Semantics is a tool with future potential

Paul Boag

Smashing magazine has kicked off an interesting discussion about semantics in HTML. It started with a post entitled ‘Our Pointless Pursuit of Semantic Value’. In a rather confrontation tone this post ripped apart many of the commonly held ‘arguments’ for creating semantic code.

Despite the tone it made some good points. On occasion I have expressed concern about the level of obsession some have with code being semantic. It is often used as a weapon to criticise others and the way they code, rather than for any legitimate reason.

However, in this case I find myself agreeing with Jeremy Keith’s (partial) rebuttal. Although an obsession with semantics is unhealthy we need to be careful not to swing too far in the opposite direction. Semantics does have value here and now. However, for me what is more important is the potential it has for the future.

As Jeremy says at the end of his post:

The specification is still being put together and our collective voice matters.

By having this discussion now and by working out how semantics operate in the real world, we will hopefully establish a standard for future applications. While now semantic code is only sparsely used it has the potential to improve accessibility, data retrieval and user experience. If we simply dismiss semantics as pointless then this potential will never be realised.