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Web Weaving Wreviews

Summer 1996
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Filed November 1, 1996

News and Reviews about products for creating, browsing and sharing web pages

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Wrambling On

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The web is everywhere. That is, web addresses are on billboards and the sides of buses, on business cards, and on everyone's lips. Especially at trade shows.

Interact 96, held in Melbourne recently was filled to the brim with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and web sites and products to create and enhance your web sites.

There are certainly some attractive-looking web sites out there, but ultimately only content counts.

What we didn't hear was that the HTML standard is going to be smartened up anytime soon. Sigh.

As a long-time computer user, I have had raging battles with software developers (companies and individuals) about the need for software to support the user's agenda. It is a tool. And don't give me "a poor worker blames the tools" - you can't cut wood with a hammer. But that is what we are trying to do, creating pages and sites for today's readers when they have high design expectations.

Yes, flash is less important than substance in theory, but in practice there is a large part of the population who still value the massage more than the message.

HTML So what do we do?

Not bow down to it. And not let the programs drive us, the users, but rather demand that the programs further our own work. Which brings me to the HTML book we have been reading. The authors, who shall not remain nameless state: "don't waste time trying to force HTML to do things it was never designed to do … yield to the browser"

No. There are fundamental guidelines on usability and readability which have been known to writers and designers for years. Simple rules, like keep to an average of 11 words to a line or less because the human eye has mechanical limitations. This is a simple readability rule ignored by HTML which dumps as many words to a line as will fit.

You thought you were having trouble with the manuals and books you've been buying because they were complicated? Check the line count. HTML The Definitive Guide goes from 12 to 14 depending on the sections. There is a reason why manuals had wider margins. Put your hand down the side of a page and wipe out about 2-3 cms (an inch or so for USAmericans). Now you should be able to read the whole line in a single glance.

Okay, so while I am talking about HTML The Definitive Guide, I'll give you the run down. The writer's credentials are largely techo-programmers with one having been an editor.

They are very much on the side of the software and the standards rather than the users, supporting Netscape's decision to ignore "some rather fierce complaints" from users about the loss of functionality.

(How's that for irony, the developers said it wasn't an Undocumented Feature (UDF) - it was a bug).

They do at one time admit that the HTML standard uses "atrociously confusing terminology", saying that "someone got things all 'bass ackwards". This is two paragraphs away from their own use of "index" when they mean "table of contents", and a few pages after they stated that the next millennium begins in the year 2000. As we all know, the 21st century begins in the year 2001.
So far the technical information seems okay. The faded text pseudo-hyperlinks they use in lieu of a perfectly sound cross-reference system hides them, so unless you are really looking for them, you will not even see the cross-references as you read.
Ultimately, you have two hurdles to overcome if you choose to buy this book ($55 at Collins booksellers). The first is you must learn HTML. The second is that just reading this book is physically hard work because of the typesetting.

We would love to hear from anyone who can wholeheartedly recommend an HTML book.

… Ali Kayn (November, 1996)

By the way, if you want to know how we restrict the number of words to a line - we use tables.

Mentioned in this article:

HTML The Definitive Guide, Chuck Musciano & Bill Kennedy
(O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.) $55
ISBN 1-56592-175-5

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