Using “semantic” in a way that talks about simplicity and the underlying meaning indicates a deep confusion about how language works, the role of web developers in getting it across, and the real-world potential of the web to carry more meaning over time. This is a plea to stop using the phrase “semantic HTML” to mean “markup that does with it looks like it will do”.
The first-person value of HTML to developers is all about putting things on screens for people to look at and interact with. There’s some weird strain of the “linked data” and “semantic HTML” zeitgeist that forgets that the reason people build things on the web is almost always because they want some other human to find and have their lives enriched by that thing. Most of the time that’s about visual and interactive value: showing, putting-in-context, displaying.
It’s a conversation, then, between the developer and the user. One in which the developer wields often-inadequate tools to try to communicate something to the user; most often visually. What everyone else (search engines, publishers, etc.) get out of this arrangementtend to be side effects; echos of the original conversation.