No (Content) Negotiation

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Virginia DeBolt provides a really nice grouping of links to writings related to the WHATWG. Among the writings are those related to accessibility, and there’s nothing I can add to this discussion that isn’t isn’t handled succinctly and completely by others.

I did want to jump into the discussion related to XHTML, though. Dean Edridge wrote a general note of dissatisfaction with the WHATWG effort, including perhaps too much influence by Apple, Opera, and Google. I could add to this list by saying that Microsoft’s non-involvement contributes an undue influence by Microsoft.

Edridge also started another thread, about XHTML5. He wrote:

I don’t think that support for XHTML5 should be optional. Specifying
that user-agents may support only one format, but supporting both is
“encouraged” is insufficient and will only lead to a lack of support for
XHTML5 like we had with XHTML1 [1]

We’ve been down this road before where support for application/xhtml+xml was only an “opt in” for user-agents. That’s the main reason we have less than 100 valid XHTML websites today. [2]
People wont be able to use XHTML5 if there’s no support for it.

Can this please be changed to:
…..Implementations MUST support these two formats.

I found it fascinating that so few sites are ‘pure’ XHTML. This site is now one. Last week I turned off site negotiation and serve up pages with the proper MIME type of “application/xhtml+xml”. This means, of course, this page isn’t viewable by IE, which wants to process the page as XML, rather than interpret it as XHTML.

What’s more interesting, though, is how much push back Edridge is getting on, what to me, is a very valid request. The responses have ranged from the ‘undue burden’ this places on devices like desktop widgets, to how Edridge should try to contain his passion–after all, some people are just raising issues.

What astonishes me, though, is how much this group is willing to bend over for companies that have the resources to make these changes, but it is is not convenient from a business perspective to do so. In other words, they can’t turn it into profit, so why spend time on the tech?

I integrate the use of SVG into my sites. I plan on more heavily integrating it into this site. I can do so because I made one fundamental design decision: this site supports released specifications, not specific browsers. SVG is the one and only graphics system capable of giving something like Flash–a proprietary technology–a run for its money. SVG with XHTML, ECMAScript, and CSS3, combined, could do amazing things regardless of whether you’re using a widget, cell phone, or browser on a computer. Why on earth would we deliberately sabotage this as a goal, just because it’s not convenient from a business perspective for some companies who are making enormous amounts of money, and who could easily encompass such effort without breaking a sweat?

Then the argument comes around to, the fact that there are few sites implementing XHTML tells us that people don’t want it. No, it tells us that tools aren’t doing a good job of ensuring XHTML compliant pages. That people don’t understand about content negotiation. That IE has effectively undermined XHTML while supposedly pretending to be a friend of the specification. This is a true chicken and egg story: which comes first? The demand for the technology which then generates support for the technology? Or support for the technology, which will generate demand?

Regardless of whether it’s XHTML, or accessibility, or support for SVG, a standards group has the responsibility to move a technology forward–not provide excuses for keeping it rigidly locked in place, while browser makers happily skip ahead using proprietary technologies.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but I’ve never seen a web specification group that is so happy to make a race for the bottom as the WHATWG group is.



I did like what the Opera Spec Wrangler had to say. And it is important to keep in mind that much of the work on these specs is done by volunteers. Having said this, though, I am seeing far too much willingness to say, “Oh, well we don’t want to burden the user agents so we’ll make this optional”.

Why even bother with a specification if it doesn’t move us forward? Just to make the web easier to process by a search engine? To give companies a “get out of standards” free card?

What is moving forward? Let’s build some real accessibility into the new markups. Let’s ensure that user agents can handle the specifications that have been released, including XHTML and SVG. Let’s do things right, rather than expediently.


The Red Fox

For a year, we lived on Grande Isle in Vermont. Our home was a rented house with a view of the lake from the living room, and the main road and hills from the large country kitchen in the front. You had to turn down into our drive, which made leaving a bit difficult at times during adverse weather. To the side of our drive way was a big red barn. In front of that, in the field all by itself, was a beautifully shaped evergreen in perfect Christmas tree form.

That first winter, snow began to fall before Halloween and never left once it took hold. The lake started freezing all around the shoreline, and ice filled in the small bay in front of our house. Along the access way to the mainland, we could see tentative tracks in the snow near the water as fisherman tested the ice anxiously, checking for that magic time when they could put up their ice fishing shacks.

As Thanksgiving came and went, the snow grew higher–brilliant white, powdered crystals that drifted around the house and along the side of the road. The crews kept the roads remarkably clear, and we could see from our ‘mud room’ the cars zipping down the hill, as it curved around the field where our house lay.

