Web “content”?

Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:

  • natural information such as text, images, and sounds
  • code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.

I came across this surprisingly concise and thorough definition in the Introduction to the WCAG 2 Overview introducing “the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) international standard, including WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1, and WCAG 2.2.” That’s much better than I’ve found anywhere else.

Leave it to the Web Accessibility Initiative to understand that it’s about both “natural information” (e.g. written editorial content like an article or advertising content like an ad) and how it’s presented (like the elements of design within the article, where and how an ad is shown and its design).

And bonus points for putting “content” in quotes. As that term has been fraught—and seems to have it’s origins in referring to web “content.” John Long arguing in The Drum in 2018 that “‘Content’ is a terrible term. Please stop using it.”:

“‘The principal substance offered by a website.’

And that’s the first thing everyone should remember about the word ‘content’ — it’s a website term that was probably initially used by programmers to generically describe the stuff that wasn’t code, i.e., the stuff that was mere ‘fluff’ to them. Like, say, The Iliad.

With that in mind, maybe the second part of the WCAG intro definition could be modified so it’s not so much the “code or markup” itself but rather the “structure, presentation, etc.” definined by that code or markup.

(There’s a lot of great and useful information over on the Web Accessibility Initiative section of the Wolrd Wide Web Consortium (W3C) site, including the WAI Resources page describing “most technical and educational resources from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).” Many things to keep in mind when making content—doing pretty much anything on the publishing side—on the web.)