Can I haz web?

How many people today still think information is only valid or “serious” when represented on an A4 piece of paper?

Way too many, if you ask me.

I’m always disappointed when people push out important content as PDF documents (or much worse…I won’t even name that format) attached to web pages or email messages, instead of just including the content in those web pages or messages, as a first-class citizen.

For some reason, people seem to think that information presented in A4 format has more value than the same information presented as a simple and clean web page. It is quite the opposite actually: web pages can be linked to, easily indexed, reformatted for efficient reading (thanks readability), etc.

Ted Nelson, the inventor of hypertext, wrote in 1999 already [1]:

We must overthrow the paper model, with its four prison walls and peephole one-way links

And also, in the same paper:

WYSIWYG generally means “What You See Is What You Get” — meaning what you get when you print it out. In other words, paper is the flat heart of most of today’s software concepts.

Granted, we haven’t fully solved the two-way links problem yet, but I hope you get the idea. Who needs paper or A4 pages? This is 2010, and this is the Web.

Please think about it next time you publish an important piece of information. Does it really need to live in the prison walls of a “document”? In what ways is that more valid than a web page or plain text email message?

Most of the time, almost always, the answer is: it’s not more valid, it’s just less usable.

Can I haz web? kthxbye.

[1] http://people.artcenter.edu/~vanallen/web_techniques/tednelson_liberate.htm

6 Responses to Can I haz web?

  1. […] “Can I haz web?,” Bertrand Delacrétaz wrote: How many people today still think information is only valid or […]

  2. Buddy Casino says:

    Of course you are right. But.

    The vast majority of websites does not follow the “interesting content as hypertext” pattern. Instead they are overloaded with “design”, marketing flak and advertisements. The way the W3C does websites is rare, so many people might never have experienced that concept.

    Second, many people simply lack the skills to produce good-looking, consistent web pages that render well on multiple platforms. On the other hand, most people can somehow produce a .doc file.

    Also, PDF just looks good. Take any mediocre Word document and render it as PDF, it will immediately feel more classy because of the smooth rendering and the way they are displayed. It’s a psychological thing.

    Maybe all it takes is a simple tool to produce good-looking, consistent content-centric sites. With a PDF export feature. ;-)

  3. bdelacretaz says:

    @Buddy, I think wordpress.com (which I’m using for this blog) is a good example of a “simple tool to produce good-looking content-centric sites”. For PDF export, the readability tool combined with “print to PDF” does wonders.

  4. Buddy Casino says:

    Yeah, people love to scroll long vertical pages full of text. Also, they usually have a PDF printer installed and have heard about “the readability tool”.

  5. Marc says:

    “What You See Is All You Get”: a curse but also a blessing.

    Sometimes I NEED to print a document. Because even in 2010, paper is still the only cheap, light, reliable, robust, large size and convenient 600 dpi display.
    When this document is a PDF then I know that printing will Just Work ®. When this document is a web page then I know the result will systematically suck.

    I am confident that all the problems above will be solved some day. Not sure I will still be alive when they will.

  6. bdelacretaz says:

    @Marc, agree that *sometimes* one needs to print documents. But that’s by far not the case for all the attached documents that I see flying around.

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