Re: Nonstandard HTML

Subject: Re: Nonstandard HTML
From: Jack Shaw <jsh -at- SOFTWARE-AG -dot- DE>
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 15:34:56 -0700

As I see it, the issue of whether or not non-standard HTML is
appropriate basically depends on two factors:

1. Longevity of the info. -- if the info has a short life or is
volatile, it might not make any difference what gimmickry you use
to present it. If you're out to get someone's attention, cascading
filigrees and 89A marquees are O.K.--for those who can see them.

2. Portability (once termed "output device independence") -- which was
the premise of the Goldfarb/Yurinsky/et al initiatives at the start
of it all. I.e., recyclable info. HTML is a subset of SGML, which
is there, after all, to recycle keystrokes and other things.

As for whether David Blythe's contention that 90% of the markets' needs
are met by using "non-standard" HTML elements, is true or not might be a
question of how 1. and 2., above, weigh in. If you design your
info. for immediate consumption with no thought to the future uses and
audiences, you can produce some personally gratifying stuff. But let's
be realistic: using "K.I.S.S." and basic standard HTML, you can probably
get over what you need to and still not shut out the other 10% that
David mentioned. That can be both good economics and good communication,
which are heavy-duty factors for professionally designed info. You're
potentially reaching 98% instead of "just" the Netscape 90%. And we're
talking (admittedly statistical) millions of potential readers, here,
both present and future.

Sure, I use tables and even (ugh) frames...but every time I have, I enter
an apologetic little note for the many, many users (handicapped included)
of the lynxes and other text-only browsers whose bandwidth or other
resources prevent them from watching the lights blink and the colors
change. If you've not had the pleasure of a pure keyboard browser
(installing DosLynx is a real treat, about two steps down from doing your
income taxes...), you haven't done the full Internet tour. And if your
RSI/CTS material like me, you might even be relieved. No-frills text-only
and I can hit the click hot spots with just shortcut keys...but that's
not the point here...

If your desk looks like mine, it's a sea of Netscape printouts...things I
want to read and ponder without the noise of screen refreshes and slow
links and "...there ain't no such place as HTTP://WWW.NETSCAPE.COM..."
messages. A certain truth is coming home in this brave new world--when
the dust settles, people still want paper. And if you're going to have
output device independence, then marquees and Netscape-contrived 89A
graphics aren't going to translate. Standardized HTML, well, it should
if it adheres to the purposes and principles for which it was created...

IMHO, this is where David's analogy to French is off the mark; the push
for "pure" French that occurs in Le Gran Republique and elsewhere every
now and then is sociologically explainable but has little to do with
communication. Rather, it's the usual assertion of identity
and self-defense that occurs in any culture that perceives itself as
threatened. And like the French no-smoking law, it's of course
unenforceable. As David truly says, communication on the street
won't be constrained by an abstract and ill-conceived bureaucratic edict.
You said that, David, right? Sure, you did...

Standardization of things like SGML/HTML, on the other hand, are
self-enforced disciplines for a "greater purpose"--sort of a form of
"informational contraception"--in this case, to capture keystrokes for
the long term and to preserve portability. If you lose sight of (or chose
to disregard) those purposes, you may do fun things now that are not to
be derided. But at a price you might not want to pay down the road. All
of Netscape's or B.Gates' HTML3++ aphrodisiacs notwithstanding...

As has been said enough: if it's a letter to Aunt Hilda, you don't need
a word processor. You'll probably never write her again anyway. But if
it's the monthly letter home for more money, you might want to think
about capturing the keystrokes...

Enough, already...


Jack Shaw
(opinions of whom no one else at Software AG condones...)
Software AG
Darmstadt, Germ.

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