David Ness
Mind / Matter

Scripting: or Who does What and Where?

By David Ness
Friday, February 8, 2002

This article is in the early stages of construction.

Viewing Pages

The fundamental problem that we are dealing with is very simple. We are dealing basically with the problem of displaying pages to a reader. However, this simple description belies some of the complexity involved in many different aspects of this seemingly simple situation. The purpose of this note is to attempt to deal with some of this complexity in such a way as to get a grip on the different aspects of the problem.

There are at least two rather different situations that we might want to tackle. Broadly speaking these can simply be described as:

  • One-Way: Writer -> Reader; or
  • Communal: Writers are Readers---perhaps with an editor.

There are different problems associated with each of these situations.

And this is where we get to Scripting. Scripting is a general name designed to cover all of the various kinds of support facilities that help us deal with these problems. The problems of managing all of the different kinds of data that are involved in presenting information in these situations have many common elements and the various pieces of Scripting Technology that are discussed here are designed to help us deal with them.

Writer -> Reader

This is probably the most common form of communication. The writer is responsible for generating and organizing the material, and for placing it somewhere that the reader can access it. The reader is generally viewed as essentially passive in this exchange, although, as we will see in a moment, there are many different possible degreees of user involvement so the case of no involvement whatsoever really represents just one end of a continuum.

While this problem may superficially seem simple, nevertheless many significant problems managing the information remain. Depending on scale, the technology needed to deal with these problem can range from quite simple to very complex.

Community with Editor

A rather different problem is  that of managing the flow of information among the members of a community that happen to share some common interest. This involves rather different problems than those associated with a somewhat more one-way flow of the information.

For example, in a community, it is unlikely that everyone will want to be constrained to perform the basic tasks in exactly the same way. Each of the members of the community is likely to have differing levels of expertise and different past experiences with pieces of the technology. Further, managing the information to prevent two members of the community changing something at the same time may be an important capability.

The Middleground

Of course, there are many degrees of involvement between the strict authoritarian `writer is in charge' down to the `we're all members of the community'. For example, a common form of blog is largely a writer -> reader communication, but often reader's comments are solicited and displayed as a part of the blog. In these cases we need some ability to collect and store the comments, but we do not generally need to provide elaborate facilities to the readers to allow them to manipulate the commentary in elaborate ways, as most of the commentary is rather simple and straightforward.

Page Content

Pages are composed of many different kinds of elements. And there are special tools for handling each of these types of content. We can start with a review of the types.

Text

The principal content of most pages is probably simple text. While this text may be marked up in some fashion by italics, bold face and/or underlining, most text in most situations is probably rather straightforward in display. With modern technology it has become easy to vary type size, type face and color.

Some experience indicates that these capabilities may have gone through a period of some overuse, perhaps particularly by those of us who grew up constrained by the very considerable costs of making these kinds of layouts. 

Image

Images displayed in pages are generally either line drawings or some form of pixel rendering. While some specifications allow the images they produce to be scaled to different sizes, other forms of storage do not. In some situations it can even be appropriate to have several different pixel renderings of some image so that the image can easily be generated at a discrete number of different sizes.

Most of the tools that help with the layout tasks will allow some form image placement. The more sophisticated tools may support more complex image manipulation.

Sound

Some promotional sites make heavy use of sound and, of course, there are some sites that have sound delivery as a central focus of their purpose. However, most sites now use sound only sparingly, as it seems to irritate more potential readers, on the average, than are charmed by the capability. Whether this is simply a result of the fact that this kind of capability is a rather new thing for most writers remains to be seen.

Animation

Similar words can be said about animation. Good animation takes a great deal of work, and bad animation is a real detriment, so the scale is skewed against using animation unless the situation demands it or the capabilities and experience of the writer create an unusual situation.

Links

Links, on the other hand, are a very common form of information presented in web pages.

Generating Content

We have now surveyed a number of different kinds of Web Page content. The next things we need to understand are the various modes that can be used to generate this content.

Static

The most common form of content is almost certainly static.Static pages are regular computer files which contain HTML that is generated in preparation for delivery to the reader, but that does not need to be changed while the reader is looking at it. This form of document most directly parallels the conventional paper or book forms.

Dynamic: Selected

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ASCII Editing

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HTML Aspects

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The Pieces

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Hosting

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Building the Pages

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Screening the Result

What is supported within the pages?

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Problems

Bandwidth

Availability

Hacking

Complexities

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Multi-User

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Large Scale

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A Mid-Range Solution

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ISP Capability

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Role of City Desk

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Fit with Wikis

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David Ness' summary of work can be found at http://mywebpages.comcast.net/dness

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