RDF Technology

Accessibility, Microformats, and RDF as the Bezoar stone

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Really nice writeup on the conflict between Microformats use of abbr with hCalendar and accessibility:

The datetime-design-pattern is a way to show a readable date (such as “March 12, 2007 at 5 PM, Central Standard Time”) to humans and a machine-readable date (such as the ISO 8601 formatted “20070312T1700-06”) to the Microformat parsers. When crossed with the abbr-design-pattern, the result is this.

<abbr class=”dtstart” title=”20070312T1700-06″>
March 12, 2007 at 5 PM, Central Standard Time

As you may have guessed from the previous examples, screen readers expanding the abbreviation will try to read the title element. JAWS helpfully attempts to render numeric strings into human-readable numbers, so “1234” is spoken “one-thousand two-hundred thirty-four” instead of “one two three four.” Given a title value of “20070312T1700-06”, JAWS and Window Eyes both try to read an ISO date string never intended to assault human ears:

Twenty million seventy-thousand three-hundred twelve tee seventeen-hundred dash zero six. (JAWS 8 on IE7: MP3, Ogg)

I particularly liked this article because it provides details as to exactly how the concept in question is being rendered in screenreaders. You’re not left to guess, based on some vague, “Doesn’t work with screenreaders”. It really gives weight to the authors’, Bruce Lawson and James Craig, concerns.

I can’t figure out, though, why RDF always gets slammed whenever discussions of this nature arise:

Some have proposed using custom attribute namespaces for Microformat data, but the Microformats group is strongly opposed to this, and for a simple and valid reason. Microformats are intended to be “simple conventions for embedding semantic markup in human-readable documents.” Opening the floodgates to custom DTDs and namespaces would quickly raise the complexity level of Microformats to that of RDF, greatly reducing its adoption and therefore its relevance.

Here I was, tripping along on a well presented argument defining a tricky problem when, bammo: it could have been worse, it could have been RDF.

It’s as if RDF has become the bezoar stone of metadata–people invoke RDF to draw out all the evil.

“Ohmigod, an asteroid is going to hit the earth and we’re all going to die!”

“It could have been worse. It could have been RDF.”

“You’re right. Whew! I was really worried for a moment.”

First update

We’re going to be coming at you with …AAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!… custom DTDs! The horror!!!

Damn near stopped my heart with that one. You want to be more careful, Tom.

Second Update

Here is the first entry of the microformats discussion thread on this item. It gets quite interesting as the thread progresses.

I’m not making any editorial comment on the thread. Nope, not a word. Not a single word. I’m just going to sit back and play with my triples.