Web Content Producers Can Automate, Delegate, or Empower

There are a number of ways that a web content producer might attempt to gain detailed control over what they’re creating so that they can produce advanced content that is properly formatted. A content producer can use a tool to write the code for them, hire somebody to write their code, or they can learn to write the code to format the document themselves.

1. Automation Utilizing a WYSIWYG Tool

It seems appealing to be able to use a WYSIWYG tool to create web content. Unfortunately what you see is often not what you get (WYSINWYG). For anything other than the most basic documents, these tools (at least the ones I’ve used) are ultimately an imperfect methods of producing web content. Especially when working with contain a mess of formatting elements added by other WYSIWYG tools.

The classic example of this is the Word document pasted into a rich text input. Even if you run your rich text content through a “sanitizer” when you paste it into your content management system; you’ll still end up with formatting that contradicts what exists in your site’s CSS style sheet. A user who is reliant on a WYSIWIG tool will often find themselves battling inadequate tools trying to get their font and formatting proper on each element of their document instead of relying on a global style sheet that defines the proper style of abstract elements. This is no way to go through one’s content authoring life.

2. Delegation of Advanced Formatting

This solution involves the content producer handing off their content to a competent web designer to apply the proper formatting to the content. This requires the content producer to be dependent upon skilled and costly developer resources for putting the finishing touches on each document that they produce. This is a fine way to do things if you’ve got good help and can afford to pay up at every step of the way.

3. Empowering Oneself With Knowledge of HTML & CSS

A WYSIWIG interface that can do everything that is possible through manually writing code will be so complicated that it will be extraordinarily difficult to use. This is a poor means of escaping the difficulties of formatting a document. The web is not going anywhere, and if you’re in the business of producing content for it, you owe it to yourself to take the time to learn at least the basics of HTML & CSS.

Content producers would be well advised to take the time to get to know the basics of producing clean markup. Learn what a tag is, and how they are nested in a tree. Learn the difference between a DIV and a SPAN, between an ID and a CLASS, then learn a subset of the CSS properties that can control every aspect of formatting. Any time an author invests in this learning will be time well spent.

As a school child I learned good penmanship, how to produce letters that were legible and consistently sized and styled. This knowledge is useless in the information age. People who want to be empowered need to be educated themselves on how they can produce the type of document that dominates world we live in. It’s my opinion HTML & CSS should be part of the core curriculum for middle and high school aged students, and that anybody who is seriously involved in the authoring of web content owes it to them self to spend some time looking under the hood.

The Hybrid Solution

WYSIWIG Tools can be huge time savers, and no amount of basic knowledge will be able to match somebody who has spent years working with web technologies. The best solution is a well balanced combination of all three of these solutions. The content producer should get a skilled developer/designer to set them up with all the CSS styles they might want, and then use a WYSINWIG tool to apply these styles to their document elements.

Some understanding of the inner workings of a web page is necessary in order to make the hybrid solution work effectively. Otherwise, a content producer is going to have a hard time re-using styles. Instead they’ll find themselves having to go back to costly developers or battling inadequate tool over and over again.

  • Matthue DeYarus

    I really like the suggestion of getting HTML and CSS into K-12 curriculum…have you ever checked into that for Boulder County? I think it would be a real advance both for the reason you listed AND because it might be a good way to introduce computer language competence that could lead later to more challenging kinds of coding.