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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Separating Content From Presentation

Sean McGrath, laments about the lack of control authors have over presentation look and feel and traces the evolution. Excerpts with edits and comments:

These days, the vast bulk of reading is online,end-to-end electronic text is where it is at. Writing for the web - often directly on the web itself - is where it is at. The world has truly moved on.In the transition, a once-hallowed certainty has been thrown into the uncertainties of outrageous fortune – viz, control over the final presentation of content. In the past, authors would prepare technical articles for print publication by working with so called 'galley proofs' of the final page layouts. These days, plain text goes out into the ether and can re-appear in many different shapes and sizes with no control over. An extra dimension of uncertainty has been added with Web technology. Obviously, striving for fine control over layout on the Web is as futile as it is complex.
The upside : The presentation 'control freak' mentality is on the wane. However, in its place comes a tougher nut to crack for content creators. Think of it as a progression. In the pre-web days, there was nothing between authors and readers. Authors exercised fine control over the presentation of each and every paper page.With web, all of a sudden browsers, could decide the look and feel of content. This is an illustrative example.
How far can you take this concept? Could we change the words? Add links where no links currently exist? Pick pictures at random to replace the ones of the web page? Change existing links to something else? Yes, all of the above.The boundary between content and presentation used to be very clear cut. The more we think about it, the less.

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