We had feeders in the big, gnarly old apple tree in front, which were appreciated by cardinal and chipmunk alike. The chipmunks were especially funny, because they would stuff their mouths so full of nuts that their eyes were almost forced shut.

On Thanksgiving day, two busy beavers took time off from easting roasted turkey and fresh baked pumpkin pie, in order to create our own special Christmas scene. That night, we flipped the switches, and on came the lights surrounding our house, the red barn, the bushes in front, and especially that evergreen tree–now splendidly lit in its proud isolation in the snow covered field.

Not elegant white lights, no. These were a child’s delight of color. Rich reds, greens, blues, and sparkling yellows and oranges chased themselves around the eaves and danced in their own reflection in the snow and around the icicles hanging down from house and barn.

We stood out on the porch looking at the lit tree, sipping hot spiced cider and enjoying the results of our work when we heard a car coming down and around the hill facing toward the tree. Muffled against the snow was the sound of racing engine almost stalling as whoever was driving took their foot off the gas. What must they have seen? A house covered in lights, and in what was once a dark, formless nighttime field, a perfect tree, glowing with color?

From that night on until New Years, cars would slow coming down the hill, sometimes even pulling over to the side to stop to look at a tableau of moonlight streaking across a frozen lake, fronting a snow softened valley and field filled with home, barn, and tree, sparkling in color.

Christmas morning dawned with sun shining brilliantly on the snow and ice, glowing richly against the red of the barn, the green of evergreen brush and trees; blue sky forming a backdrop for lake and field. Snow had come and gone since the lights had been added and covered the tracks and electrical line to the tree, leaving a field unmarked by human.

I was at the window looking out at the field, drinking a cup of coffee, when I noticed movement to the left. Out from the brush and trees separating us from our neighbors came a red fox. We watched as it stopped for a moment, seemingly also enjoying the view. It then took off across the field; hopping rather than running, as it would sink into snow that almost covered its head with each jump.

The fox hopped to the Christmas tree and stopped once more, looking closely into its depths. Perhaps it wondered what strange stuff was wrapped around the familiar old tree. Maybe it heard the rustle of bird or small creature. The red of its fur was brightened by the sun, saturated against the dark green of the tree. A breeze blew a wisp of powdered snow from the tree down on the fox, and it raised its nose into the air and sniffed at the stream of glitter flowing past. Catching the scent of rabbit or den, it once again began making its slow, hopping away across the field and out of sight.



Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Lane Hartwell has posted a statement addressing some of the misconceptions about the use of her photo in the Bubble 2.0 video. For instance, one misconception is that she’s suing Richter Scales. She wrote:

It has been erroneously reported in various media outlets and blogs that I have either filed or am in the process of filing a lawsuit against The Richter Scales. This is simply not true. At no point has there been any talk of filing a lawsuit on my behalf. To make matters worse, I have yet to be contacted by even one of these media outlets or bloggers to verify the authenticity of my supposed lawsuit.

Lane is actually easy to communicate with via email, which leads one to wonder if people have gotten so used to twittering, they’ve forgotten there are other forms of communication.

Tara Hunt had two good posts on this: Tragedy of the Commons: Lane Hartwell vs. Richter Scales and Mobs with Pitchforks and Mis-information. Tara speaks as a person who was busted herself for using photos and art without permission. She writes:

Whether or not Lane invoking the DMCA is legal or not isn’t really what matters here and making it about ‘hurt feelings’ belittles what is really at stake here. What is at stake here is that the continuance of individual abuse of the privileges of the works put into the commons will lead to fewer of those works being put into the commons.

That is the point. Perhaps because we have a knee jerk reaction to the term, DMCA, we tar and feather any use. However, Lane trying to protect the integrity of her photography is not the same thing as Disney trying to preserve the Mouse in perpetuity. If we overreact about copyright abuses from corporations to the point where we deny the validity of copyright for individuals, then we’re not good neighbors in a village sharing a commons–we’re nothing more than the Horde looking to sack the village; reacting petulantly, even violently at being denied our goodies. The issue is less one of copyright than it is one of respect. Lane deserves the respect due a person in her craft.

Respect also plays in a sub-thread that ended up slowly emerging from the original discussion. In Mathew Ingram’s post on this topic, as I wrote previously, Michael Arrington wrote in a comment to me that the only reason I was supporting Lane, was because she was a woman:

Mathew is right, you are wrong. But since Lane is a woman, it really doesn’t matter what she did as far as you are concerned. She’s a woman, so she’s right.

