[whatwg] Authoring Re: several messages about HTML5

Dave Raggett dsr at w3.org
Thu Feb 22 02:11:15 PST 2007

  Dave Raggett <dsr at w3.org> http://www.w3.org/People/Raggett

On Wed, 21 Feb 2007, Adrian Sutton wrote:

>> I am therefore devoting a lot of my time into developing a
>> new kind of authoring environment that combines a semantic view with
>> a wysiwyg view, and which will use dictionaries to generate the
>> markup that few of us can be bothered to write directly.
> As someone who writes a WYSIWYG HTML editor for a living - I wish 
> you the very best of luck, you're going to need it. Writing an 
> editor is one of those problems that seems really easy until you 
> get into it, then it starts looking hard. You get through that and 
> ship it to users and they love it and you pat yourself on the 
> back. After about six months of solid usage users have worked with 
> the editor enough to start getting frustrated about its quirks, 
> limitations and bugs and the complaints start pouring in. Then you 
> *really* understand how big the challenge is.
> I don't say that to deter you - I'm actually very keen to see what 
> you come up with. The main message to take out of this is that you 
> have to pay attention to and get right the very smallest details 
> because they all make a very big difference to users.

Indeed, and that is why it takes a lot of time, and study of 
existing tools. With that in mind do you have any suggestions for 
what tools I should look at?

> When people get into writing they want to focus purely on what 
> they are writing and they don't want to have to think for a second 
> about how the authoring tool they are using wants them to work. If 
> you want the tool to succeed you will need to solve the keyboard 
> shortcut problems - they are vital

I agree. Some short cuts are common place, whilst others seem to be 
very specific to the particular tool. Another challenge for browser
based editors is that the browsers define their own short cuts and
the editor needs to be a good citizen. The problem is that browsers 
vary considerably in what short cuts they provide. Opera in 
particular provides a great deal. This risks interfering with the 
conventional short cuts for editors, and something I will have to 
look into very carefully.

> you will also need to make sure that whatever interface you come 
> up with to try and get users to create semantic mark up doesn't 
> require them to think about it. If you haven't already, you will 
> come to learn that users think visually and they are and probably 
> will always be more interested in their content looking good right 
> there in front of them than on it being all nice and semantic. To 
> succeed you will need to leverage this by making the content look 
> best right there in front of them when it is semantic.

Yes, this is an interesting challenge, but there are plenty of 
opportunities to innovate here. Most editors to date have focused on 
either wysiwyg or XML structure, and not on a deeper understanding 
of what the user is actually trying to achieve. I see this as an 
area ripe for experimentation - with user feedback acting as an 
evaluation function that selects the best ideas going forward.

> You also need to realize that users are very, very picky. Expect 
> to devote many years reviewing and refining the basic 
> functionality of your editor - stick to the minimum of 
> functionality and get it into the hands of real users doing real 
> work as much as possible. Then use the feedback from them 
> (carefully because they will change their views after using the 
> tool for a period of time) to drive new features and improvements 
> to the way the editor works.

I have had similar experiences with previous projects (tidy and 
slidy). For example, someone said that he found it too hard to wrap 
slides in div elements when using a wysiwyg editor, so I added code 
to automatically add the div elements at run time. For tidy, I was 
able to transfer the maintenance work to a group of dedicated 
volunteers as a sourceforge project. I hope to do the same for this 
project once it is well established.

> Best of luck with it. I'm definitely interested in keeping track 
> of the project.


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