Masthead CMC Magazine / May 1, 1996
 Riding the Technology Fence in Online Publishing, by Jim Brain

Constraints Concerning the Intended Audience

Every day, new technologies arrive and dare me to redo the presentation of Commodore Hacking. I'll admit that the current presentation is adequate but not inspiring, and I always look for ways to lure readers to read and return to the publication. However, I must always remember the level of technology of my intended audience. Many of the Commodore Hacking readers use a Commodore 64 with 64kB of RAM, one 170 kB floppy drive, and a 300-1200 bps modem. Graphics are possible, but most readers consider them simply a frill. Some can access the World Wide Web, but most can only do so via the text mode browser, Lynx. As editor, I must create the best presentation possible while remaining inside these constraints.

For the growing number of Web users wanting to read the magazine, I decided an HTML version of the publication should be attempted. Prior to issue #11, each issue was distributed as a single text file. Some adventurous Commodore Web enthusiasts created HTML versions by marking up the text file. The large size of the initial text copy of the issue and the inability to exploit many of the simple constructs in HTML made this solution little more than a first attempt. Starting in Issue #11, I amended the copyright statement to allow splitting the text issue into its component articles. That, in turn, allowed me the opportunity to break up the issue into its components and utilize simple HTML constructs to tie each component together. This small change also pleased many of the readers who received the text version, as they could now split up the issue and repost it on secondary networks for others to read.

[]December comments on the cost of text and Web versions of the same magazine.

For the many readers who cannot yet access the Web, the text version of the publication is still offered. This creates a problem. How do I maintain and distribute two different versions of the same information? Each publication potentially grapples with this problem, and I am not convinced there is a simple broad solution. I employ one method, which may or may not work for others.

Obviously, I want to create and maintain the publication in one medium and convert it to the secondary medium. I explored creating each issue in HTML and using a text utility to convert the HTML to a text format, but did not like the results. The problem lies not with the HTML specification, but with the limitations of plain text as a publication medium. I found it very hard to use the text medium to my advantage in publishing. I found that to present an issue in plain text, I must exercise great care in creating each article, each paragraph, each line. Since I found the text format most complex, I chose to create each issue in text format and convert it to HTML when finished. In this way, I am devoting a proportional amount of my layout time to the readers of each format. I feel this is as it should be.

In both formats, I am restricted from using many things others think of as ubiquitous. Commodore computers do not always display the underline ("_") or "Pipe" ("|") characters. So as a result, I can use the characters in the text version of the publications, but I cannot make them an integral part of any presentation. In the Web version, I know that very few Commodore Hacking readers access the issue through a graphical browser like Mosaic or Netscape. Most users view each issue with Lynx, which can correctly display only pages marked up with HTML 1.0. As a result, I use HTML 2.0 and HTML 3.0 markup tags very sparingly and ensure that their use does not interfere with the look of the page on Lynx browsers. Since most readers cannot view graphics in the issue, graphics are also used sparingly. --


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