Re: sgml

Subject: Re: sgml
From: Michael Priestley <mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 1995 18:16:56 EST

Gary Merrill (merrill -at- hyperion -dot- pdial -dot- interpath -dot- net) writes:
>Specific examples? What sort of labor-intensive processes have been
>automated in specific cases and how has SGML contributed to this in
>a way that other approaches could not? What does "higher quality information"
>mean and how is "overall cost" evaluated?

I have not used SGML myself. However, I have found myself more and more a
proponent of SGML's main tenet, separating content from format.

This may come as a bit of a surprise, considering my posts from last year
on alt.hypertext (in which I came down pretty heavily on Gary's side of the
fence). I have been forced to reconsider my position due to circumstances
beyond my control, such as:

- A large homogeneous set of reference material (ca. 7000 pgs. in 4 volumes)
- Multiple delivery media (2 hardcopy, 2 online)
- Multiple releases (4 this year)
- Minimal resource (2-3 writers)

So far, the best strategy for handling the situation has been:

- Keep the source free of formatting considerations:
When the information is going out in multiple formats, WYSIWYG can be
dangerously misleading. By keeping the source content-oriented, we
can concentrate on technical accuracy when we are writing the information.
- Keep the source modular and consistent:
As I said, this was a homogeneous set of reference material. Every section
contained the same types of information, written in the same style.
- Customise the presentation with an output filter:
In SGML terms, this would be something like a FOSI, though our output
filters do things like create summary tables and related information links.

This buys us maintainability (the source is easy to read) and flexibility
(output is customised for the medium, and the overall format of the book can
be quickly adjusted based on feedback, or the requirements of new media).

The customer response to our books (both their content and their form) has
been very positive.

What do I like about this approach? It actually gives me _more_ control over
the appearance of the document: I can accomplish sweeping improvements across
all four volumes, without endangering content or consistency.

Is this an endorsement of SGML? Maybe. But only if they're selling a package
that lets me: 1) lay out the DTD and 2) set up the FOSI. Not if they're
selling me a one-size-fits all DTD with a "professionally designed"
output format that will be outdated before the next version of Netscape

So, I definitely endorse SGML's division of content and form, especially with
large homogenous sets of information. However, they can take control of the
format away from me when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

I hope this makes sense,

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's
PS: sorry I've been away so long. Vacation, then work, then trying to
subscribe to the list so I could post again. Bah.

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