User Friendly XML Authoring

Written September 6. 2000, at 22:11 GMT.

Some thoughts on WYSIWYG vs. structured authoring and how the two could/should be merged.

Interesting: Structured data and the death of WYSIWYG. An article written by one of the developers of Conglomerate, an user friendly XML editor being developed under the GPL licence.

"As commercial WYSIWYG word processors are close to dying from bloat, free software projects scramble to catch up, going in the exact same direction. But it might be time for structured data editing to emerge from the cloud of hype."

Some very valid points raised there, although the author could have elabourated more on why WYSIWYG is an outdated concept.

WYSIWYG vs. pure content editing

WYSIWYG is ideal only when authoring content for a single predefined output medium. WYSIWYG word processing is fine for content that is only to be displayed on paper (of certain size), or on display devices that are able to emulate paper (high-res monitors).

Nowadays content has to be flexible. We're sending content down many different pipes. We're using it over and over again, for different purposes. Write once, Use anywhere has become today's content mantra, and the best way to accomplish this is to seperate content from presentation information. And this is exactly where XML steps in.

The problem is that this seperation of content from presentation is an abstraction-level that most normal people are not used to. We usually "consume" content through a single medium. We thus have a tendency to try to reverse that "logic", and instinctively assume that content has to be linked to some one output medium.

This "flawed" logic is really caused by the limited world-view of the one who only consumes content and never creates any himself. I, therefore, guess that "normal" people will gradually find it easier to grasp the concept of content without any presentation information directly attached to it, as soon as we start to teach our kids to write multi-purpose content in schools.

I think the really big question remains unanswered; can we somehow create user friendly WYSIWYG editors that keep content and presentation fully seperated and make sure that the content adheres to strict structural rules?Current Word processors and bare-bones pure content XML editors, both suffer from being too extreme - too limited. Writing good, structured content is important, but it is equally important for the author to be able to easily (and quickly!) see how his content may appear in all the indented mediums.

This is an essential part of the user friendliness of the authoring software. The user needs to feel in control. He needs to feel that he has clear view of the outcome of his task. He needs to be assured and comforted. He needs to feel that he can trust the software. That is the friend[ly] part of the term user friendly.

On a totally off-topic sidenote: This is where most Microsoft Products fail in being user friendly. You can't trust them. They crash, they run viruses, they try to help you by guessing what you want and then do all sorts of neat tricks for you (auto-correcting spelling, etc.), but they always manage to screw things up for you. You can never really trust them, and you need to be able to trust you friends.


More like this: English Entries, .


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