible and semantic they are, and am bringing them up to code :-)