Structured HTML (was: Is it possible to single-source online in HTML?)

Subject: Structured HTML (was: Is it possible to single-source online in HTML?)
From: Simon North <north -at- SYNOPSYS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 16:14:52 -0700

> This is a common and dangerous misconception. HTML is not unstructured. If
> it were it would be useless. It is one particular structure. When you go
> from Word to HTML you have just about as much structure as you had before.

Sorry, I can't let this go unchallenged. HTML (and Word) are
inherently unstructured. The HTML DTD does not enforce any
particular element hierarchy, in the same way as Word does not
enforce the use of styles in any particular order.

I think the point that Mark was trying to make is that HTML (and
Word) cn be used in a structured manner. There are a million and
one ways of including semantic information that can be used as
structure. It goes further than just the correct use of element tags.
For example, I am currently using ID attributes on HTML tags to
approximate the kind of structural tagging that I would rather use
XML for, but cannot yet achieve due to the lack of tool support.

The problem comes back to a basic question of "information
entropy'. If there is enough 'information' in the original format,
conversion to a lesser/different format is easy. Going from rich
(complex, such as SGML) 'downwards' to HTML (or ASCII) is easy;
coming back up is hard, and often requires human intervention.

To return to the original topic, IMHO single-sourcing is a dream.
You can get 90% of the way, but putting manuals online is NOT
creating online documentation. To create both, you need a
superset of the information required for each (if nothing else, you
need 'meta' information to control the selection and production of

Omnimark is an excellent tool, it has few equals. However, I'd add
my own word of caution. The process is balanced by the quality of
the input and the power of the tools. Choosing a powerful tool at
the cost of input quality forces you to be dependent on the tool and
may indeed press you to change your working to accommodate
the tool (in my eyes the worst possible sin you could commit).

Simon North Tech Writer
north -at- synopsys -dot- com Synopsys Inc, Mountain View, CA
"Presenting XML", "Dynamic Web Publishing Unleashed"
"HTML4 Unleashed, PRE" and "Teach Yourself XML in 21 Days"
so many idiots ... so few comets.

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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