[uf-new] an equation/MathML/TeX microformat?

Paul Topping pault at dessci.com
Thu Oct 25 09:23:21 PDT 2007


I'm trying to determine whether microformats is the right venue for
developing a standard math representation within HTML.

Back in '98, many of us involved with the W3C's MathML standard had
hopes of it being widely supported within most browsers in a few years.
That has sort of happened. MathML is supported natively within Firefox
but users experience font problems and it only works if pages are XHMTL,
rather than HTML. My company's free MathPlayer plugin makes MathML work
in Internet Explorer. MathML support is still missing from Safari,
Opera, and other browsers. People interested in publishing math on the
web still find serving up pages as XHTML challenging (getting the MIME
type right, etc.). Some websites, blogs, and wikis convert TeX or LaTeX
to images on the server to handle equations in content. Quite frankly,
the space is a mess.

Regardless of whether the math is represented using MathML, TeX, LaTeX,
or some other notation, it is important to expose the mathematical
structure behind the equation to the client in order to support
accessibility (ie, allow screen readers to speak the math) and
interoperability (eg, allow users to copy equations from pages into
Mathematica, MS Word docs, MathType, or new pages). What is needed is a
consistent way to associate an underlying math representation with its
visual representation regardless of whether it is a GIF or PNG image or
MathML formatted by the browser (or a browser plugin).

This seems like a job for a microformat but I must admit that I have
limited knowledge of the microformat philosophy. On one hand,
microformats embed semantic representations in HTML in a practical but
rigorous way. On the other hand, in most (all?) microformats the
representation is visible in the browser. In the kind of representation
I'm imagining, the user won't actually see the actual MathML or TeX code
in the browser window.

Thoughts? Is microformats the right place for this kind of thing?

Paul Topping
Design Science, Inc.

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