Thursday, October 11, 2007

Half Nerdy Thursday: Installment IV

In a prior job, one of my tasks was to write code to convert documents of one format into another. Both formats had rich facilities for specifying document structure. So, for example, if you had a document that had section headings, you would apply a "Section" style to the heading text rather than changing the font size, weight, and text for each heading. Here is what things looked like syntactically in the source format:

Cell["Theory of Relationship Blogs", "Section"]

and here is what it looked like in the destination format:

\section{Theory of Relationship Blogs}

The source format wasn't human generated; it was actually created in a WYSIWYG editor, not much different from a word processor.

In reality, it was my experience that most people didn't use word processors this way. Either they would manually adjust the fonts of the text to get the appearance, or they would use the styles to achieve a certain appearance without regard for the style name's semantics (e.g. use the Section style in the body of a paragraph because it changed the font to a bold faced, sans-serif font). Unfortunately for me, these people also were the most likely to use the automated document conversion features and complain when they got weird results.

I was thinking about those days as I read a blog posting from today, titled The Structured Web - A Primer. Granted, the document centers around websites and HTML, but at its core, this is the same issue that one runs into with any format that has both structure and presentation features.

Even if you don't spend a lot of time editing HTML, this highly readable article is worth the time, and it will give you a whole new appreciation of how the packaging of information can enhance or limit its usefulness.
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