Re: who determines formatting

Dale Dougherty (
Tue, 6 Jul 1993 14:17:12 -0700

On Jul 5, 4:07pm, Dave Brennan wrote:
} Subject: who determines formatting [was: sp after per]

>4) The source should be able to hint to the browser how it should
> be presented. The browser can choose to ignore these hints.

It seems to me that the browser under control of the user can
override hints.

>Unfortunately, there appears to be a clear division on where information
>providers and information consumers stand on this issue. In traditional
>media, information provides have complete control over the presentation
>of information and do not seem to want to give up this control in the
>new digital media. Users, on the other hand, don't want to be locked
>into a specific presentation format. I can sympathize with the infomation
>providers who want information to be viewed in their distinctive format,
>but as an information consumer I'm not going to stand for this.

I wanted to respond because I believe the two points of view
you describe can be reconciled. What is unfortunate, in my view,
is that presentation is undervalued in SGML forums and overvalued
in PostScript/Acrobat forums. (So, I tailor my presentation
according to the forum!)

The role of presentation in an
online document is similar to the role the user interface plays
in an application. Most developers think of the interface as a
separate but very important part of a software product these days.
Don't you make choices for the user in organizing the interface?
Those choices can be made independently of how the underlying
engine works; ultimately, without an interface, though, the engine
is unusable. The author and designer of a book attempt to organize and
present information effectively. Just as a developer expects
to design a user interface for a program, so the publisher expects
to design a presentation that suits the information. Just
because presentation can be understood to be separate from
the content does not mean it is expendable or optional. I can't
offer a good definition of presentation value, but some people use it
to in a way that makes me believe they think it is superfluous.
(I suppose some programmers regard User Interface issues with
the same contempt.)
A publisher needs to be able to rely on presentation capabilities
to organize information effectively.
The publisher should be able to control presentation but that
does not mean he should have absolute control over it.

A developer may allow the user to configure
the user interface and even override the packaged UI design.
That does not keep the developer
from making choices for them. A developer doesn't ship an API to end users,
although he might provide one for providing direct access
to the engine outside the UI.
Who would want to buy a product in which the user *starts* by
configuring the menubar and menu items and specifying their
connection to the underlying engine.

Another point is that presentation can be very widely defined
to mean everything or almost nothing. A user can't take a
command-line interface and make it into a GUI interface. The developer
needs to take the different capabilities into account.
On the other hand, changing the font used for the display
of menu items doesn't really matter very much to the functionality
of the program. Nor does the fact that, when porting an Open LOOK program
to Motif, the change in appearance of the menu change the program.
There is similar rigidity and flexibility in online presentation.

In summary, the presentation aspect of an online document might be
considered closer to the user interface that organizes
functions of a program. As authors, we want to know what aspects
of presentation can be controlled to help us organize information for readers.


Dale Dougherty Digital Media Group, O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. 103A Morris Street, Sebastopol, California 95472 (707) 829-3762 (home office); 1-800-998-9938

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