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Listing Toward the Future

Douglas Bowman ruminates over the use of list elements (i.e., <ul> and <ol>) as the basis for navigation links, tabbed interfaces, weblogs, and just stuff in general.  Is it okay to use an unordered list to hold the lists that drive your site?  Should a weblog just be an enormous ordered list?  If you do those things, does the semantic meaning of the list change to the point that it’s no longer really a list?

Well, kell co-ink-e-dink!  Tonight’s talk at COMMUG deals almost entirely with ways to take lists and restyle them to get panels, tabs, flowchart-like structures… pretty much everything Doug was talking about.  I’d even been planning to talk a bit about the semantic joyride such approaches can mean, at least to some people.

So here’s the short version of what I think: looked at a certain way, pretty much everything can be represented as a list.  The U.S. Census, the Solar system, my family tree, a restaurant menu, the stuff I did yesterday, all the friends I’ve ever had and lost—these can all be represented as a list, or a list of lists.  So the question isn’t really whether we should be putting all this stuff into lists.  The question (at least at this stage of the game) is whether or not the markup structure meets the job, and helps with accessibility concerns.

Now, should we have markup structures that meet the jobs more closely?  Maybe.  XHTML 2.0 has the <nl> (nestednavigation list) structure, which comes closer to making the markup name match the structure’s intended role.  I’m not convinced this is necessary; it’s already possible to just take nested lists and turn them into menu systems using CSS, assuming a sufficiently capable user agent.  It’s still a topic worth consideration and exploration.

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