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Sunday, August 7th, 2005, 1:55 pm

Dangers of Abstraction

Significant news (particularly to ‘WordPressers’) have come out from Matt Mullenweg, Co-Founder and Lead Developer of the open-source publishing tool some us know as WordPress. In his recent message he announces that TinyMCE, a JavaScript-based WYSIWYG front-end to HTML code, will be incorporated and set as default editing mode in future releases of WordPress (version 1.6).

TinyMCE
TinyMCE in action

There is a real danger in moves such as this one. Even though ‘raw code mode’ should still be available, only few among the large ‘WordPress pool’ will opt for it. By hiding details from the user, a certain level of ignorance is permitted and standards begin to be compromised and degraded.

As one example of the very principle, Google Groups allow people to participate in UseNet without any knowledge of UseNet and without news reading software. The result is poor netiquette, the many faces of which include top-posting (replies at top of threads), multi-posting (duplication of messages across groups without indication of this) and spam. Some Google Groupies have become hit-and-run guests who ask a single question; once happy with the answer/s, not even a thank-you. As a matter of fact, this drove many newsgroups moderators as far as killfiling (removing) all messages posted via Google Groups. Needless to say, this reflects badly on Google.

As yet another example, it is not entirely rare for Average Joe to save horrific Microsoft Office documents as HTML and then publish the Microsoft-only HTML code on the Internet, thereby breaking the Net. Likewise, a certain proportion of Web programmers and developers bother to test their scripts and sites only under Internet Explorer, which is notorious in terms of standards compliancy and support.

It is rather worrying to know that hundreds of thousands of WordPress-driven sites will wind up automatically generating HTML code. In Matt’s defence, the WYSIWYG tool is said to produce “top-notch” HTML output. Knowing that Matt is also a real standards fanatic, I trust him when he approves the the quality of this WYSIWYG package, which was very recently added to WordPress.

I would be a hypocrite not to admit that I use LyX, a cross-platform front-end to LATEX, when composing my thesis. The result of PostScript/PDF compilation, however, does not suffer from unoptimised source.

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