Re: Writing for on-line

Subject: Re: Writing for on-line
From: Mark Baker <mbaker -at- OMNIMARK -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 11:41:52 -0500

Bruce Byfield writes


>... No medium is exactly like another, and
>it may be that single-sourcing is never going to be completely
>successful. But, in many cases,the full advantages of the on-line medium
>aren't used in single-sourcing anyway.
>
>Moreover, since single-sourcing is increasingly expected, we need to
>start thinking how to accomplish it. I suggest that the way to start
>that thinking is to stop emphasizing the differences in media, and to
>start thinking about the similarities.


I think this sums up a lot of the points made on both sides in response to
my original post. I'm certainly grateful to Bruce for such an elegant
summary, because it makes it very easy for me to make the point I need to
make.

Everything Bruce says about single sourcing and media is correct as long as
our approach to single sourcing is to write in the tools designed for one
media and then port to other media. Fortunately, we don't have to do that.
It is possible to create information that is truly media-neutral.

To understand how this is possible, we have to go beyond the distinction we
have learned to make between content and format and understand that there is
really a three fold distinction we need to make, the distinction between
content, structure, and format.

Content is simply the raw words that express thoughts.

Structure is the selection, ordering, and behavioral characteristics of
content for a particular presentation in a particular medium.

Format is the specific visual display choices made in presenting that
structured content.

Unfortunately, most of our current tools impose structure and content
simultaneously. Equally unfortunately we were all taught to write for paper
and structure and content were all mixed up in a single method of writing.
We were taught to write for paper, and told we were being taught to write.

Separating structure from content is no great trick, once you learn it.
Databases have been doing it for years. Your ATM slip, your monthly bank
statement, and your bank's annual report all draw data from the same
database. Different structure is applied to each information product as it
is drawn from the database.

The bank does not store bank statements, it generates them as needed. We
should not be storing web pages, help files, and documents. We should be
creating them as needed. From a database.

Within that database we should not store different content for different
media, simply the best content possible to express the idea that must be
expressed. When we draw that content from the database to create an
information product, we should apply a structure appropriate to the media
and the needs of the particular user.

This is true single sourcing, with true media independence, and it lets us
exploit the full potential of every media we use, rather than confining
ourselves to the lowest common denominator of media capabilities.
---
Mark Baker
Manager, Corporate Communications
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Gloucester, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com




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