It seems Google is trying to do to online caption quality what it did to online video quality. If you don’t know what I mean, let me put it to you this way: I’ve got second-generation VHS tapes here that look better than YouTube. Now what does this have to do with captioning?

There’s a proposal floating around for yet another captioning/subtitling file format. This one has three strikes against it – it comes from Google; it’s linked to the ill-named, non-starter video format, Ogg, that nobody wants; and it is, furthermore, linked to HTML5.

I already mailed in my complaints, which have of course been ignored, but for the record:

  1. This seems to be yet another way to get closed captioning to function online. How’s that been working out? Compared to, say, TV? Or even something brand-new like Blu-ray?

  2. The proposal itself can’t get captioning and subtitling straight.

  3. The proposal assumes a transcript is a caption. It assumes nobody would want to include a real transcript with a video, as via RSS for a video podcast.

  4. It confuses “accessible”: Does it mean “available,” “easy to turn on and off,” or “remedying a barrier faced by a disabled person”? I expect it does not mean accessible to people with disabilities other than impaired hearing. (Quick: Turn YouTube captions on using Jaws.)

  5. It assumes JavaScript is the only possible way to “[l]ist, add, delete, and create caption tracks.”

  6. It actually allows authors to create “caption” or “subtitle” tracks that do not tell the world which of those they are and what language they’re in. No guessing and no nonsense heuristics here, please. (This is the Google mistake all over again – we don’t need semantic coding because we just run our bull through the china shop of your content.)

    Then they make matters worse by just playing whatever happens to be the first “caption” or “subtitle” track if such are not identified properly. Since we’d already be allowing people not to declare the type of title track and the language, you are exposing users to being given e.g. French subtitles when they’re deaf and want English captions just because French subtitles came first.

  7. It’s missing a a Format field for e.g. pop-on, scrollup, paint-on, overlay, several kinds of karaoke.

  8. No awareness, at all, that simultaneous captions and subtitles are even possible, let alone necessary.

  9. No way to handle sign language.

  10. No backward-compatible predefined primitives for every caption format now in existence. For example, CC1 through CC4 and Text1 through Text4 from Line 21, and all the DVD subtitle and caption designations.

  11. Reuses an element that already exists, caption, for something else. It’s already used for tables. title is also already used but is threatened with reuse here. An alternative like captitle or subcaption might work.

    Don’t dick around with this: Browsers expect captions to be tied to tables and also expect one title per page. Meanwhile, a two-hour movie has 1,200 to 1,500 units in each caption or subtitle track. That means a typical Canadian DVD has up to 6,000 titles of one kind or anohter. When translated to the Web, do you really want a browser to make the same rendering mistake 6,000 times on a single page?

  12. Captions are block-level elements and do not “count as <span class="caption"></span>.”

  13. In one’s “context menu,” one sees only lists of available captions, not subtitles.

And are these “captions” and “subtitles” all going to be 20-character-wide centred blocks of white Helvetica on black? Because that works fine for everybody, right?

Let me reserve a particularly harsh criticism for last: Captions would be indicated “[p]referably by a button on the UI with either ‘CC’ or a double underscore (preferred).” This is the kind of atrocious iconography we associate with a billion-dollar corporation that employs exactly one visual designer. (What do we use in French? In Tibetan?) Besides, we’ve been through this already.

I’d be nicer to these beginners if they weren’t working for the biggest company on the Web. I expect rather more competence. Now let’s see if they try to push their bullshit straight through just because they don’t like my attitude. It’s happened before.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.03.01 16:07. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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