Authoring pain

This is so funny, Tim Bray is having his own Powers-That-Be at Sun complain that authoring web pages on their weblog is painful:

I’m hearing private gripes from our internal writing community, from the President to the marketers to the Solaris geeks, about how their writing tools stink. The state of Web authoring tools is kind of like the state of what we used to call “Word Processing” twenty years ago when I was getting into this business. If everyone’s going to write for the Web (and it looks a lot of people are going to) we need the Web equivalents of Word Perfect and Wordstar and Xywrite and Microsoft Word, and we need them right now.

Hardly news to me. Looking back at my own publishing history about this subject:

  1. January 24, 2003 - I want a rich text editor in Flash -- this is one of the most popular posts of this weblog, there are TONS of people looking for a good rich text editor. Ironically, none of the links you'll find from that post work. I found nobody who has come out with something acceptable (to the folks at Ektron, no more spam please, your stuff isn't what I'm looking for)
  2. January 26, 2003 - NetNewsWire Pro -- Brent Simmons adds a weblog editor to a desktop application. I'm still using NNW to edit my posts today, although it still requires a little knowledge of HTML.
  3. January 31, 2003 - I argue that we'll remain lost in semantic space until the user interfaces properly hide the technology behind the scenes. No one who just want to write and use the web to publish should have to worry about tags
  4. February 09, 2003 - a look at Postmaster gives me the occasion of a little follow-up about RIA and Flash as rich text editors
  5. April 01, 2003 - big rant about old-school rich text editors -- I'm afraid we're still surrounded with those, even some which pretend to be better like Midas (which generates CSS compliant tag soup)
  6. May 23, 2003 - It's the interface, stupid! -- my first foray at one of the biggest opportunity for weblog software editors to set themselves apart from the crowd (hint, they should still pay attention!)
  7. May 25, 2003 - I reported on BitFlux, finally an open-source XML visual editor that pays attention to semantic. Still a work in progress
  8. October 21, 2003 - digging around the future of content management, I toyed with some ideas about desktop applications and office suites. Hey Tim! I seem to recall that your company owns Star Office, have you thought about that as an editor?
  9. November 17, 2003 - YAOSHE! -- it still amazes me that some people waste their time building yet another old-school editor instead of building what people really need
  10. March 24, 2004 - I dreamed about a couple Contribute + Movable Type -- Contribute is one of the best editors for content workers out there
  11. May 08, 2004 - FUC Weblog software! -- one year after the first one, another rant about how terrible the current weblog software still are in terms of wysiwyg editing
  12. June 10, 2004 - When dynamic content looks static or how to use Contribute on dynamic content. May be Atom will add possibilities (but frankly I don't care about the plumbing)
  13. July 19, 2004 - Blogger goes Whizz-ah-ma-wig -- first attempt from a weblog service to bring WYSIWYG editing to their users. Unfortunately, it generates an ugly tag-soup (but at least it's a step in the right direction)
  14. July 19, 2004 - Macromedia with its Web Publishing System is getting more serious about a simple desktop application for web content management

So I guess we had to wait until corporate weblogging lift off and the CxOs of big software companies start confronting themselves with the state of affairs in web publishing before things could get better. I just hope someone will come out with something good before Bill Gates starts his weblog and decides to impose this thing to the rest of us.

4 Comments

Authoring on the Web... You have to define first what you mean:

1. the visual interface
2. the structure of the information in the document
3. the ability to put the document somewhere

The problem with 1. and 2. is that it's not a new problem and there are almost incompatible in general use cases.

Structuring a document means you have thought about the organization of your document, how information is organized in the page (not visually). So when you have a controlled and specific context, it's fine. For example, I want to edit a CV, you can create a wysiwyg template for it, because you know the internal structure of the information (minus the localization/personnalization problem which is not trivial). If you want to create a movie description, fine. You are again in a controlled context.

So what are we talking about in fact?

Is it the ability for someone to create easily a template? That's IMHO the missing part. A wysiwyg interface to easily create template.

Use case, I have a Web site and I often write reviews for books. I don't want to edit the HTML all the time to have the right information. I just need a template, I do for once I reuse. I know how to structure the first time, and after it's all about reusing the template in a wysiwyg environment.

Ok. So we have a lack of visual of templating tools. Is it doable? Yes definitely. Almost all the tools are already here to do that, the class attribute, the id, the CSS properties... What do we need? a few things like XML Events and XForms (or WebForms no FUD here - the persons who use don't care about the technology underneath).

Tim Bray is missing one point. It's not about having MSWord or WordPerfect on the desktop, it's already doable. MSWord can save as HTML (not valid) but it can do it, so the tools to publish it would not be difficult to create. The problem is that people are not understanding the benefits of structuring information if they don't use that structure. How many persons around you, do you know who are using Word like a .... visual formatting notepad.

Example: "Oh, I need a title in the top center of my page"... select center, select Bold, select bigger font. when they should go in "Outline Mode" define the title and apply the stylesheet for it.

An wysiwyg editing tool is not the solution or only a part of it.

Another issue, when the Web has started many browsers where also editing Tools like AOLPress and Netscape and they had implemented "HTTP PUT" which is done to PUT a resource on the Web. It's here... since the start. Why Authoring tools and Servers have not implemented that.

The wiki trend is cool but it's a bad answer to a bad implementation history. All the things which are done with cgi-bin in Wikis could be done with "HTTP PUT"....

Atom has nothing to do with that, except, the format is a bit more constraining in terms of structure... So basically you impose a cheap structure: date, author, description... But it will not solve something that has existed before the Web. Unfortunately.


Karl, your comment calls for a longer response than I'm willing to post in a comment. I'll try to get back to that later.

But upfront, since I'm the perspective of the layman who just want to "put that on the web", I think there are much trivial things than what you highlighted:

- making a hyperlink. There are little helpers to do that, but all of them will display ugly code with an A tag. A WYSIWYG tool should display the link text and title exactly at it would appear once published.

- placing an image. I should be able to drag and drop an image from my desktop or another application right where I want it in the content flow, and have the tool upload it and put the corresponding IMG tag (but again, all I want to see is the image, not the HTML code).

And so on, that's just two of the most trivial things but that current tools still make difficult for people to do.

I'm absolutely NOT talking about the plumbing, certainly not things like HTTP PUT, WebDAV or Atom. I'm talking about the interfaces that completely HIDE those things from the layman.

You should take a look at Contribute, they're pretty close to what I mean.

BTW, never underestimate the creativity of people using Office tools. When we changed our corporate identity and produced the whole shebang of new templates, we received a request from someone who wanted the template for brochures (provided for Quark XPress) in... PowerPoint! Because, you know, PowerPoint is swell for making brochures ;-).

So Word as a visual formatting notepad is not going to surprise me!

All you have described... already exists...

ooppsss sorry... They were existing. AOLPress, Netscape, no visible code, drag and drop and things like that... It's already possible. all authoring tools, like Dreamweaver, Amaya, Contribute, Golive, etc... do that already nothing new.

It will not give structure to your code. Why people are typing in the source code, because they need it... the others are already doing it in wysiwyg.

So precise your questions... is what you are talking about... "Weblog Authoring tools" against "Web Authoring tools"?

:))))

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