Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Web Sites and Web Authoring Programs: Trade-Off or Terror?

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Web Sites and Web Authoring Programs: Trade-Off or Terror?

Article excerpt

Do you use a Web authoring program, or WAP (not to be confused with Wireless Application Protocol), to design or build Web sites or pages? I don't mean HTML editing tools, like Notepad or Pico or BBE-dit, which many people use to create HTML text files. I mean those full-gown graphical authoring programs that let you point and click your way to creating a page without ever knowing HTML. Today, the world may very well be divided into those who love them and those who hate them. Are they terrible weapons of mass miscommunication as some would argue, or are they wonderful tools for the masses? Let's look at why people feel so strongly about them.

Several of my colleagues are quite adamant and vocal about not using WAPs--they argue that anyone worth their salt wouldn't touch them because they produce bad HTML code. (Personally, I just think those people get off on knowing all those little codes and are probably now extolling the virtues of the next new wave of code after DHTML and XML--WML, or Wireless Markup Language.) They always say "bad code" the way many people say "bad breath"--never directly to someone's face, but always with a little disdain in their voices. But I have to ask, exactly what is bad code? And what are the trade-offs for using WAPs instead of doing HTML coding by hand?

D. Scott Gump: Bad Code Is as Bad Code Does

The TechEncyclopedia doesn't have an entry for "bad code," but does define "ugly code" as "Programming source code that is either poorly written or so complex that it is extremely difficult to figure out." [1] This definition presumes that someone is writing the code and looking at the code. That's kind of oxymoronic in this case--the whole point of using a WAP is that you don't want to have to look at the code ... so how would you know if it was poor or difficult to read? Perhaps a better definition of bad code is, "files that are slow to load, inaccessible to many users, syntactically invalid, hard to navigate, and generally poor in content and design." [2]

If we break down this definition, we can quickly sort out a couple of rotten apples from the rest of the oranges. Pages that are "slow to load" are often overloaded with graphics or plug-ins. "Inaccessible" usually refers to using nonstandard or proprietary HTML tags that are not cross-platform for the majority of browser uses. You know, the type that requires a 5.0 (or higher) version of a browser. "Syntactically invalid" code can include typos like leaving off containers from tags, and this happens all the time when people edit tags by hand--but they're more likely to write it off as accidental when they do it than when a WAP does it. WAPs tend to do some syntactically insipid things, like adding tons of non-breaking spaces and carriage returns or using pixel-based tags to define size and placement. "Hard to navigate" usually refers to design and usability for people using the site, but can include how easy it is to move while editing as well. Lastly, if something is "poor in content and design," then the whole site is bad, not just the code.

What You See Is What You See

What we begin to see is that while many things can lead to a bad Web site, there's a difference between bad code and poor choices in design. Often, the bad press on WAPs is that what's going on behind the scenes doesn't reflect the elegant simplicity to which a markup language is supposed to ascribe. In other words, it may look good externally, but internally it looks ugly. Does it really matter? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what you behold is the external or marked-up view. Put another way, beauty may be only skin deep, but who needs to look beneath the skin? What you see is what you see (or WYSIWYS, for all you acronym-minded readers).

Does it matter what's under a Van Gogh? (Turns out he often painted over earlier works, you know.) Or that he used too much paint or broad strokes? As long as it works, it's what's on the surface that counts. …

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