Jon Udell on Simple Online Word Processing with XML
Jon Udell thinks that XML formats will rule the day: “Thereâ€™s no doubt in my mind, however, that online forms will continue to transform our means of gathering information, that hypertextual XML will make page-oriented technologies such as PDF obsolete as a means of publishing it, and that blogs, wikis, and their successors will become […]
Jon Udell thinks that XML formats will rule the day:
“Thereâ€™s no doubt in my mind, however, that online forms will continue to transform our means of gathering information, that hypertextual XML will make page-oriented technologies such as PDF obsolete as a means of publishing it, and that blogs, wikis, and their successors will become our primary means of collaborating around shared information.”
Tim Bray agrees, but says that easy-to-use word processors are hard to make:
“Iâ€™ve used a lot of different programs over the years, and written some myself, and Iâ€™ve never seen software, designed for use by human authors, that has good usability and isnâ€™t a great big honking monster. And usually, theyâ€™re not only big, but they take years and years to get working properly. So I really hope Jonâ€™s right, but Iâ€™m not holding my breath.”
Jon responds by talking about user experience, but not in so many words:
“For a decade I’ve been pointing out the vast gulf between TEXTAREA and Word. Analysis of a representative corpus of business and web documents should enable us to define a target set of features, and scope the difficulty of the problem. In this case, the right thing to do with the long tail is chop it off. Most of us don’t need that stuff most of the time. We do quite desperately need a widget that does the five or six or eight things we all do all the time. And we need it to do those things in a way that’s standard across browsers and operating systems, produces valid XHTML, and is cleanly extensible. The W3C isn’t the right venue for this work, but something like the WHAT-WG might be.
Analyzing the right document corpus might also dispel some of the MSXML-vs.-OpenDocument fog. Goverments and citizens need technology that’s lightweight, ubiquitous, and good enough for everyday use. Defining what’s good enough for everyday use would be a great contribution to the debate.”
In the usability/user experience world this finding out what is good enough is known as field research. I think Jon’s right, we need some serious field research to see what people are actually doing, so we don’t smother them with features.
But we can’t get carried away and simply make Notepad on the Web (unless those features are what people actually use). Instead let’s shoot for the Einstein quip: “make things as simple as possible, but not simpler“.