I'm going to say something not nice. Blame me freely.
> Back in the earliest days, it was pretty easy to publish a page of
text...  Easy enough for the average writer ... The fact that writing a
simple document has become a programming job - between a lot more HTML
functionality, CSS, and JavaScript - is (IMHO) a HUGE barrier to the basic
concept of a read/write web.
Yes. It has.For a long time everybody could write Web pages that, though
inaccurate, reached their goal "somehow".
Which is why current HTML spec is full of
 - attempts to stop non-semantic use for elements (the edge case of layout
tables should teach something),
 - error-handling rules,
 - complex paragraphs describing legacy compatibility with previous
 - rules for correctly handling non-standard features, or existing features
badly used (see <object@classid> et al.)
 -  a huge list of non-conforming elements derived from "presentational
HTML" or from browsers war era
 - and much more.
Indeed, leaving some degree of freedom to authors allows a broad field test
for what's good and what's missing in features. Sometimes it also allows
that features are *invented* on field, only to become standard afterward.
But IMHO publishing a web page is not an easy task. Nor it is required to
be such. A web page isn't a Word document, even if Word can create web
pages. Or, which is better, everything in content publishing is fun and
games... until publisher and public are the same. When writing for other
users, for interoperability, for potentially unknown or custom or
*evolving* platforms, the "it works for me" approach is no longer
applicable. Everybody can write content for a web page, of course, but
publishing it in increasingly complex, visually attractive, accessible,
semantic ways requires programming skills as well as any publishing sector
requires its own skills.

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