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Re: The Conflicting Notions of Ease of Use and Need for Authoring Tools

From: Orion Adrian <orion.adrian@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 12:06:46 -0500
Message-ID: <abd6c80104123109067ae2282@mail.gmail.com>
To: www-style@w3.org

> I think Orion is talking about ease of use by sophisticated authors,
> who understand programming language concepts, and Daniel is talking
> about ease of use by the man in the street.
> 

Actually I'm talking about both the ease of learning and the ease of
use from those professionals who have learned it.

My basic  point has been all along is that removing formal explicit
structures in exchange for implicit ones doesn't do anyone any good.
Explicit formal structures are easier to remember as they apply a
standard that peopel can learn. Conventions within a language make
everthing easier to remember.

There are three (3) levels to any language. The symbology or formal
grammer (something that can be BNF-tested), the vocabulary interation
and the vocabulary. Admittedly I just made some of those words up
since I'm unfamiliar with any official word for them.

CSS has an extensive amount of grammar that is in the vocabulary
interation portion. This hurts the language. Simply look to any
language to see which is the most often confused portion of the
languge. I may be confusing people at this point as I am still working
on these concepts, but the foundation is there.

Just because we don't create a formal grammar for things doesn't mean
they're not in the language. What I am referring to is the numerous
properties that work with each other or don't work with each other.
Properties that only work in certain display models (e.g. height and
width), properties that only work when other properties have specific
values (e.g. float and clear).

These are part of the vocabulary interaction portion of the language.
There are dozens if not more of these implicit rules. All of these
little rules have to be learned in addition to the official grammar
wich means that just because your BNF grammar is simple doesn't mean
your language is simple or easy to learn.

There is no mechanism to visually aid in the memorization of these
vocabulary interations. It would be nice if their were. It would also
be nice if CSS took a deeper look at the fundamentals of box and flow
modeling now that there has been years of experience with it. It
saddens me that there still is no mechanism for attaching one box to
another box in the display. There is also no mechanism for generically
wrapping text around an object with the same kind of freedom that
Microsoft Word does.

CSS can be better and if it's not it will simply be a matter of time
before it is phased out for another language that can do all this. The
W3C carries a lot of weight, but the patience of web authors is not
infinate and they will move on when a sufficiently good alternative
comes along.

> > discuss something quite different like ease of implementation of CSS, or
> > how much effort it takes to fully understand all of CSS. It seems you
> 
> Probably: how much effort it takes to understand the consequences of
> what you write, because the cascade means that authors using Orion's
> features must understand how the interact with legacy CSS, if they are
> to use them properly.  The higher level functions don't remove the need
> of a competent designer to understand the lower level ones.
>

I am not proposing increasing the actual complexity of CSS at all. I
am simply proposing that we as a body look to simplifying the full
grammar by moving vocabulary interations into the formal grammar. This
will aid in the learning and use of CSS by producing strong visual
cues that will aid in the process of recall. The mind is simply a
grouping and stereotyping indexing machine. Aiding in the production
of strong indexes for the purposes of recall will help all authors
learn and use it.
 
> I'm not sure that there is any truly WYSIWYG way of editing styles themselves,
> as you can't necessarily represent all the different selector combinations.
> Even with the simpler style sheet model of MS Word, very few people actually
> use style sheets and I've found that, once one throws in "based on", it is
> almost always the case that one needs to work directly with the style
> description, rather than style something then update its style sheet
> entry from the ad hoc changes.
>

Based on might be a valuable addition, but I'm not advocating specific
changes (well a little above), but rather re-evaluating CSS as a whole
under the W3C banner. Perhaps CSS will continue to live on, but
ultimately the best ideas I think will come from a new language based
on the knowledge gained from a close evaluation of CSS and years of
experience from the web author community.

Orion Adrian
Received on Friday, 31 December 2004 17:07:35 GMT

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