electronic WBG

Leon Avery leon at eatworms.swmed.edu
Fri Sep 8 08:06:01 EST 1995


I want to re-open an old discussion.  Back when this newsgroup first
started, we talked about the mechanics of an electronic Worm Breeder's
Gazette.  It was helpful.  Now we have some experience, which has, as
usual, answered some of the old questions and raised a bunch of new
ones.

We actually have now a partly working electronic WBG, based on plain
text submission either by e-mail or WWW, and distribution by WWW and
acedb.  This was tested in fire before the Worm Meeting, and I think
most of the bugs are worked out now.  There is one serious problem
that can't be fixed in a plain text format: the abstracts are crudely
formatted, and figures are impossible.

I was surprised at the vehemence of people's dissatisfaction with the
loss of formatting.  More than one person told me that if they were
going to lose their italics and boldface, they'd rather their
abstracts were not available electronically at all.

So we need to think about a more versatile submission format.  This
was obvious even in the earlier discussion, and RTF was the clear
winner.  Accordingly I set up an experimental RTF submission
procedure, and it's being tried now on the submissions to WBG 14(1).
Although the process hasn't even reached its peak yet, I can state
already that it is a failure.  Here are the main problems:

(1) RTF is fragile.  Mail programs have a tendency to maul messages
    around: wrapping long lines, changing non-NETASCII characters,
    etc.  Any format meant to be sent through e-mail should tolerate
    these things.  RTF doesn't.  For instance, line-wrapping results
    in the loss of spaces between words.

(2) RTF is not, in practice, standardized.  This is a little
    surprising since Microsoft makes an RTF standards document
    available by anonymous FTP.  But in practice, if you export RTF
    from one word processor and import it into another, you generally
    end up with pretty badly messed-up formatting.  This can happen
    even between Word processors in the same product line, for
    instance different versions of MS-Word.  I have even seen it
    happen when I exported a document from MS-Word as RTF and then
    immediately read it back in.

(3) RTF is too powerful.  RTF is capable of specifying very
    sophisticated formatting that no WWW browser can do, and that HTML
    cannot represent.  Most people don't want to know about
    technicalities: they think that if if looks right in their word
    processor, and they mail a formatted file, that's the way it's
    gonna look.  

To tell the truth, I am stuck for a solution.  I was convinced by the
earlier discussion that HTML was not viable.  Now I have proved by
experiment that RTF isn't, either.  I can think of only two
possibilities, but I don't really think either is practical now:

(1) RTF, but only via WWW, and with immediate feedback.  That is, you
    would paste your RTF into a window in netscape, click a button,
    and it would show you how it will look.  The problems with this
    are:
    (a) It isn't that easy to get RTF onto your clipboard for pasting
        into a netscape window.  It can be done, but no one wants to
        work through long, complicated, technical instructions.
    (b) The most common result when you click the preview button will
        be that the text doesn't look the way you want.  Who's going
        to spend the time to painfully get the abstract into
        acceptable shape by trial and error?

(2) HTML.  No one is going to learn HTML just to submit WBG abstracts.
    The vast majority of worm people will never learn HTML at all.
    The only reason I think this might be (or become) a viable option
    is this: word processors are now being written with options to
    export HTML.  Microsoft has a plug-in for Word for Windows called
    Internet Assistant that does it, and FrameMaker 5.0 will do it.
    Unfortunately, last time I looked there was still no HTML export
    software for MS-Word on MacIntosh, the main platform used by worm
    people.

Any ideas?

-- 
Leon Avery					   (214) 648-2420 (office)
Department of Biochemistry			            -2768 (lab)
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center             -8856 (fax)
5323 Harry Hines Blvd				   leon at eatworms.swmed.edu
Dallas, TX  75235-9038			  http://eatworms.swmed.edu/~leon/



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