rich text and respect

I originally wrote this as a comment on a Sitepoint blog post, but I can’t figure out if their comment system just ate it, and I put a lot of thought into this, so it’s reposted here for posterity. 🙂

I’m seeing a lot of antagonism towards people who just want to get their words on the web! If you’re just adding an announcement or editing a few words, you don’t want to wait for some agency to do it for you, you want to do it NOW. Additionally, for many people it’s not a sizable part of their job: they are a teacher who also posts to a class website, or a secretary who also maintains part of an intranet, or a volunteer sharing upcoming events.

I’ve been helping non-designer/developer folks put their content on the web (or intranet) for a long time now in a variety of contexts. Seeing a common pain point, like that 3MB file resized in the rich text editor, is a call to develop either site tools or educational tools.

I find that if you take the time to listen, to respect folks as skilled and intelligent in their own fields of expertise, and to explain in plain language, that most people can understand the most important parts.

For example, anybody who’s used Word knows that it does strange formatting things sometimes, so saying “Word is weird, here’s how to work around it” is a pretty decent substitute for “OMG DON’T DO THAT!” (Spocke, I LOVE that TinyMCE includes a “paste from Word” button, even if the cleanup behavior is a little odd sometimes.)

Locking down the options to something manageable is definitely our responsibility as developers. Every site has different needs, and to be honest, in some cases the authors and site visitors want and expect things that we find hideous. (Pink comic sans FTL.) In other cases, all you need are the most basic formatting options. Knowing the site, the author(s) and the audience is important in making those kinds of choices, the same as any other design or development decision.

Would I like to see more consistency and quality in code produced through rich-text editors? Absolutely! Do I think it should be part of HTML5? I honestly don’t know. In the meantime, we’ll have to just keep muddling along.

Postscript: I’m posting/editing this in an RTE, even though I’m perfectly capable of hand-coding. Sometimes you just want to focus on the words, and do the linking or bolding or bullet-pointing as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. If I see something going hideously wrong, then I’ll poke under the hood and fix as necessary.