Manually editing HTML and other indignities

18 August 2005

It's SiliconValleyWatcher day at this blog. I happened by Tom Foremski's post calling for journalists to get their hands dirty with HTML and learn to speak geek after putting together the earlier post on enterprise IT. His argument is that it's a new world where luddite hacks can no longer ignore Web programming in order to do online journalism. We need to dump Word and its habit of littering text with hidden formatting and embrace the world of the text editor.

That is true to a degree today. I barely use Word for anything more than its outliner and I have to swap to TextEdit, MarsEdit or something else to work with HTML tags. But, seriously, do we really have to expect to work with warmed-over SGML for the forseeable future? I don't mind dumping Word, but the idea of entering tags by hand for years into the future gives me the cold shivers.

In the 1980s, I learned how to use Monotype and Compugraphic photo-typesetters. They too were tag-based systems (not SGML mind) and demanded a lot of attention to where those tags went. Just a few years later, those companies were getting thrashed by Linotype which had wisely thrown in its lot with Apple and used Macs as the front-end. The desktop publishing era arrived and people stopped using tags.

Now we are in 2005, and we are still stuck with manually inserting HTML or XML tags to do any Web copy. Is it me, or is that just plain mad? We don't need to learn those tags, we need to get better front-ends that allow the correct tags and links to be generated just by highlighting things and dropping links into the copy.

I can see the point of getting our hands dirty with blogs and wikis and stuff, but not to the point of having to become web programmers per se. I've learned Perl and other languages to help get to grips with what can be achieved with Web pages, but I see all that as purely a stopgap while the content-management folks get their house in order.