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RE: Betsie and other text only conversion applications

From: Wayne Myers <wayne.myers@bbc.co.uk>
Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2001 12:58:41 -0000
Message-ID: <6F99E54D359CD3119FAF0001FA7ED9500178FDC1@w12wcedxu02.wc.bbc.co.uk>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Jamie Mackay wrote:
> >Just wondering on what people on this forum think about applications like
> >Betsie which convert webpage content to text only on the fly.

I'm glad you asked this, Jamie, since I wrote Betsie, and I've kind of
been wondering myself. The feedback I get from users has been almost
entirely positive, but then why should I get feedback from users who
have not had positive experiences?
> >It seems to work as far as I can tell and is a solution to the problem of
> >people not updating their text only pages - the code is very ugly, but is
> >presumeably fine for a screen reader?

The code may be ugly, but so is the code it can deal with.

Kynn wrote: 
> It does solve the problem; the best general solution, however, is to
> have either:
> (a) Gracefully degrading web pages [an approach which has some
>      limitations], or
> (b) Server-generated web pages [an approach which requires a bit more
>      work and overhead]

As it happens, Betsie also pretty much requires the pages parsed through
it to be gracefully degrading. Betsie just moves the goalposts slightly,
for environments where there simply isn't going to be a way,
politically, to get an organisation to lose the requirement for certain
intrinsically inaccessible design decisions, such as huge compulsory
left hand nav bars.

In terms of server-generated web pages as a solution in the context of
Betsie, I am reminded of an old joke about a guy lost in the countryside
somewhere. Eventually he finds a local character leaning over a fence,
who he asks for directions to his destination. After much humming and
hawing, the rustic sucks his teeth, spits out his chew of... whatever it
was he was chewing... and says, 'Well, sorr [imagine the accent of your
choice at this point], if I was you and I wanted to get there... I wouldn't
start from here.'

Sure, if you can throw away everything you've got and start again with a
proper server-generated solution, you don't need Betsie. While you're
waiting, Betsie can provide an interim solution.

Kynn also wrote:
> Note also that text-only pages only meet the needs of one or two
> very specific user groups and don't provide a path to general
> usability and accessibility -- both of the techniques listed above
> (a) and (b) do much better at meeting a broader range of needs.

I don't wholly agree. Meeting a broad range of needs requires a
multi-level approach from the outset; a properly constructed set of
gracefully degrading pages could very well meet a broad range of needs,
either with or without Betsie. The difference is that without Betsie,
there are more limits on what kind of gracefully degrading pages you can

In terms of server-generated webpages, I have seen many that do not
degrade at all and are not accessible at all on any level. There is
nothing intrinsic to server-generated pages that imply the result will
be accessible. It's just that you *can* construct architectures in this
way, using multiple stylesheets and so on, that will meet a wide range
of accessibility needs without recourse to a hack like Betsie.

And in terms of the way in which Betsie could be improved in order to meet a
wider range of needs, I am extremely open to suggestions, criticisms, and
for new features and so on that could meet these needs.

Please do email me directly if you know of a specific need or need that
is not, but could be, meeting.

> >Is anyone aware of other applications that do this better?

Yeah. Betsie II, which also hasn't 'shipped' yet. Since my current
work schedule does not leave me very much time to work on it officially
(to my great regret), I am instead working towards being given
permission by my employers to put all work in progress on Betsie II on a
publically available source control system such as  Sourceforge, and open
up the rest of the source and development path before it is ready to 'ship'.
This should happen Real Soon Now, and I'll make sure to post a note to
this list when it does.

Source code to the existing Betsie has been available for a good while
though, and the multiple contributions from actual Betsie users
worldwide have already substantially improved the quality of the output.

If there are substantial needs that are not being met, I can't know about it
if no-one tells me and I don't happen to think of it myself. So, once again,
please do write to me and let me know about them.
Cheers etc.,


Wayne Myers
Betsie Project
BBC Factual and Learning Interactive

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Received on Friday, 26 January 2001 07:58:54 UTC

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