Peter Krautzberger · on the web

Math on the web; time to step up!

You may have seen my previous post on why MathML is a failed web standard and, how, for better or worse, I think the focus needs to be on helping the tools that work on the web today.

The obvious problem is: how should that work? How do we get this small, disparate, and sometimes divided community of math tools for the web to inform web standards and, ultimately, browser development?

Well, it's time to find out.

A couple of people have been working towards a new effort and we've now formed a W3C Community Group. The name may sound funny but it's what this group is after: Getting Math onto Web Pages. No fuss, no drama, no limitations. The focus is on how we do this today and how we can make it easier.

So now it's up to us.

If you're a developer of a tool that makes math work on the web today and want to help shape the future, then it's time to step up. I know your resources are probably tight, in fact most projects out there are run by idealists, as side-projects or chronically under-funded. I hear you.

But you built a tool because nothing was getting the job done. Standards? Same thing. We need to learn about the process, understand what we want to do and what we can do, and ultimately, help build standards that work for everyone. Otherwise, the job won't get done.

So join the Community Group and work together to move the web forward for mathematics and beyond.

Need more information? Here's the initial description from the CG homepage:

There are many technical issues in presenting mathematics in today's
Open Web Platform, which has lead to the poor access to Mathematics in
Web Pages. This is in spite of the existing de jure or de facto
standards for authoring mathematics, like MathML, LaTeX, or asciimath,
which have been around for a very long time and are widely used by the
mathematical and technical communities.

While MathML was supposed to solve the problem of rendering mathematics
on the web it lacks in both implementations and general interest from
browser vendors.

However, in the past decade, many math rendering tools have been pushing
math on the web forward using HTML/CSS and SVG.

One of the identified issues is that, while browser manufacturers have
continually improved and extended their HTML and CSS layout engines, the
approaches to render mathematics have not been able to align with these
improvements. In fact, the current approaches to math layout could be
considered to be largely disjoint from the other technologies of OWP.

Another key issue, is that exposing (and thus leveraging) semantic
information of mathematical and scientific content on the web needs to
move towards modern practices and standards instead of being limited to
a single solution (MathML). Such information is critical for
accessibility, machine-readability, and re-use of mathematical content.

This Community Group intends to look at the problems of math on the web
in a very bottom-up manner.

Experts in this group should identify how the core OWP layout engines,
centered around HTML, SVG, and CSS, can be re-used for the purpose of
mathematical layout by mapping mathematical entities on top of these,
thereby ensuring a much more efficient result, and making use of current
and future OWP optimization possibilities. Similarly, experts should
work to identify best practices for semantics from the point of view of
today's successful solutions.

This work should also reveal where the shortcomings are, from the
mathematical layout point of view, in the details of these OWP
technologies, and propose improvements and possible additions to these,
with the ultimate goal of reaching out to the responsible W3C Working
Groups to make these changes. This work may also reveal new technology
areas that should be specified and standardized on their own right, for
example in the area of Web Accessibility.

The ultimate goal is to pave the way for a standard, highly optimized
implementation architecture, on top of which mathematical syntaxes, like
LaTeX or MathML, may be mapped to provide an efficient display of
mathematical formulae.

Note that, although this community group will concentrate on
mathematics, many other areas, e.g., science and engineering, will
benefit from (and factor into) the approach and from the core

PS: We've also applied for a CG slot at TPAC 2016 in Lisbon for a face-to-face of the CG as well as the opportunity to talk to other groups. Fingers crossed!