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Re: plain text has its points

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Mon, 07 Dec 1998 16:55:32 -0500
Message-ID: <366C4ED3.A78452CE@clark.net>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
CC: Jamal Mazrui <empower@smart.net>
IMHO, Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.net) made a mistake standardizing on
plain text over html.  I know I gave up on their documents because of the
frustrations I had with their posted products.  They have limited their
market and that is a shame because theirs was such a good idea.  There is
good reason why no newspapers and few books are printed in 12 point, 10 pitch
courier.  Why settle on a format that will cause EVERYONE problems?  This is
universal access?

The problem with plain text is a frustration that any one with experience
coverting file document formats is all too familiar with.  I naively thought
html would resolve this controversy.  Sadly, some people still insist on PDF,
ascii, Word, and WordPerfect.  The justifications they give have some
validity, but they are primarily rationalizations.  These are all specialized
formats that should only be embraced as a last resort.  It is far much easier
to go from (for example) html to ascii than vice versa.

If someone wants a particular html document in ascii, I would argue that the
burden falls to him to convert it himself.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for the option of getting
large documents as a single html file vice a directory/folder of many
(linked) smaller html files.  Is this any kind of convention standard?

The main problem with ASCII, in addition to being a "lossy" file format, is
that there is no way to differentiate between a "soft" and hard return.  The
most logical way around this is to ONLY include returns at the end of
paragraphs, but this violates the popular rule that line don't exceed 80
characters.  Another work around is to use line feeds (^L) as soft returns
and carriage returns (^M) as the end of paragraph marks, but this is not very
common.  Without either of these two conventions, there is always ambiguity
when importing a plain text document into a word processor (or html editor or
braille preparation program, etc.) especially when the text contains lists,
and for paragraphs where the last few words ends after character 65 (or so).

Gregg Vanderheiden and Neal Ewers of Trace "settled" this issue pretty well,
but by then html was making its first appearances...
You can see how far they got at:
"Toward a Standardized Format for ASCII Text Documents -- A Working Paper of
The ICADD Subcommittee on Standardization of ASCII Text Documents"

Does anybody remember the original date of this document?  As I recall, this
is the only text document that Trace published that actually strictly adheres
to these proposed standards!

Jamal Mazrui wrote:

> I think HTML is the second most universally accessible format after plain
> text.  It should generally be possible to render a literary work in
> plain text.  The format itself is not stimulating to a reader,
> but the content should be coherent without embedded markup.
> Project Gutenberg standardized on plain text for a reason!
> Regards,
> Jamal
Received on Monday, 7 December 1998 16:54:45 UTC

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