Monday, 23 June 2008

The BBC, accessibility, the hCalendar microformat and RDFa

The BBC have announced (in 'Removing Microformats from bbc.co.uk/programmes') that they'll stop using the hCalendar microformat because of concerns about accessibility, specifically the use of the HTML abbreviation element (the abbr tag):
Our concerns were:
  • the effect on blind users using screen readers with abbreviation expansion turned on where abbreviations designed for machines would be read out
  • the effect on partially sighted users using screen readers where tool tips of abbreviations designed for machines would be read out
  • the effect of incomprehensible tooltips on users with cognitive disabilities
  • the potential fencing off of abbreviations to domains that need them
Until these issues are resolved the BBC semantic markup standards have been updated to prevent the use of non-human-readable text in abbreviations.
They're looking at using RDFa, which they describe as 'a slightly bigger S semantic web technology similar to microformats but without some of the more unexpected side-effects'.

Their support for RDFa is timely in light of Lee Iverson's presentation at the UK Museums on the Web conference (my notes). It's also an interesting study of what can happen when geek enthusiasm meets existing real world users.

More generally, does the fact that an organisation as big as the BBC hasn't yet produced an API mean that creating an API is not a simple task, or that the organisational issues are bigger than the technical issues?

1 comment:

  1. The BBC has produced 'an API', just not quite a full API for /programmes yet (although there's an API for the schedules pages).

    As for the abbr-design-pattern issue, I think the BBC have made a good call here. Hopefully it should get the Microformats community working hard on an alternative solution.

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