Using the abbr tag

Kroc Camen, long time OSNews reader and frequent IM buddy of mine, has an interesting piece examining the use of the <abbr> HTML tag.  Kroc is one of those people who is very serious about the presentation and efficiency of his code, a trait I do not share, at least in practice, at least, to the same degree that he does, and it makes us good companions.  My focus is typically on clean, fast, scalable code that forsakes beauty in favor of performance.  My code, in the form of OSNews, has sustained a simultaneous Digging and Slashdotting, something of which I’m very proud.

But my CSS isn’t going to win any awards, my javascript could be collapsed a lot and made much more efficient, and my HTML often suffers from “div-itis” and “class-itis.” Enter Mr Camen, whose motto, “code is art,” is evident upon initial inspection.  Kroc’s code is not only well written, the source itself is actually beautiful.  We have collaborated on both CSS and PHP in the past and both are the better for it.  

That said, we have strikingly different positions about publshing on the web.  Kroc writes his website for himself, and as a result, publishes in HTML 5; his site doesn’t work in IE, his mindset being “if you choose to use a subpar browser, you will have a subpar experience. ”  Indeed, his site is a complete mess in IE 7, the fault only of IE and its abysmal CSS support, not the code itself.   I, conversely, attempt to code with a much more conservative bend, coding to the masses, at the expense of using several great tricks.   

Getting back on track, when it came to discussing the <abbr> tag, both of us found ourselves remarkably on the same page.  Although one can get into the nitty-gritty details and find the whole conversation trivial, I think there’s something to be said for using tags properly and getting your information properly parsed.  After all, screen readers exist with regularity today, XML is very popular (most commonly in the form of RSS), and search engines spider the majority of popular websites several times times a day if not every hour.   Using tags, and using them properly, should be important to content publishers and republishers.  

I also agree with Kroc’s point that it’s not your job to educate your reader like an encyclopedia.  The <abbr> tag is not so much about education as it is about properly marking up your  code.  

As the second wave of the browser war heats up – as Tracemonkey, Squirrelfish Extreme, and V8 start really setting themselves apart from IE in even larger ways, coding to standards will become even more important.  Understading lesser used tags is elemental in writing the best, most concise code and ranking well in search engines.

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