200px-XML.svg I remember some years back borrowing a book from a library. Remember those? Yes, I don’t really know what they’re for nowadays either sadly.

Anyway, the book was on XML – Extensible Markup Language.

I didn’t finish it but it got me thinking about a few things or more interestingly got me thinking in a certain way.

An important concept discussed in the book was the concept of what markup actually is. There’s arguably two ways of formatting a document:

1. Inline

So some formatting pseudo code might go like this:

<font=Arial>Paragraph text with <strong>emphasised bit</strong>.</font>

Or alternatively:

2. External Markup

Using markup that defined what a paragraph should look like:

<normal paragraph>Paragraph text with <emphasis>bold bit</emphasis>.</normal paragraph>

(With a separate document defining style)

The difference may seem rather minor but it makes a world of difference. In the former each paragraph would have its stylistic elements defined each time and making a change would require going through and changing the values for each one. The second one just defines a certain style for what a paragraph should look like and making a change just requires modifying the style.

Of course anyone familiar with CSS understands this concept, it’s not exactly rocket wizardry. The point being to standardize the text of the document as just that – text. Style is handled completely independently.

What this would mean is that if the content was to be rendered in a different style the same concepts would show through. So emphasised text might be done in bold in one style and might be done in a different font size in another. The same source could be used for both and the modifications would be done “in post” so to speak.

So the former would always look like this:

Paragraph text with bold bit.

The second variation allows it to look like that, or like this:

Paragraph text with bold bit.

Or like this:

Paragraph text with bold bit.

Or virtually any other stylistic variation one can imagine without ever changing the source file.

Anyway, the point of this was simply the idea of by standardising things on an input level one could create something that is significantly easier to adapt to whatever media one could want.

For example, say further down the line one developed some voice synthesis software that didn’t suck and one wanted to use it to create an audiobook of the source text. Would it know what the inline style was trying to convey? No, it would just see that the text had originally been bold. Handy.

On the other hand if one defined things by the fact that they were supposed to be emphasised, or a quote, or whatever, well, then the synthesiser could be told what emphasis should sound like and know how to deal with it whenever it came up!

The central theme here is that by thinking about how to implement things before doing so one can create something that might not cause headaches further down the line. I am frequently shocked at how little foresight has gone into the things most people create.

This is evident with rules for Gorkamorka particularly. There’s plenty of rules we have never published on The Unnamed Gorkamorka Site simply because the author didn’t think about the future. By that I mean that they wrote some rules and gave them to someone to put on their site. They didn’t define criteria for sharing them in any way. At least under UK copyright law that means that they retain all rights and sharing them is a violation of their rights.

When we wrote rules for GoMo we released them under a Creative Commons license so it would be clear what could be done with them. If tUGS disappears we don’t want that to mean they end up orphaned works!

This is a practical example I thought of off-hand but it is far from the only one I have encountered. Similar lack of structured thought can be found all over the place and I wish I could wrap my head around the sort of mind that says “Who cares? Why are we wasting time on this boring crap?”

Personally I am very lazy. I work hard at being lazy. If I can put in a small amount of effort now to ensure future me doesn’t have to do needless busywork I will take that option!

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