“Write Once Display Everywhere” - A Misplaced Mantra
by Nicki Hayes, July 20, 2001
Having trialed a recently launched wireless authoring tool - 3TL’s WBuilder Professional (www.3tl.com)- Nicki
Hayes, WDN’s European correspondent explains why she thinks the promise of software solutions that
enable content providers to write once and publish to multiple devices is misleading.
When I recently read Andrew Darling’s interpretation of the latest report on the take-up of the wireless web
in the UK, “Will Content Still Occupy a Throne in the Wireless Kingdom?” (21 June 2001,
http://www.mformobile.com), in which he concluded that network operators could not afford to wait to
develop content, I thought “Mmm. Well put. Couldn’t have put it better myself, or more succinctly.”
Putting things succinctly has always been my personal fetish, one that has taken on epic proportions since
trialing 3TL’s new wireless authoring tool, WBuilder Professional. Although it certainly delivered on its
promise to “simplify wireless authoring tasks,” WBuilder Professional brought into question the reality of
the multi access mantra wireless analysts are chanting these days. While the need for content providers to
develop sites that can be accessed by any internet-enabled device can not be questioned, the promise of
solutions that enable them to do so at the push of a button is misleading. Nice idea though it is, the
possibility of content providers writing once and displaying everywhere, seems a non-runner. Here’s why:
Remember in the early days of the web when companies simply published “brochure-ware” on their
internet site with no attempt to add any value or use the interactive functionality of the web? Remember
when you used to visit sites that failed to regularly update their content, or that seemed to offer incomplete
or inaccessible services? If you believe what 3TL’s founder and chief technical officer Andrew Byrne had
to say when I quizzed him about multi access support, then we’ll be going back to such days if we go down
the “write once, display everywhere” road.
“Although it would be ideal to write content once and display it everywhere, in reality, it is not practical.
Wireless devices are limited by screen size. Such devices are also likely to be used for entirely different
purposes than PCs. As such it is absolutely crucial to employ the skills of an editor. Content will always
need editing for wireless display,” he commented.
A refreshingly honest approach, I thought, particularly as WBuilder Professional seems to have a lot of
what a product would need to claim multi access support as a selling point. You can import HTML, jpeg
bitmaps, and gif images and convert them to WML and WBMP images. You can export WML (and
associated images) to HTML. You can also validate such content before publishing it, and you can view it
on any wireless device currently on the market. As 3TL is pretty outspoken in its commitment to support all
future leading wireless authoring languages and specifications, it seems to be a pretty future-proof solution
too. So, I was keen to find out more.
“WBuilder Professional simplifies wireless authoring tasks, including content creation, management,
manipulation, conversion, validation, and distribution-no matter what your level of WML experience,”
the marketing collateral claimed. As a WML virgin I was keen to put this to the test.
Sure enough, it was pretty straightforward to import HTML and magically transform it into WML. It was
also simple to display this newly created content in any wireless device currently on the market by either
launching WBuilder’s device simulator, its default emulator, or an emulator of my choice. It was even
possible to create your own device using the device simulator, allowing you to test it within the design
constraints of any future device that may come to market too. But then came the crunch:
Content written for the wired web is neither appropriate nor easily transferable to the limited screen size of
the wireless web. The same holds true for interactive TV. And this is one of the problems that users have
been facing in the many wireless web surveys that have been carried out recently, according to Byrne.
“The usability of current WAP services is often limited because of inappropriate design, frequently brought
across from other media, especially the web. The same thing happened in 1994 when people just put up
brochure-ware on the web, following the design principles of print. Such principles do not work for an
interactive medium, in the same way as having a good face does not work for radio!
“Ultimately, the kind of problems people are currently having using wireless devices to access the internet
will only be resolved by the use of appropriate design. WBuilder Professional was built with this, and the
knowledge that today’s wireless content authors come from many different backgrounds, in mind.
“Whether its user is a web author, a journalist, or a graphic designer, WBuilder Professional will smooth
their learning curve and facilitate fast content development, while ensuring plenty of functionality and
flexibility as their experience grows,” he added.
I don’t know about the latter part of this claim, being of limited experience myself, but the former claims
all proved true. Indeed, I gave WBuilder Professional top marks for usability. Its project-centric approach
and multi document authoring facility allowed me to manage content more effectively than I had expected.
And there was a real need to manage content, as opposed to just create it. Offering four screens to present
one screen’s worth of material may work on a PC screen, but it certainly doesn’t work on the limited screen
size of a wireless device. Boiling each service down to its essence, showing much less information than you
would in the wired world, and presenting it in a user-friendly way is essential. This is something that
requires the skills of a human editor, not a clever piece of software.
“The key to successful wireless authoring is making sure that you match the information architecture to the
users’ task. For example, list TV shows by the day they’re being broadcast, not by the network
broadcasting them. Although 3TL provides advice and support in such task analysis, it is not something
that can be completely automated,” advises Byrne.
Having trialed 3TL’s authoring tool, WBuilder Professional, and having benefited from some on-line and
off-line tutoring, I’m inclined to agree. Even if software platforms do become available that enable content
providers to write content once and display everywhere, and answer all of the issues highlighted above,
they are unlikely to allow users to differentiate their services from those of competitors. Such
differentiation will prove to be the key factor for success in the world of wireless content, and can only be
delivered by copywriters who are skilled in the art of developing a distinct voice in a minimum word count.
The good news for both service providers and copywriters is that products like WBuilder Professional will
help them quickly develop the technical and content management skills needed to publish appropriate
content, buying them time to distinguish their voice!
3TL Professional was a WDN Product of the week. Visit...
www.3TL.com for details
When can iPAQ my PC and cell phone away?
About the author:
Nicki Hayes is a freelance writer and corporate communications consultant specialising in business to business internet issues. She has contributed editorial to a number of publications including Unstrung.com, Guardian Online, Financial Times, Banking & Financial Training, eAI Journal and Secure Computing. Nicki is also the European correspondent for The Wireless Developer Network. Nicki is based in Dublin, Ireland and also has a base in Cambridge, UK. Through her consultancy, Hayes-Singh Associates, she has access to a number of technical writers and PR consultants throughout Ireland and the UK.
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