I was flabbergasted. I never once thought about Lane’s sex when forming my opinion. Any of you who have read me for years know that copyright has been an issue near and dear to my heart, and I’m actually a copyright supporter–not the Disney type of copyright, but copyright as it was originally intended.

Several people did respond to the statement, both in my comments, in a post that Jeneane Sessum wrote and also in Tara’s posts. She didn’t specifically mention this in her second post, but Tara did allude to this:

I’m really put off that there are so many people spreading, but also believing, bad rumors in this case. I’m sure the many men behind the Richter Scales don’t want a mob sent out to harass a woman whose photograph they used. None of this was done in malice: the photograph used, the request for credit.

Why the maliciousness now? From uninformed bystanders?

We didn’t introduce the topic of gender in this discussion, but now that it has been introduced one can’t help wonder: given the rather astonishingly harsh criticism of Lane Hartwell is there a possibility that some of it goes beyond just our reaction to the DMCA term? Could this also have something to do with Lane Hartwell, being a woman, asserting her rights against a bunch of guys?

I don’t believe this of Richter Scales, the originators of the video. They seem truly unhappy that they’ve caused this unfortunate consequence, and didn’t attribute the photographers as they should. But when I read the following at a post Michael Arrington wrote, after leaving the comment directed at me at Ingram’s, I have to question the emotional context of some of this protest.

The real issue here is that Hartwell’s feelings were hurt. She wanted attribution in the video, and the creators ignored her. Attribution and people’s feelings are not things copyright law considers; rather, it sets forth the rules under which copyrighted works may be or may not be used by others.

The real issue here is that Hartwell’s feelings were hurt. (Also see the the comments to this post describing Michael running into Lane at an event yesterday.)

Haven’t we seen this before? When a woman reacts to an event, her reaction is reduced to one of ‘feelings’, rather than rights or laws, or even common decency? Lane Hartwell did not react as a woman whose feeling were hurt. She reacted like a professional photographer, frustrated with people stealing and using her photos without giving her credit or asking permission, who then contacted the transgressors. When the group who created the video responded that their use was fair use, rather than respect her wishes, or even contact her directly about the use, she then hired an attorney who specializes in IP law to work with her to resolve this issue. An attorney, I might add who represented, pro bono, ThinkSecret when sued by Apple looking for the names of ThinkSecret’s sources. Perhaps we might want to give him the benefit of the doubt that a) he’s not evil, b) he knows what he’s doing, and c) Lane knows what she’s doing.

Agree with Lane’s move, don’t agree–there is nothing wrong with having an opinion on this issue. However, when we start advocating violence, plotting how to destroy her career, or belittling Lane’s actions because she is a woman than, frankly, we have more problems in the commons than whether we get to view a funny video, or not.

Michael Arrington considers me …one of the most unpleasant people he’s ever known. Fine, great, perhaps I am. I, however, didn’t bring up the ‘gender card’, but when it’s played on me, I sure as hell am not going to fold and leave the game.

What do we want from this environment? Where only those who are popular are allowed to determine the ethics of our interactions? That webloggers can speak softly in weblogs, but nastily in comments, Twitter, and backchannels and all is well? Where women can be so easily and so frequently belittled with nary a raised eyebrow? Mobs can be whipped up and turned loose without a thought to the consequences?

That only the little people get called out for their actions?

Weblogging is ten years old today. Huzzah! Now, what do we want from this environment? Because what we’re getting is something I don’t value anymore.


Lane Hartwell has issued a more detailed statement:

A photo of Owen Thomas that I shot under contract for Wired News was used without my permission in a music video created by the Richter Scales. I own the copyright to the photo and, as I do in every instance where I find my work used without my permission, I contacted the band, told them my work was copyrighted and asked why they had used it without contacting me to license the work.

The band’s response was that upon receiving my complaint, they contacted an attorney who told them they had the right to use my work without gaining permission, paying a licensing fee or giving me credit. They said the video was a parody and thus the unauthorized use of my image was protected under something called “Fair Use”. Normally when I contact someone about my work, they apologize and remove it immediately. Because they didn’t, and mentioned talking to a lawyer, I felt it necessary to talk to a lawyer myself. Despite reports to the contrary, I have not sued the band. I spoke with a lawyer to clarify my standing on the issue of copyright.

I suggest you read the whole thing. Especially those of you saying Lane’s feelings were hurt, she should never work again, and generally dwelling on her evilness.

There’s also a thing in the commons called an ‘apology’.