HTML Writers Guild Guild Operations W3C TV & the Web

Integration of Television and the Web:
Challenges facing the Developer Community

By Ann Navarro, Vice President: Finance & Personnel, HTML Writers Guild, Inc. and HWG W3C AC Representative

A position paper submitted for participation in the W3C workshop: Television and the Web, being held June 29 and 30, 1998, in Sopha-Antipolis, France.

The HTML Writers Guild brings a fairly unique viewpoint to the discussion of integrating television into the Web and the Web into television. We represent the entire range of the development community, from the hobbyist or entry-level commercial Web site employee to the seasoned professional developers, authors, and other experts.

One of the top concerns of the majority of developers, regardless of skill level, is the interoperability of any new technology that is introduced into what has become for many a very comfortable domain: the Web as it has been created using HTML. This is not to say that developers are not eager to learn or experiment with new technologies: far from it, actually. The concern stems from previous experience with techniques or systems that have been introduced into the arsenal of Web site capabilities, and then quickly changed, "upgraded", partially support, and generally torn apart when implemented by the producers of tools designed for the end-user, namely Web browsers and their supporting plug-ins and applications.

As a community, we have seen this happen in several highly visible areas: JavaScript, for example, was introduced and quickly embraced by developers. However, integration of JavaScript into the major browsers hasn't been consistent. Consider the fairly rudimentary application of JavaScript used on many Web sites, the "mouseover" scripts. Rather than being able to rely on the traditional HTML model of "if the browser doesn't understand it, a well behaved one ignores it", authors were compelled to create various testing strategies to determine at load-time whether or not the browser being used identified itself correctly, or could understand certain events or syntax. For some time, authors would check how the browser identified itself before proceeding (Are you WebWidget Version 3? NetMap Version 4? If so, proceed here.). Or, they'd test to see if the browser could interpret a conditional statement such as if (document.images) before proceeding.

With the introduction of WebTV and other related products, Web sites previously viewed on computer monitors were now being displayed on television sets. Little to no information has been disseminated to the lay public regarding the significant technical differences between the two display media, and how those differences might impact their viewing experience. All they may know is that friends or family have raved about cool sites online, only to attempt to view them and be presented with a jumbled redraw of a site based on the system's automatic resizing of pages to fit an inflexible horizontal width, or the automatic scaling of images the system considers too large.

Web content authors do understand that the myriad of new devices that are or will be capable of displaying Web pages or HTML/XML based documents will only increase. We generally take no issue with those events. We will, however, want to work closely with the W3C and manufacturers of these devices to provide standards-based means for delivering content that is appropriate to the device, but does not necessarily require authors to produce half a dozen or more versions of every document published in order to accomplish this portability.

As those involved in the W3C's WAI project have found, accessibility may frequently be sacrificed in favor of expedience or the fiscal realities of budget management. We do acknowledge that under optimal conditions, all content developers would be aware of techniques that allowed for accessibility as defined by WAI and as it will apply to alternative devices such as television. Optimally again, those developers would have the budgets and time to find the acceptable balance between the demands of each user segment, which do at times conflict. However, "reports from the front" have told us that the reality most developers face does not provide for either of these optimal circumstances.

We therefore hope to relay to participants of this workshop, to the W3C, and to other developers, that acceptance and success of the blending of these technologies can be greatly enhanced by:

  1. providing consistent implementations of document processing and/or programming techniques and languages
  2. provide the Web authoring community with product-specific technical specifications and guidelines as early in the development cycle as possible
  3. continued central control of the standards process: that new proposals and working drafts blend as seamlessly as possible with existing recommendations or at a minimum, provide a clear transition path as is currently being contemplated for HTML to XML.
  4. Evangelizing to browser, software, and device manufacturers that close conformance to W3C standards truly is in their best interest when attempting to gain development community support for new technologies and innovations.
  5. Vigoriously continue exploring the development of options such as media-dependent style sheets as defined in CSS2, and similar features to be developed in XML and DSSSL.

The Guild strongly supports research and activity into this area, and is open to closer participation in these activities.

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