Re: Structured text v. page descriptions

Nick Arnett writes:
] I don't like the way that the discussion of MCOM's HTML "enhancements" is
] shaping up into a debate over the extent to which HTML should include page
] description-like characteristics.  We seem to be ignoring the possibility
] that there will be a a clear division between structured text and page
] descriptions -- and the possibility that it would be a good thing to have
] both, separate.  One of the bits of confusion seems to be that the
] distinction is getting mixed up with *hypertext*, which isn't peculiar to
] either paradigm (HTML's name notwithstanding).
] Each approach has clear advantages:
] Structured text -- can be easily displayed on a variety of display devices
] with varying size, resolution, etc.  Potentially very compact.  Major
] disadvantage is that visual design is heavily compromised.  Appropriate
] when content is more important than appearance; when bandwidth is
] expensive; when many display devices must view a common document.
] Page description -- presentation is preserved, visual impact and design are
] communicated.  Major disadvantage are the overhead of carrying all of the
] visual design information; inability to adapt presentation to the output
] device.

I think there's one more advantage with (semantically) structured
text; coupled with a (separate) presentation description that
describes the mapping from semantic structure to physical
structure, it has all the flexibility of a physically structured
text.  While there can be a (good) mapping from structured text
to it's presentation, it isn't possible to go the other way.  So,
there are distinct benefits of using semantically structured
text, because you can have the best of both worlds.

Considering that more and more of information in the world is
going to make its way into some electronic form, it would be a
great shame if this information weren't encoded in the most
useful way.  Future generations will curse us for making the
mistake of encoding information by the way we wanted it to look
instead of its content; for painting the bible, sort of.

However, there are some types of information where the looks says
it all; among them ads in the real world and front pages of
various kinds on the WWW.  I wonder if not those who cry for
presentation hints in HTML are the same as those who primarily
create home pages, and those who beg for HTML to remain a
semantic structure language those who'll provide the real content
of servers; tons and tons of textual data.

] We're starting to see major customers adopting *both*.  Sun, for example,
] is setting SGML and Acrobat as its standard documentation formats.
] I could go on about this for a while, but I'd rather suggest that if the
] designers of HTML abandon principles of structured text, they'll ruin it by
] creating a standard that has the worst of both worlds.
] I'll also point out that we're serving Acrobat documents over the Web
] *now*, so this isn't a pipe dream.  Check out <URL:>.
] I think designers who want a high level of control should stick with
] Acrobat, Common Ground and their ilk, rather than putting pressure on the
] HTML designers to break its paradigm.  By way of disclosing a conflict of
] interest, I don't want to leave out the fact that our engine is built into
] Acrobat and is going into Common Ground.

I completely agree with you, and I really hope HTML can be saved.
If it cannot, we can always start again with LSML --- Logically
Structured Markup Language :)

Bjoern Stabell <>

Received on Sunday, 23 October 1994 16:21:41 UTC