There are a lot of XHTML tags that just aren’t appreciated as well as they should be. <a> gets all the love, and now that we’re all on standards compliance kicks we can’t get enough of <div> and <span>. But what about the other tags? No one likes <blink> (deservedly so) but the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.
There are tags that just don’t get the press that they deserve. I’d like to present some of the best tags that you’ve never heard of.

<dl>, <dt> and <dd>
<dl> stands for definition list; this tag list is a definition list. Unlike <ul> and <ol> it has two paired list items:
<dt>: definition term
<dd>: definition definition (no typo)
I like this because it’s hella semantic. The <dd> defines the <dt>, semantically it’s like a hash in Perl.
<del> and <ins>
<del> is more often than not used for comedy. It’s an update of the old ^H^H^H joke, wherein the typist would pretend that they thought they had deleted something. Example:

David can suck it^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H is a great guy.
David can suck it is a great guy.

Well I just sucked the humor out of this post. But <del> and its lesser known sibling <ins> are becoming more and more useful. As we update our weblogs, we usually throw caution to the wind – ignoring spelling, grammar and even consciousness. Then, as we sober up, we go back and edit our posts to be meaningful gems that light up the Intarweb. But without highlighting the changes, posts saying "WTF? Is that even Englilsh?" don’t make much sense when attached to you now literary masterpiece.
In order for there to be some semblance of cohesion on the web, it’s important to use these preferably styled tags. Take a look at Stephen’s commentStephen would look like an idiot if I had just made the edits. You don’t want to make Stephen look like an idiot, do you? Also, it’s hella semantic

<acronym> and <abbr>
The <acronym> tag is surprisingly used for defining acronyms, <abbr> is for abbreviations. Both tags have a title element to define what they are shortening. The difference between an acronym and an abbreviation is that you can pronounce an acronym. WYSIWYG is an acronym because you can say "whizzy-wig" but HTTP is an abbreviation. I’m a fan of these tags because they’re hella pedantic.

So why do semantic tags matter? They are the starting point for the semantic web, which allows computers to parse meaning from the text on the web. Your weblog posts can contribute to a global information store today, by using tags that describe the content inside. For a glimpse of the future, check out the new Harpers’s Magazine site (via Brian), which uses semantic markup to build a database on everything from Satan to Kentucky. Cool, huh?
So what are some other cool tags that aren’t used enough?


10 responses to “Underappreciated XHTML Tags”

  1. That’s funny, but if I can do that then someone can come along and do a cross site scripting attack on you… be careful with included content.

  2. Brian says:

    Gets used often, but far too often just to indent a block of text. Will really start to rule once CSS generated content hits its prime.

  3. Davidissimo says:

    George can eat ass is currently eating ass. (cause they don’t work in comments, I don’t think)

  4. George says:

    <blockquote> rocks, I wish that more people would use it in online discussions. I don’t know how often I see lots of quoting on Slashdot and think “If only there were some sort of tag for this…”

  5. Micah says:

    And technically, the INS and DEL tags carry a DATETIME attribute so people can tell when the content was modified. The value of the DATETIME attribute is supposed to be in a (non)standard format, so I whipped up a little CGI script to automagically output the correct value (for Michigan/EastCoast only):

  6. Richard says:

    Not to steal Micah’s thunder, but there is a datetime tool available at which takes into account timezones and can even evidently take custom times rather than just ‘now’.

  7. George says:

    The datetime attribute is pretty cool, and I ♥ DublinCore, even if its time format is kind of funky. It would be interesting to see some tools that used the <ins> and <del> tags to create a timeline for a document, or a CVS-style changelog.
    Maybe you could do something with ECMAScript to fade old <del> elements into oblivion and fade old, bright <ins> elements into regular text…

  8. Micah says:

    Thanks for the link Richard, that’s a handy page.

  9. js says:

    Just as a pedantic note, George, acronyms are letter sequences made up of the first (or capital) letters in a phrase. Acro=High in Greek. Abbreviations are things like Mi. for Michigan.
    (Good blog, liked the Ebay, good to put text to a face after meeting you).

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