Structured documents that produce their own outlines

Outlines are important information structures. We all spent time in English class learning I.A.1.a.... Outlining is considered an important skill because outlines are useful. In the world of the web generating complex book length outlines is not trivial. HTML5 added new elements for which one function would be improved generation of automatic outlines.

I knew that HTML5 also includes a new outline algorithm, but I had not tried to built a conforming document. My ethnobotany text, at ten chapters and 6000 lines of HTML was an ideal candidate for being structured under the new algorithm. The text book actually existed only as an OpenOffice.org document, but the holiday provided an opportunity to convert the document to HTML, clean-up the code into valid HTML5 code, and build in the new outline algorithm.

To automatically build the outline from a properly constructed page, one needs a modern browser such as FireFox or Chrome and an HTML5 algorithm aware outliner such as the HTML5 outliner bookmarklet from Google. With that bookmarklet on your tool bar or favorites menu, one can automatically generate an outline for the document.

If one runs the outliner, the top level is simply the text as a whole. The chapters reside at the next level down. There can be further levels within a chapter.

At present outliners are add-ons to browsers, but their usefulness - as seen in tools such as Adobe Acrobat Reader's side panel navigation - will lead to their integration into web pages. Search engines will also use the outlines to better interpret the contents of a page and optimize search results. Valid web pages with correctly constructed sections structures will rank higher in search results.

By the way, there is one section of the text that only FireFox 4 Beta can render at this time. The page uses the new SVG in HTML (not XHTML!) capabilities of HTML5. Only FireFox 4 - a beta release - has the necessary HTML5 parser to render the SVG. That section includes floral diagrams based on floral formulas. On older browsers there is only what appears to be odd text strings.

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