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[Dorothea Salo returns to the subject of Word
this time with a quote from somebody who as at the Extreme Markup
conference, talking about issues with word processors and XML. (And she
linked to [my recent explanation of why ICE
It seems that one thrust of Ms Salo's piece, and the commentary she's
quoting is that word processors are not a good way for people to author
for complex XML systems.
I agree, more below.
She also seems to be of the opinion that authors will **always not use
styles**, and with that I can't agree. Sure, we'll never get all the
authors using styles all of the time, but I think we can establish
communities of practice where people do use styles.
Why do I think that?
Been there (Kannegieter and Sefton 2000).
Done that (Sefton 2004).
One scenario mentioned in the stuff quoted by Dorothea Salo is that
authors don't do what you tell them:
> The core of this talk was an extended lament on how authors insist on
> using Word; even if you provide specialized authoring tools, they
> compose in Word and then cut and paste, more or less incorrectly, into
> the specialized tool.
So what does this tell us? It tells me that if you can't get your staff
or stakeholders to use your specialized tools then the tools are
probably inappropriate for the authors and/or the task at hand. We had a
system like this at USQ - it was an XML courseware system, but virtually
none of the authors ever used it. Guess what? They used Word. This was
noted and we responded with a different system that is more appropriate
and which no longer requires back-room staff to remove all formatting
and start again.
We now have the ICE system, which has 100-plus courseware authors at USQ
with numbers increasing about as fast as our support staff can cope.
(Yes there are editorial staff involved, it's a real publishing
enterprise and yes they do clean some stuff up.)
As reported in the material quoted above there are real problems trying
to match a word processor editing system to an XML system. That's why we
don't try to do that with ICE. We take a pragmatic approach that
recognizes that the most useful outputs for many purposes are HTML (with
microformats for domain specific content like activities in learning
material) and PDF. With that in mind we work with rather than against
the word processor.
The ICE system was designed to target a generic document format, HTML,
using generic word processors, not to target some specialised schema or
use any specialised tools. We don't lament our authors using Word. We
help them write their documents and look forward to seeing them embrace
e-research and produce not just dead PDF but live web documents, as seen
in a [previous post of mine about
I appreciate that word processors have caused problems for serious
publishing people in the past, but look, on one level all I'm trying to
do here is something that Microsoft and Sun should have done a decade
1. Design a complete default stylesheet for generic documents with
sensibly named styles.
2. Set up smart HTML export using said styles.
That's the core aim. We wrap it up in an application that does some
other stuff, but we're tying also to break ICE into services so you can
use the bits you like.
Dorothea Salo says:
> I will add that testing such tools on a small, highly-selected author
> population (as Mr. Sefton’s blog
> post indicates that he has done) leads to tools that work very well
> for a small, highly-selected population of authors class="spCh spChx2014">—and fail utterly once they move beyond
> that population.
I wouldn't put it that we have a highly-select author population – they're just the lecturers and support
staff at the University of Southern Queensland. To a large degree they
have self-selected by asking to use the system that they've seen peers
using, which I take as an encouraging sign. The population is small, but
I don't take it as given that it can't get any bigger.
What I can say is that if you are a teacher who wants to write course
notes in a word processor and you have materials like the ones we
produce at USQ (see [some of the courses in this
list](http://ptsefton.com/blog/2007/07/30/11-39-44.679295)) then we've
tested the system on dozens of users so it might suit you.
We are not confining our testing to courseware at USQ, using our
funding](http://ice.usq.edu.au/introduction/ice_rs.htm) we are reaching
out to other communities of users around Australia, I've just been to
Perth and Adelaide talking about ICE to receptive audiences. If we fail
utterly we'll report that in January 2008 but we're not giving up yet.
I don't think we're failing. Yesterday I sat with a PhD candidate in
Adelaide who's been wrestling with Old Icelandic quotes, and she was
delighted when we worked out together how do get rid of rows of tab
characters and replace them with styles. She seemed happy to see her
work in HTML, with the promise that her supervisors will soon be able to
look at it via the web and leave their comments via a web browser.
Welcome to ICE-land Lisa.
We have had a couple of less successful trials with more distributed
teams with less clear goals who had trouble with the system, and based
on feedback from those groups we're now concentrating on building an
easier to use, centralized web version of ICE with a much lower barrier
Ms Salo has expressed some interest in trying ICE, and we've set an
account for her and encouraged her (and the rest of you) to sign up to
the ICE user list and post what you all think. Does it work for you?
Problems installing? Need more styles? If we don't get specific feedback
we can't make the system more relevant.
Kannegieter, T., and P. Sefton. 2000. Content Mangement for all of us:
The Standards Australia Experience. *AUSWEB*.
Sefton, P. 2004. Publishing versus Handouts, contrasting approaches to
courseware online. *AUSWEB*.