Re: Diverse Tools (was HTML editors)

Subject: Re: Diverse Tools (was HTML editors)
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Sep 2001 17:24:23 -0700 (PDT)

"Simon North" wrote...
> Very few WYSIWYG editors produce "perfectly fine" HTML,
> although I've never met that definition of the code. Most produce
> spaghetti garbage code that makes reuse almost impossible.

There are thousands of sites out there developed using Homesite,
FrontPage, DreamWeaver, etc and others and they look fine. Moreover, there
are numerous ways to resuse code in these tools. You merely need to adapt
to the tool's features and functions.

Let's not confuse PERSONAL PREFERENCE with actual capability. Many tools
are perfectly capable, you just don't like the way they work. That does
not mean ALL users will be unproductive with said tool.

Let us also not confuse tool capability (or incapability) with user
incompetence. A good tool in the hands of a moron is way more dangerous
than a bad tool in the hands of a competent person. In my experience,
skilled professionals can produce decent work in less than ideal
environments. Amateurs produce quality only in their comfort zone.

I've coded tons of stuff in FP, HomeSite, and even NotePad. All looks fine
to me. I even test it in Navigator 3.x on Linux just to make sure. If it
looks good, gets the content delivered - who cares how it got that way.

> As technical writers, acquainted with the merits of SGML and
> markup languages in general, and aware of the technical issues
> involved in single sourcing and information re-use, I am more than a
> little embarrassed for my profession that we have not be in the
> vanguard pleading for standardization on valid HTML (as in
> conformant to the W3C DTD for HTML documents).

By and large, consumers do not judge a company on the purity of their
HTML. Nobody cares about standards, they are merely a good idea to get
people started. Every company interprets standards differently. That is
why some tools offer more. They take a known standard and expand and
enhance it. The process of enhancing, extending, and evolving standards is
as natural as bunny farts and toad whiz.

What makes a difference is not the code, but what that code communicates.
This is why companies choose easy-to-use and easy-to-learn tools like FP.
They don't care about the divine purity of HTML. They need to get stuff on
the web quickly and make a buck. It doesn't matter how pure the HTML is
if the content is crap.

Ohhhhhh, single sourcing - don't even get me started on this
astronomically huge glop of crap that has been shoved down tech writers
throats by the seething hoards of STC conference attendees. Single
sourcing is without a doubt the most overhyped concept in tech writing
today. Sure, the idea of single sourcing is swell. But the reality is
often nothing more than endless meetings, bickering, and fiddling at the
expense of writing documents. I have picked up more contracts from
red-faced development managers who had tech writers push intricate (read:
useless) single sourcing solutions. I hear the same thing over and over
again: "I paid the guy $50 an hour to write documentation and all he did
was schedule meetings and build some template nobody wanted."

Ahhh, customer service. A dying art.

> There is no question that you should use the same tool ... but do
> not be mistaken about the value of that tool. As long as we "stick
> with tools for established companies", like whoever (I have no
> grudge against Microsoft) without looking beyond the tool and at
> the quality of the output, HTML will never be more than a dead-end
> publishing format and information re-use and single sourcing will
> never be more than isolated activities. We do our audiences and
> ourselves a disservice.

Last I checked, most of us (except me of course) held titles of technical
writer and not Standards Enforcement Police.

Does the document give me what I want? Yes, good!
Is it intelligent, insightful, useful? Yes, good!
Can I get to the information quickly? Yes, good!
Do I care that is was produced using a tool that allegedly generates
spaghetti code? Not even a little bit.

Priorities people, priorities.

Andrew Plato

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