I’ve gotten a somewhat surprising number of hits to my blog over the last few days, coming from lost googlers searching for strings like “google news aria” and “what is google news aria.” Unfortunately, it seems that Google itself doesn’t have any information posted about the subject (or if they do, it’s not ranked highly in Google). Thus everyone is winding up at my rather short entry on accessibility improvements to google news, where I don’t really explain what ARIA is for, because I don’t really know. In an effort to satisfy the internets curiosity, I thought I’d take a minute to do some research on the subject.
According to wikipedia, Aria is really called WAI-ARIA, and:
WAI-ARIA is a set of documents that specify how to increase the accessibility of dynamic content
That kind of rings some bells, for me. I vaguely remember reading something about it, somewhere. At the time, I think I just ignored it as yet another of the vague, academic, and impossible to follow pronouncements from The World Wide Web Consortium. The wikipedia article doesn’t help; it’s an awful text block of doomb with hardly any links to other wikipedia articles, and no headings or paragraphs. Before anyone says anything: no, I will not fix it. Wikipedia has a CAPTCHA, and I refuse to give any of my time or money to the organization until the wikipedia CAPTCHA has been completely removed. This particularly poor example of a Wikipedia article also fails to answer the all-important question: what does Aria do for *me*, the user?
An article from 2008 on the Google Reader Blog gives us a hint. Apparently, Google Reader also has ARIA support. The article says that it works with firefox3 and firevox or jaws 8. When using that software, after clicking the ARIA link, pressing questionmark will read out a list of hotkeys. I couldn’t get it to work at all with any version of jaws or firefox. However, it works as advertised in NVDA and firefox 3. It makes working with the extremely ajaxy google reader much easier; hotkeys can mark an article as read, jump from article to article, visit an article, subscribe and unsubscribe from feeds, and more.
But none of that has anything to do with Google News. However, after going to Google News, and selecting the ARIA enhanced link, pressing questionmark will read out a similar, if shorter, list of hotkeys. Unfortunately, when it comes to Google News, I just don’t see the point. I can already jump from story to story by pressing h, as each story now has a heading. I don’t need the special hotkeys that ARIA provides to do this. The other hotkeys in Google News are similarly unimpressive. But don’t take my word for it! Go to the ARIA enhanced google news with Firefox and NVDA, and see for yourself. All the functionality offered by ARIA can be done easier, and faster, with NVDA itself. While ARIA is useful for ajax websites like Google Reader, it’s of no use on Google News. And even in Google Reader, I’m still not sure why we need ARIA. Can’t we already assign hotkeys to things with the accesskey atribute? Many, many websites already do this. Perhaps, though, I’m missing something important. But on first blush, it doesn’t look all that revolutionary. The other advantage of using accesskey is that it doesn’t need a special version of the page, like ARIA seems to. Accesskey atributes can just be added into the original page, rather than building something entirely new.
The best way to conclude my thoughts on the matter is as follows: “meh.”