[uf-discuss] changing abbr-design-pattern to title-design-pattern?

Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis bhawkeslewis at googlemail.com
Sun Apr 29 15:14:23 PDT 2007

Tantek Çelik wrote:

> However, I'm against contorting microformats because of bugs or
> suboptimal behaviors in <1% marketshare browsers.

On my reading of the HTML 4.01 specification and WCAG 1.0, the title
attribute was clearly intended to provide additional /human readable/




On this reading, the use of title for information formatted for machines 
not people is a hack. So I think it's erroneous to describe reading out 
the ISO date time format from title as a "bug". I agree having a setting 
to recast ISO dates into a localized, human readable format might be an 
optimal behaviour, but it would be best if such conversion was triggered 
only in contexts where the ISO format was not meant for direct human 
consumption. In this sense, describing it as "suboptimal" behaviour 
presumes screen reader foreknowledge of microformats, which seems to go 
against the already quoted credo of the microformats movement.

Your interpretation of the relevant specs may be different, of course. :)

With regards to the attempt to list screen readers on the microformats
wiki, I'd like to draw correspondents attention to the list of past and
present screen readers on Wikipedia:


The current microformats wikipage's emphasis on the latest versions is
somewhat misplaced. It's important to remember that partly because
popular screen reading software is prohibitively expensive, many screen
reader users are using older versions. I'm subscribed to several screen
reader mailing lists. The latest version of Freedom Scientific's JAWS
(probably the most popular screen reader) is 8. But judging from mailing
lists dedicated to JAWS and other screen readers, users of 8 are
outnumbered by users of 7. Many correspondents are still on 6. Some few
correspondents still use 5 or even 4.51, e.g.:



With web browsers, one might have a moral case for putting the onus on
users to upgrade to free and technically superior alternatives, though 
taking such a moral position appears not to be a widely viable 
commercial practice. But in the case of screen readers, the free 
solutions still have a long way to go to be very effective replacements 
for their expensive peers, so a similar moral argument is difficult to 

I'm afraid asking for estimates of the size of the userbase for each
version is a bit unrealistic. There's very little public information
about such matters.

The World Health Organization estimated that in 2002, 37 million people
around the world (0.59%) were blind and an additional 124 million
(1.99%) had low vision:


3.58% is only a little short of estimates of Safari's market share and
much higher than estimates of Opera's:


Of course, because people with visual impairments are likely to have
poorer life opportunities and to be older, I'd guess they are
under-represented in uptake of new technologies and the internet generally.

In 2002, Chris Hofstader of Freedom Scientific testified that "There are
approximately 80,000 registered users of JAWS":


I assume he meant worldwide, but it's hard to be certain.

According to a study of screen reader use published in December 2003, a
spokesperson for the US National Federation of the Blind estimated that
in the USA, JAWS had 65% of the screen reader market and GW-Micro
Window-Eyes had 35%; also JAWS was the software most commonly used by
U.S. federal workers:


If these figures held true beyond the US, one could predict around
40,000 registered Window-Eyes users worldwide. However, non-US markets
may favour other screen readers such as the Brazilian screen reader
MicroPower Virtual Vision.

In a published interview with Access World in March 2007 that proved
controversial and has subsequently disappeared from the site, Hofstader
apparently said that 2,000 copies of screen reader software are sold per


Any sale of a Mac is also a sale of VoiceOver, an effective screen
reader. Any download of Ubuntu Linux or Solaris is also a download of
Orca, an increasingly competent open source screen reader.

With regards to the particular issue at hand, it's fortunate that many
screen reader users probably have not configured their software to read 
title automatically since:

1) It's not the default behaviour in JAWS or Window-Eyes.

2) Current screen readers do not (AFAIK) discriminate between familiar
and unfamiliar, or even first-occurrence and repeated, abbreviations and
acronyms when reading title attributes.

3) title is sometimes abused to spam search engines.


Suboptimal UA behaviour and bad authoring practices don't excuse
additional misuse by the microformats movement, of course.

But if title must be used, putting human-hostile title attributes on an
empty element seems a better hack than misusing abbr or acronym,
/subject to testing with a range of assistive technology/.

A specialized data attribute is under consideration by WHATWG for use
with scripts, but it might also help with this problem … eventually.


Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis

More information about the microformats-discuss mailing list