Going WYSIWYG

I must be getting old or something.  I finally went and did it - I implemented a WYSIWYG post editor for LnBlog (that's the software that runs the blog you're reading right now).

I've been holding out on doing that for years.  Well, for the most part.  At one point I did implement two different WYSIWYG plugins, but I never actually used them myself.  They were just sort of there for anybody else who might be interested in running LnBlog.  I, on the other hand, maintained my markup purity by writing posts in a plain textarea using either my own bastardized version of BBCode or good, old-fashioned HTML.  That way I could be sure that the markup in my blog was valid and semantically correct and all was well in the world.

The LnBlog post editor using the new TinyMCE plugin.

If that sounds a little naive, I should probably mention that I came to that conclusion some time in 2005.  I had only been doing web development for a few months and only on a handful of one-man projects.  So I really didn't know what I was talking about.

Now it's 2014.  I've been doing end-to-end LAMP development as my full-time, "I get paid for this shit" job for almost seven years.  I've worked for a couple of very old and very large UGC sites.  I now have a totally different appreciation for just how difficult it is to maintain good markup and how high it generally does and should rank on the priority scale.

In other words, I just don't care anymore.

Don't get me wrong - I certainly try not to write bad markup when I can avoid it.  I still wince at carelessly unterminated tags, or multiple uses of the same ID attribute on the same page.  But if the markup is generally clean, that's good enough for me these days.  I don't get all verklempt if it doesn't validate and I'm not especially concerned if it isn't strictly semantic.

I mean, let's face it - writing good markup is hard enough when you're just building a static page.  But if you're talking about user-generated content, forget it.  Trying to enforce correct markup while giving the user sufficient flexibility and keeping the interface user-friendly is just more trouble than it's worth.  You inevitably end up just recreating HTML, but with an attempt at idiot-proofing that end up limiting the user's flexibility in an unacceptable way.  And since all the user really cares about is what a post looks like in the browser, you end up either needing an option to fall back to raw HTML for those edge-cases your idiot-proof system can't handle, which completely defeats the point of building it in the first place, or just having to tell the user, " Sorry, I can't let you do that."

"But Pete," you might argue, "you're a web developer.  You know how to write valid, semantic HTML.  So that argument doesn't really apply here."  And you'd be right.  Except there's one other issue - writing HTML is a pain in the butt when you're trying to write English.  That is, when I'm writing a blog post, I want to be concentrating on the content or the post, not the markup.  In fact, I don't really want to think about the markup at all if I can help it.  It's just a distraction from the real task at hand.

Hence the idea to add a WYSIWYG editor.  My bastardized BBCode implementation was a bit of a pain, I didn't want to fix it (because all BBCode implementations are a pain to use), and I didn't want to write straight HTML.  So my solution was simply to resurrect my old TinyMCE plugin and update it for the latest version.  Turned out to be pretty easy, too.  TinyMCE even has a public CDN now, so I didn't even have to host my own copy.

So there you have it - another blow stricken against tech purity.  And you know what?  I'm happier for it.  I've found that "purity" in software is tends not to be a helpful concept.  As often as not, it seems to be a cause or excuse for not actually accomplishing anything.  These days I tend to lean toward the side of "actually getting shit done."

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Comments #

    Fire

    You must not have been burned enough

    Compose OFFLINE or at least not in interweb browser.

    Crash. Train lost. Start anew.

    • Comment posted on Wednesday 11 Feb 2015 at 9:05am
    • By Ray n'ing

    No Subject

    You are old

    • Comment posted on Wednesday 11 Feb 2015 at 9:05am
    • By Ray n'ing

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