Eat Your Own Dogfood

The Dutch government [1] is propagating accessible websites – a truly laudable initiative (basically a Dutch application of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0). Their website itself though commits one of the worst web design crimes right in the very Web Guidelines themselves: they are available in … not HTML or XHTML as one would expect, but PDF, MS Word and OpenOffice (though there is a short summary in HTML, but that lacks all the details).

Let’s look up some authority such as usability guru Jakob Nielsen‘s Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design. Indeed, in 2007 “PDF files for Online Reading” is still there as Mistake #2. Or to quote some other authority, the Dutch Web Guidelines themselves: “Checkpoint 11.1: Use W3C technologies when they are available and appropriate for a task and use the latest versions when supported.” (Apologies for not being able to link to that Checkpoint, PDF does not allow me to do that.) I don’t think PDF, MS Word or even OO qualify as W3C technology. (X)HTML is perfectly adequate for this publication – one can always provide an alternative PDF for printing if desired. And HTML of course allows linking to, bookmarking, consistent navigation yada yada yada, you know, the stuff that made the Web great.

They do provide the Guidelines in both English and Dutch. But the Dutch version is only in MS Word – sigh…

The initiative is great, especially since it qualifies websites and thus truly propagates accessible web sites. And they have a nice test tool. (My site, which is plain WordPress, scores a meagre 38/45. I’ll have to check that.) But please, do it right next time. Eat your own dogfood and use HTML.

[1] Technically drempelvrij.nl is an independent foundation, in practice the Dutch government is a major stakeholder. For their internal guidelines the government does much better, there they have everything in HTML next to PDF.

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2 Responses to Eat Your Own Dogfood

  1. Dirk Temme says:

    I agree. But I am struggling with that myself, when writing standards documents or manuals or so. I write the doc’s in OpenOffice but then I would like to convert it easily to .pdf AND to .html. Pdf is a good option in Oo, and you can also export to .xhtml. But then there is a lot of extra work to be done. The .xhtml needs serious reformatting. And then probably one would like to give readers an opportunity for comments, or some other fancy stuff. So you need to go into xslt, php, … A bit to much for most document writers. So I am looking for a bit better tooling here. You know some?

  2. Dirk:

    You are right in saying it’s not easy. I would prefer to write natively in html, but the html editors around are nowhere as easy to use as an office suite. I usually write in Word, when the doc is stable enough, bite the bullet and convert to html, then maintain in html.

    I’ve seen people use wikis for standard writing as well. The editors are not very good, but wikis have lots of advantages – like the community feedback you mention.

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