RE: Betsie and other text only conversion applications

Hi Jamie,

> Thanks for this response Wayne

And thank you.
> I guess my main worry about something like this is that it is 
> an 'easy fix'
> that will stop people from making the effort to make their 
> websites properly
> degradable and accessible.

I have been worried about this since the outset. Fortunately, no-one can
install Betsie without reading the documentation, and no-one can read the
documentation without reading the section titled 'Limitations'. This section
makes it clear that a) Betsie is not a magic bullet quick-fix, and b) using
Betsie implies changing the way you work to move towards the creation of
properly accessible solutions that do not require Betsie in the first place.
This is stated quite clearly. (Anyone capable of installing Betsie without
the documentation is already wizard enough to know perfectly well that
Betsie is not a complete solution but an interim hack.)
> Not your problem I know

Nonsense. Of course it is my problem. I am entirely responsible for Betsie,
having originated it, written the first draft, had the source code made
public under a form of free license and maintained all subsequent releases
plus the site. The answer to the question 'is it right to have this program
at all' has been very much on my mind, especially in the early stages. I
have considered the possibility that it may cause organisations to go in the
wrong direction on accessibility, but I do not believe it does, and my
experience has backed this up.

Within the BBC, Betsie has demonstrably been something that has tended to
move people in the right direction. In many cases, by making Betsie and
'Betsie Compliance' an issue that people have to deal with whether they wish
to or not, it has been the first encounter that people have had with
accessibility issues online. I have been very vocal about going round and
telling people (internally) that the goal of Betsie is to make herself
obsolete, and being involved in actually helping people get their heads
around the - to them - new stuff to learn. This has been part of the Betsie
installation process behind the scenes, and, anecdotally, I am told that
similar stories have taken place in many of the other organisations that
have installed Betsie.

As it makes very clear in the readme.txt file, you can't just install Betsie
and boom it's done. You have to install Betsie and then go through fixing
your dodgy HTML, rewriting tables here and there to make them degrade
gracefully, get all those embarassing typos out of the ALT attributes, and
generally install a set of Right Things To Do that will stay broadly right
long after Betsie is finally obsolete and everything is handled with a bunch
of XML content repositories and stylesheets.

> My only suggestion would be that you could make some explicit 
> disclaimer on
> the Betsie site about how this should not be seen as a  total 
> solution for
> making sites accessible and perhaps state some of the other 
> things people
> need to consider.

On the Betsie web site, I currently have a 'Limitations' section in the
readme.txt file available in the download package and browseable online from
the download page which says exactly what you are asking me to state. I have
another, broader 'Limitations' section in the general 'about Betsie' page,
which explains (more in the name of honesty than expediency) why Betsie will
not work for all pages. Further, more technical limitations are listed in
the 'technical' outline, explaining what technical reasons there are for
these limitations, so a site relying on Javascript knows that Betsie is not
the solution for them.

Additionally, the Betsie site contains a number of pointers to other, better
and more general accessibility resources on the 'links' page. I would like
to add a proper 'How To' section in terms of accessibility, but this would
require proper funding which I do not currently have access to - suffice it
to say that the entire Betsie project has been run on an extremely limited
budget, and I simply don't have the resources to get something like that
right under a BBC logo. Plus which, there are existing perfectly good
general accessibility resources which I don't need, want or have time to

At no point anywhere on the site do I make the (outrageous and incorrect)
claim that Betsie is in any way a 'total' solution. Where did you hear that?
On bad days it is barely a partial solution (you should have seen the state
of the Betsie version of the BBC site before we had a three month
'lets-clean-up-all-this-bad-HTML' sweep a couple of years ago).

Nevertheless, the BBC and a number of other organisations worldwide,
including universities and government departments, have managed to find a
use for it, so it must be doing something right. Sometimes I wonder if we'd
have ever cleaned up our HTML in one fell swoop like that without the rocket
of Betsie propelling us forward to do so.

The url of the Betsie site is here:

Clearly, since you have asked me to consider including a number of things in
the Betsie site which are already there, I must be doing something very
wrong in its construction, since I am sure you carefully read the site
before making the above criticisms. I'd be grateful if you could let me know
what the difficulty in finding these things was, or if you have any further
specific recommendations in terms of how either the site, or Betsie herself,
may be improved.

Cheers etc.,


Wayne Myers
Betsie Project
BBC Interactive Factual and Learning


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Received on Monday, 29 January 2001 14:57:20 UTC