November 10, 2004

ALT Text Blues

Okay, it’s time for another rant, one that will only reach ten people, none of which are the ones that really need to hear it. But so be it.

What really cheeses me off are people who learned web design back in 1995 and think that everything they know is absolutely right and there’s no reason to bring their skills up to, you know, the 1999 level. Normally it doesn’t bother me too much since a table-based site mostly looks the same as a CSS site, and even tag soup gets rendered into something nice in Firefox. But there’s one relic from the past that Firefox chose (rightly) not to support, but the problems is that all these 1995 types still use it and it really screws me up when they do. And that’s the fact that alt text used to appear as a little popup when you’d hover over an image. That’s not the right use for alt text; alt text is supposed to be for when the image doesn’t show at all. title text is what’s supposed to pop up when you hover. But there apparently are only a couple hundred people in the world that know that, and none of them make the sites I read. So when I go to someplace like James Lileks’ site, or to Al Lutz’ Mice Age, and I know that there are supposed to be tooltips with witty little sayings on each of the images, but I can’t see them because the author learned HTML in 1995, that really gets in my grill. I’ve even written to Al Lutz on this topic, twice, even when other people wrote in to say they couldn’t see the tooltips in Firefox, and he was looking for solutions. And of course I got no response either time.

So now my browsing is crippled because these dunderheads won’t join the rest of the world and realize that web design has advanced in the last ten years. And it’s not like there’s something new coming out every year, and it’s just too much for anybody to keep track of. XHTML came out in 1999. That’s five years now. There is no reason at all for anybody who is making web pages today not to be using XHTML. Or CSS, which has been around for eight years. But that’s another rant for another day.

So, what I finally had to do is break down and install the extension to Firefox that puts alt text into tooltips. I feel like I’m breaking Firefox a little by doing that, but until the rest of the world catches on to the right way to do things, I guess I’m stuck with it. It should only take twenty or thirty years.

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog

Comments (3)

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  1. Christopher Baus says:

    I’ve got a solution to this. Don’t go to their sites. Let the market decide if it matters.

    Posted November 10, 2004 @ 12:14 pm
  2. Gloria O'Connor says:

    Hey, I teach web mastering (and have no real world experience in web design) so I rely heavily on the textbook. The textbooks say that we use alt as the tag for hovering over a graphic??!! I’ve never heard ofthe other tag. FYI

    Posted November 22, 2004 @ 7:11 am
  3. Scott Schrantz says:

    I’d say 90% of books about web building were written in the old days, or by people who are still stuck there. Back when it didn’t matter if you did something right, just that you could do it at all. Web design went through a massive shift about three years ago, but many developers and authors haven’t caught onto it yet. Parts of the web design industry have advanced – pretty far – while other parts stayed behind.

    I’d say the best of the new breed of textbooks is Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman. It explains how designing for IE is obsolete. The way to do things now is to design to the standards, as laid out by the W3C, and then your site will work in every browser without any special tricks. Well, only one browser will need special tricks, and you know which one it is? IE.

    There are also excellent mailing lists at and that are focused on answering questions folks have about cutting edge web design. Of course, when I say “cutting edge”, it isn’t really so. The tools we’re using, like XHTML and CSS, have been around for at least five years. It’s just that browsers haven’t caught up to them until recently.

    So here’s my advice: get Zeldman’s book, read the Evolt and Webdesign-L lists, and download Mozilla Firefox as your main development browser. Your world will change 100% for the better, and if you’re a teacher, the worlds of your students will too.

    Posted November 22, 2004 @ 8:29 am

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