DrupalCon Portland, and the evils of and

Last week, two Lane Web Team members went up to DrupalCon Portland.

The Drupal "Drop" under a pendulum at the Portland Convention Center

Did you know Oregon has the world’s largest Foucault Pendulum?

In addition to opportunities to network with other institutions running Drupal around the state and world, there were a ton of awesome speakers and “Bids of Feather” sessions, where groups of like minded people got together to talk about issues relevant to them. Take a look:

A whiteboard, showing a grid of different sessions at various times, including such sessions as "Pantheon and HigherEd" and "Higher Ed Content Strategies"

This seems like a weird thing to take a picture of, but the BOF listing couldn’t be found on the web anywhere – wifi at conferences is notoriously poor, so it wouldn’t have done us much good.

The second day’s keynote, by Karen McGrane, was about user experience and design, and provided some excellent insights for us (watch it here!). The one that will impact you most is our removal of the <i> (italics) and <b> (boldface) elements from the list of allowable elements on Drupal content pages.

As per why, it has to do with two things: Future Proofing, and Accessibility. Back in the day, when content was designed for paper, boldface and italics made a lot of sense. So the <b> and <i> HTML elements were used to replicate this on the web. But, not too long later, people realized that these elements didn’t actually convey any semantic information – they were purely visual. So they added the <strong> and <em> (emphasis) elements.

Now, here’s the thing. Strong text, and emphasized text look exactly the same as boldfaced and italicized text – this sentence actually uses <strong> and <em> tags. So the average web user won’t notice any difference. But what happens if you’re using some futuristic wearable computing device that reads web pages to you? With <strong>, your device would know to read a certain word or sentence strongly, and to emphasize text in <em> tags. But if they were <b> or <i> tags, you wouldn’t have even known they were there . Turns out this is the same way screen readers work.

As of this morning, we’re filtering out <i> tags and <b> tags. There’s a 99% chance this doesn’t impact you at all – using the buttons in the WYSIWYG on Drupal automatically uses <em> and <strong> instead. But if you’ve been doing something fancy after disabling the rich text editor, you might need to change your page some.