Owen Kelly has come up with a great post on how Zoho Writer can help publishers publish their work online easily. He has a very good set of points on how easy the embeddable script code that Zoho Writer provides can help achieve this as against other methods available online currently. For the system to work, he recommends a few improvements to the present Zoho Writer. And he sees the implications as far reaching. From his blog post :
I found something that completely surprised me, and left me wondering what exactly was going on. The Zoho design team seemed to have solved a major problem without even realising it.
… if I have my curriculum vitae in my memi, why would I want to copy it to give to you? If I did that then the next time I altered or updated it you would be in possession of an outdated copy. Either I would have to remember to send you an updated version, or risk you continuing to distribute an old version.
In the same way, if I write a paper for an academic conference why would I want to send a copy to the organisers so that their web-master could format it and put it on their site? When someone kindly pointed out a factual error or typo I would be obliged to forward corrections to the organisers, hoping that they would ask their webmaster to update it. They might not and I might end up patiently answering emails from a growing crowd of conference attendees all helpfully pointing out the mistake I had already tried to correct.
This problem will not be solved by sending my contacts a link or an RSS feed. The conference organisers do not want to put a link to my paper on their site. They want to publish my paper, and all the other papers, in a uniform format on the conference site. Then, when the conference is over, they want to have them available in an online archive of papers.
The problem will not be solved by wikis either. Neither the organisers nor the authors are offering the work up for alteration and adaption – at least at this stage. They want to present the work as completed, while somehow allowing the author an easy way to correct, enhance, expand it or syndicate in the future.
What is needed to fill this requirement is a form of distributed publishing. This would allow me to publish my paper in my own memi, and then provide a simple mechanism that would allow other people to have the paper automatically published on their sites, using their style sheets. The paper would appear as a standard page on the site, but would be linked back to the originating site, and would be updated automatically to reflect any changes in the original.
The distribution of the linking mechanism would form the entire process of publication.
This means that if you post the code snippet on your site, everyone who takes it and includes it on their site will publish your articles in the style and format of their own site, while being certain that their published version remains in sync with the original version. In other words, out of the box, and with no announcement or discussion of the implications or the potential, Zoho Writer offers a version of distributed publication.
There are at least three obvious problems with Zoho’s current use of html.
The first and most important is the decision to make the normal use of the return key produce line breaks instead of new paragraphs. Open a new document; start typing as you might in Word; format a few headlines and then save. If you look at the html view you will find the headings are formated correctly but there are no paragraphs anywhere, only line breaks. On the other hand, if you open a new document and then (before typing anything) select the Normal style, pressing the return key will result in the closing of the current paragraph and the opening of a new one.
The second point is possibly less serious. Zoho marks up bold and italic by creating spans and then adding inline style to them, whereas WordPress, for example, marks them up correctly by using the strong and emphasis tags. This is correct theoretically because it avoids mixing up logical and literal mark-up. It is correct practically because it allows designers at the destination to apply whatever local styles they want: to put all the bold mark-up in a different font, and the italic in small caps, for example.
Dropping inline styles into documents intended for distribution and styling at the destination serves no logical purpose, and can only be the source of unnecessary problems.
The third problem is simple, and can be solved by simply adding another menu item. Zoho does not appear to offer a simple method for marking a paragraph as a block quote, something that is used frequently all over the web, and off-line in academic papers.
We see the merit in Owen’s idea and would be addressing the issues he’s raised. If you want to support Owen with his “distributed publication with Zoho Writer” idea, do embed the Zoho Writer script code of his article in your blogs / web sites. You can embed the script code of your own Zoho Writer documents too and see how easy it can be to publish your work in the same way. Also, please share your views in the comments below of how to improve upon Owen’s idea and what else needs to be done in Zoho Writer for more easier distributed publishing.
Owen Kelly is a writer, designer, artist and teacher. Currently he teaches digital interactive media at Arcada, a university of applied science in Helsinki, Finland. Thanks, Owen!