Should you use content-based style tags?
With the exception of the CITE tag, the answer, in short, is probably not. Physical style tags are most appropriate for the majority of text mark-up needs. Remember that ADDRESS tags, however, are not content-based style tags, and should be used for marking mailing addresses on a web page.
Content-based style tags were created to help conceptually organize content on a web page; today, they are a bit of an antiquarian relic. In terms of visual layout, content-based style tags are redundant, especially with the introduction of CSS. The original purpose of content-based style tags (more efficient organization of web page content) has been swallowed up by the advent of XML, which has more flexibility and power for organizing HTML content structurally.
At one time, HTML was going to increase its number of content-based style tags, so that a greater variety of web page content could be organized by what something was FOR, rather than what something looked like; this organization would have theoretically been used by browsers and search engines to sort page content more effectively and to add advanced functionality to web sites via additional browser plugins or technologies. It was quickly realized, however, that this kind of HTML-based tag creation would be insufficient; adoption of standards was too slow, and the tags needed would be too varied and too specialized. At this point, XML was developed.
XML is a generic language for creating custom HTML tags; these XML tags can be used to more efficiently mark specialized content. For instance, if you were a bread maker, you could create a PROCEDURES xml tag which had various sub-tags associated with it relating to bread-making procedures, such as KNEADING, RAISING, RESTING, BAKING, etc; this set of tags could be used to describe the procedures portion of a bread recipe. Once your database understood how these tags worked together, you could input breadmaking procedures for various types of bread into your database. Then, these procedures could be used for many purposes. The database could spit your procedures into custom HTML pages, which displayed your recipes via the Web. In addition, your database could be set up to spit the XML-marked procedures into QuarkXpress documents for printing a recipe book, or into Adobe Acrobat for real-time documentation via the Internet for your kitchen staffs in your restaurants around the world; this feature would be particularly useful if you were developing or discovering a lot of new bread-making procedures which you wanted implemented immediately on a large scale. You could also use your XML PROCEDURE-related information in conjunction with some sort of scheduling program to help your kitchen staff schedule their baking times based on these procedures (as well as new procedures you input daily into your XML database). Using XML, you could also relate your PROCEDURE set of tags with OTHER people's versions of XML baking and cooking tags, so that many different cooking/baking XML tag sets could be used together; this would allow your recipe book program or your scheduling program, for instance, to use OTHER people's XML content, even if they were not specifically using the bread-making XML language.
With XML, you only have to input information ONCE into your database; you may then recycle that information for any purpose you like. XML tags can be used by search engines, databases, and web browsers to sort and organize information. XML is already revolutionizing database management, allowing databases to communicate more efficiently with one another. XML tags can be developed by businesses, schools, individuals, companies, or research institutions based on specialized knowledge and requirements, providing for better-focused, more appropriate tags, or even entirely new languages of tags based on specialty needs (from chemistry to literature to cooking to whale-watching). The creation of a generic standard for new tag creation also means a more stable HTML language, since current HTML tags do not now need to be so often adapted or distorted from their original purposes, nor do more official HTML tags need to be added to the language.
It is outside of the realm of this class to discuss XML at any length. It is important to note, however, that XML implementation in web browsers is uneven, and even occasionally non-existent. Nonetheless, XML has thoroughly infiltrated database work, and it is only a matter of time before the web browsers come to some sort of agreement about standards implementation. Future XML standards will, in all likelihood, require XHTML syntax, which is quite strict. XML and XHTML are destined to become key technologies in the future of the Internet.
Copyright © 2001 Michael Masumoto. All Rights Reserved.