Feature requests: discuss, implement, or reject/deny?

I work in another publicly accessible community, where bug reports and feature requests are happily solicited from the userbase.

We have thousands of open idea requests (the codebase is nearing 20 years old), and close only a sizeable fraction of those opened regularly.

From our perspective, the idea requests are welcome, but not all of them are actionable; some are brilliant, and are implemented immediately because they work well with our vision; some are entirely incompatible and are closed/denied.

The majority fit in between; they’re ideas that would work with a bit of tweaking, or a bit of thought, but aren’t necessarily on the primary development roadmap, so don’t get our attention immediately. Nor do they warrant closing, because they are relevant, merely not timely or important.

Because our developers have their own ideas, their own neverending todo lists, we treat the open idea pile more as inspiration than as a roadmap. There’s very much a feeling of “we’ll get to it when we’ve run out of other things to do”, but this never happens in practice.

I know it’s a cop-out not to choose one or the other, but I think it’s a normal thing to have to choose between two equally bad things in a public forum like this: either responding to most feature requests with a “denied”, and so risk upsetting the folk who love the community enough to contribute with their own ideas; or leave some of them dangling because they’re not immediately and obviously wrong, but to do something worthwhile with them takes more time and effort than the idea deserves right now.

HTML: Title Tooltips and Alt text

Sadly, another one for the Internet Explorer Vs. Firefox debate.

It’s pretty well known that most browsers will display a tooltip of sorts when you hover over an image. The alt attribute of the img tag gives rise to that, in pretty much all places.

Lesser known is the title attribute, which is supposed to give the tooltip; the alt attribute might do that as a side-effect if title isn’t there, but it’s just that: a side-effect. The alt attribute is really there to give browsers that aren’t displaying images (or screenreaders that can’t see them anyway) some idea of what the image is.

This separation of concerns is somewhat of a problem when it comes to image maps: in image maps, the alt text for the area elements is there for similar reasons, to show what options are there when the image isn’t there. The title attribute is there for the tooltip, as ever.

However, if both alt and title are there, Internet Explorer shows the alt text as a tooltip, where Firefox will show the title text. Although they serve very different functions, a conscientious web developer is forced to keep them identical, or risk causing problems for the non-standards-compliant behaviour of Internet Explorer.

Of course, title will still work in other places, for example on images or even links:

<a href="mypage.html" title="My lovely page!">My Page</a>

Delving into the XHTML 1.1 DTD

So, you’re looking at the top of a web page’s source code, and you see something like this:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.1//EN"
"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml11/DTD/xhtml11.dtd">

What’s the relationship between that and the actual code in the web page?

Well, a DOCTYPE tag declares what document type this webpage is, by formally specifying a Document Type Descriptor (that’s what the “dtd” in the filename and in the declaration means). This is the formal specification, written in its own computer language, used to define legal dialects of languages descended from SGML. Most predominantly, this includes languages like HTML 4.01 and XHTML. Hence this walkthrough.

In our specific case, it references a specification for XHTML, which is a modular XML-expressed version of HTML. Let’s look inside.

Firstly, if we look in the declaration, we see the link ““http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml11/DTD/xhtml11.dtd” which, if you download it, shows the DTD itself. For XHTML, this is a relatively short document; the specification largely consists of modules, referenced from this document. Let’s have a look.

Within the DTD, you’ll see this section (around line 121):

<!-- Text Module (Required)  ..................................... -->

&lt;![%xhtml-text.module;[

%xhtml-text.mod;]]&gt;

This defines a module to be included, which itself is a technically part of the DTD as it is INCLUDEd.

If you navigate to the included module, “http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml-modularization/DTD/xhtml-text-1.mod”, you’ll see a further set of INCLUDEd items, for example:


&lt;![%xhtml-inlstruct.module;[

%xhtml-inlstruct.mod;]]&gt;

This entry includes the inline structural elements br and span, and further down the document we have more included modules containing inline phrasal elements (em, strong etc.), block structural (p and div), and block phrasal (h1, h2 etc.).

Try them:

In each, you’ll see the definitions for tags such as p, div, code, strong, em and so on.

For comparison, have a look at the HTML 4.01 DTD, which you’ll be able to follow using the DOCTYPE:


…and linked to from here: http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd. As you’ll see, it’s not quite modular, but still contains code defining the elements (and their contents, attributes and so on) that are legal within the dialect concerned.

Quality of Service: Hosting

There are several useful QoS parameters, although not all are as easily measured as e.g. 99.98% uptime, which is easily derived – 99.98% of the time, your server is available.

Some other useful metrics:

  • What sort of bandwidth do they support? How about if it’s a shared pipe and they’ve multiple high-volume clients? You’re unlikely to get an honest answer to this from the vendor.
  • If you’re on a shared host, what sort of competition for resources will you have on the box? Again, this is competitive information, so you’re unlikely to get an honest response.
  • How independent is each application? i.e. if another application on a co-hosted box loops MySQL, will your app suffer?
  • How often do they upgrade dependencies, and does that affect their 99.98% uptime?

Then there are the fluffy not-entirely-QoS related hosting problems:

  • Will they do your backups etc.?
  • How responsive are they to queries? Do they have a guaranteed response time e.g. 3 hours from first email to first response, 24/7?
  • Are they efficient? Have they resolved issues within a useful timeframe? A quick response-time is nice and feelgood, but if they don’t fix the problem, that’s not quite so good!
  • Are they patient with you when you suggest issues, but due to your own technical background are slightly off-base?

Of course you could always do your own backups, with external drives like this, or caddies (2.5″, 3.5″) for old spare hard drives you have lying around, but that doesn’t substitute for the technical support you get from a good host.