Friday, July 06, 2007

Semantic text editors and Wikis

Most text editors nowadays (including Microsoft Word) provide a huge range of different styles for the user to present their documents - bold, alignment, indent, border, background-color, spacing, font color, and many more.

As a result, their range of semantic elements is poor. As Ian Hixie says, "People think visually. Trying to ask a Web designer to think in terms of (e.g.) headers instead of font sizes is just something that WYSIWYG implementers and UI researchers simply haven't solved yet."

Too much style, too little semantics

This doesn't matter too much in a stand-alone Word Document. But in a collaborative environment - like a corporate portal, or a web community - it's much more important. It enforces a consistent look and feel, it allows for re-styling of the entire site if required, it reduces storage size, and it aids search engines.

The solution may be the Wiki. The Wiki designer selects site-wide CSS styles for each HTML element, with some options where necessary. For example, they may select:

  • standard paragraph font type, color, size
  • three types of <emp> element, with bold, italic and underline
  • standard header elements
  • standard list types
  • various different table options, e.g. header rows and cells, data rows and cells

Then end users must choose the relevant elements, rather than using arbitrary styling. By removing unnecessary options - for example, enforcing the Arial font - Wikis are also actually easier to use.

The semantic text editor is an old vision. But new ideas about content management and user collaboration - specifically, Wikis, which will grow massively in usage - offer a solution.

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