Tag Cloud widget changes in 4.8

The Tag Cloud widget is still pretty popular and for a number of years, it has used title attributes to visually display the number of posts using a specific tag.

tag cloud in WordPress 4.7

Example of a title attribute displaying the number of items for a specific tag in WordPress 4.7

WordPress 4.8 removes these title attributes and replaces them with aria-label attributes with optional counts displayed in plain text.

Why it matters

Title attributes aren’t very accessible. Depending on the specific assistive technology and on user settings, they might be completely ignored. On touch devices, title attributes are a bit pointless.

The best option is not to rely on title attributes to convey important information to users. Information that is important enough should be available to all users.

In the last few releases, WordPress has been progressively removing many title attributes used in the admin screens (see: #24766). The same principle applies to the front end. The Tag Cloud widget is another step towards the progressive removal of title attributes in the front end where they’re used inappropriately.

What plugin or theme authors should know

There are no visual changes by default, other than the removal of the title attributes. There is a new option for developers though: tag counts can be displayed in plain text within the list of tags. Users will now find a checkbox in the widget interface, consistent with what other widgets already do (e.g., Archives and Categories widgets).

the tag cloud widget admin interface

The new option “Show tag counts” in the widget admin interface

Checking the “Show tag counts” option in the admin will make the Tag Cloud show the counts alongside each tag. The screenshot below compares the Tag Cloud with and without the counts displayed:
the Tag Cloud with and without tag counts

Themes can style the tag counts targeting the new CSS class tag-link-count. Also, note that wp_generate_tag_cloud() has a new show_count argument. Themes and plugins that filter the Tag Cloud arguments can use this new argument to force the tag counts to be displayed.

Theme authors are recommended to check how the tag counts look like in their themes and make small CSS adjustments if needed. And remember, the tag counts are not displayed by default! Users can enable and also disable them at any time.

Some technical details

The relevant changeset is [40816] and the related ticket is #35566. Behind the scenes, the tag cloud now attempts to determine whether to output the aria-label attribute, trying to respect the theme author’s intent.

By default, the Tag Cloud displays tags in different font sizes to visually represent how many times they’re used. When tags have a different font size, they visually convey important information that should also be available to assistive technologies.

Sometimes instead, theme authors set up the Tag Cloud to display all tags with the same font size. Twenty Sixteen, for example, displays all the tags with a “flat” styling. It does that by filtering the arguments passed to wp_generate_tag_cloud() and setting the smallest and largest arguments to the same value (note: this is the recommended way to output “flat” tags).

In order to always serve the same information to all users and try to respect the theme author’s intent, the aria-label that conveys the count information to assistive technologies gets printed out:

  • when tags have a different size
  • when the tag count is displayed in plain text (for example when users check the checkbox in the Tag Cloud widget), regardless of the tags font size

A quick update about title attributes

To give an idea of the progress done so far, here’s data from the WordPress codebase from version 4.0 to 4.7. Searching for occurrences of  title= (space-title-equal) only within .php files and only in the wp-admin directory:

WordPress 4.0: 157 results found in 37 files
WordPress 4.1: 156 results found in 37 files
WordPress 4.2: 146 results found in 35 files
WordPress 4.3: 101 results found in 30 files
WordPress 4.4: 97 results found in 32 files
WordPress 4.5: 21 results found in 12 files
WordPress 4.6: 19 results found in 11 files
WordPress 4.7: 17 results found in 9 files

Of the 17 title attributes in WordPress 4.7, four of them are legitimate because they’re used on <iframe> elements and most of the other ones are in files no longer used by core. Many of these occurrences were within loops so the number of title attributes actually output was higher, yet going from 157 down to a very few is wonderful progress.

As always, any comments and contribution to improving accessibility are welcome!

#4-8, #accessibility, #dev-notes