Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Improvements to events editor

Events are things that happen in the life of your author. One of the successes of the AustESE project was the realisation that such events would best be represented as database records, so that biographical information could be rearranged into various useful forms. Events have a 'fuzzy' date more often than a precise one. So 'ca. 1834' or 'before February 1865' is what you would expect as the date of an event, not 26/12/1845. And events can have a description and a list of references. These two are represented as simple HTML, a globally interoperable standard for mixed content. So forget about XML, which only serves as a preliminary to making HTML.

To WYSIWYG or not?

This is where the problems started. AustESE used a sophisticated HTML editor that filtered out potentially dangerous HTML constructs that hackers could use to implant code exploits. But those tags and attributes also happen to be quite useful for building a website. For example, the title attribute or special data-attributes on a link could be used to animate a popup image. Unfortunately the editor stripped all these out when the user saved, and the images would disappear. So I swapped it for a simple HTML editor, on the grounds that users would still want to see a WYSIWYG preview of their HTML before saving it. But that didn't work out any better. Since a preview is created when the user clicks on another element it already reverts to an effective 'preview' that won't be saved until the user clicks the 'save' button. So the elaborate WYSIWYG editor could be replaced by a simple textarea. Sophisticated, huh?

But what about the 'dangerous' HTML constructs I am no longer filtering out? Since the events editor is not publicly accessible and all editors of the content are guaranteed to be trustworthy, this extra security measure is quite worthless.

The loss of the WYSIWYG editing environment is also not a problem, since editors are mostly sophisticated enough to handle this. After all, what we need to put into the HTML goes beyond mere formatting, and for our purposes a WYSIWYG environment simply doesn't suffice.

Which brings me to my main point: The best ideas come when you decide to delete something, not when you add some shiny new GUI component you probably don't even need. Less is truly more. But finding out what to throw away is the problem.

Events editor before the user clicks on the description area

Events editor with the textarea enabled for the description field

Events editor after the user clicks on the references field

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