When I wanted to read a web article on my handheld device, I knew enough to bring up the “printer-friendly” version before saving to my synchronized-files directory. I was sadly mistaken, though, in hoping to get device-independent HTML.
When I could not read the resulting file with my Pocket PCs version of Internet Explorer, I opened the HTML source code—and found a hodgepodge of cumbersome, full-page-oriented formatting tags. Im ready to start putting people up against the wall to defend the revolution against this kind of content fragmentation, but HTML is by no means the only example of the problem.
Browser-specific HTML is just a special case of a general issue of laziness—what Ive sometimes called “food fight engineering,” a process in which people throw ad hoc hacks at their development platform until something sticks. Then they declare victory and deploy the result.
People cant work that way anymore. Their pages wont render reliably on new devices, their Java code wont schedule threads consistently on different virtual machines and their Web services wont interact transparently across heterogeneous networks. People have to learn the rules, invoke those rules with precision and innovate within the limits of what the rules allow.
Polluted HTML often results by accident, thanks to editing tools that falsely extrapolate “What You See Is What You Get” into “What You See Here Must Be What You Want Everywhere.” Memo to makers of authoring tools: Most of the look of an HTML page is supposed to be controllable by the client, not imposed by the author.
Ive found one convenient solution to this particular problem: NoteTab Light, the free version of a lineup of editing tools from Fookes Software. I can open an HTML file, strip HTML tags (optionally preserving URLs) with a single menu command, then restore minimal HTML tagging with another single click.
For more on browser-neutral content, see the authoring guidelines at www.w3.org/Provider/Style/DeviceIndependent.html and the AnyBrowser campaign site at www.anybrowser.org/campaign. Good content should go everywhere.
Send your content pollution reports to firstname.lastname@example.org.