Re: Separation of presentation and structure

Greg Kostello (
Sun, 6 Aug 95 21:13:23 EDT

>Amanda Walker Writes:
>This is assuming that people (a) are rational, and (b) take a long term
>view. I am not convinced that either is true in any widespread sense.
>Maybe I'm just cynical, but I've found in my experience that people
>don't appreciate or understand structural markup. SGML based publishing
>tools have had no success on the mass market, and SGML is hardly new
>technology. Neither has LaTeX, Scribe, ArborText, or any of the wonderful
>structural markup systems out there, some of them free and widely distributed.
>One the other hand, PageMaker and Quark XPress have taken over the mass
>market publishing industry, despite being completely visually oriented.
>I think that a survey of content on the WWW shows the same trends at work.
>People are pround of their spiffy image maps, Netscape "enchancements", and
>cute visual hacks (like multiple <TITLE> elements that "animate" the title
>bar on most GUI WWW clients). People want visual control, whether or not
>it's a good idea. And speaking as a commercial vendor, I have to say that
>trying to educate a user base that sees no need for it has a lot in commmon
>with tilting at windmills.

I think that you have raised a number of valid points. People see little
value in creating structured documents unless there is a payoff. It is fine
to say that separating structure from style is valuable, but to what end?
What benefit does the creator of those documents receive? People want to add
style to their documents. It is what visually distinguishes one document
from another. People are much more likely to be drawn to color vs black and
white and to graphics vs text. So, the extensions that are added to HTML
give people what they want, today.

Before anyone thinks otherwise, I'm a big believer in the content/style/
structure triad, but we, (the Web community) must create real tools that
people can understand and use that is a superior replacement for the
traditional document creation tools. Furthermore, I believe we must move
rapidly on a style sheet standard. Otherwise, I am convinced, companies will
continue to extend HTML into a form that their customers are comfortable
with and HTML will degenerate into a hybrid RTF.

>I think, as I've said before, that we are seeing the WWW split into two
>general classes of content: high-volume SGML-based content (IBM's web site
>is a great example), and low-volume visual content (most small WWW sites and
>personal WWW pages).

>Style sheets may help this, once they're actually available.
>Amanda Walker
>InterCon Systems Corporation

Again, what I think is lacking here are appropriate tools. In my opinion,
based on a rough sampling of web content creators, most people do not want
monolithic document management systems offered by traditional SGML vendors.
Nor do they want inadequate translations tools offered by most traditional
word processor vendors. Not when their alternative is a text editor and some
graphic manipulation tools.
People want real tools that allow them to gracefully create web documents.
IMHO, customers find most SGML tools too constraining. I know this is going
to be dissappointing to hear, but people would rather live with the chaos of
a text editor rather than the rational world of an DTD verified and
constrained document.

So, why do I agree with Amanda when she says that "Style sheets may help". I
think people may take advantage of the structured documents when they find a
real competive advantage can be gained by going that route. Especially if an
individual is required to continuously update and create documents with a
specific look and feel. Not everyone will go that route, but some might. If
we (the web community) deliver simple tools and a language, that the average
person can grasp, strongly structured documents might be perceived to have
real value and an advantage over unstructure documents.

For example, in the last 10 years, since the advent of WYSIWYG document
creation tools, we have been asked to not only become experts in providing
content, we have been asked to become graphic designers. Of course, while
the tools provided are sometimes adequate for the graphic designers, they do
not suddenly give us the ability to create good looking layout. A good
stylesheet mechanism combined with structured documents would go a long way
to allowing those of us who are "artistically challenged" to create
documents which are at least asthetically pleasing. Of course, it will be an
technically interesting challenge to combine the mark-up extensions in HTML
with the style commands found in a style sheet.

My $.02.

Greg Kostello
VP Product Development
Digital Style Corporation