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Talking business: How I Learned to Love CSV

One of the biggest issues Web developers have to tackle is not server failures, line outages or yet another annoying bug in a really popular browser. It is receiving content in a proper format and ensuring that the maintainers of our products will not mess around with our code too much. One way to do this is by giving those who maintain our products a file format they can handle. Chris Heilmann discusses the advantages of CSV, an Excel file format.

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By: Chris Heilmann
Rating: 3 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars3 stars / 7
July 25, 2005
  1. · Talking business: How I Learned to Love CSV
  2. · Handing out files in different formats
  3. · So what is a CSV file and how can I use it?
  4. · Laziness as a benefit

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Talking business: How I Learned to Love CSV
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The user interface problem

There comes a time in the career of a Web developer when she has to create for the unknown –- not only on the end user side, as that is a fact from the very start -- but also from a website maintenance point of view. We developers will not be the maintainers of the site; some technology and an editor will replace us. That is a good thing, as it gives us time to concentrate on the code and leaves the content reliability with the clients.

Maintenance of Web sites basically falls into several categories:

  • Restrictive maintenance via forms in a Web application.
  • Partly restricted maintenance via cut down WYSIWYG editors.
  • All bets off maintenance via Word Macros, WYSIWYG tools or drag and drop interfaces.

As developers of the site, we’d love to enforce the first option –- it means that the editors are restricted to what we defined in our style guide and we have full control over the generated code. Tridion (an enterprise level CMS) for example allows this; you define an XML schema and it generates the data entry forms for you.

Badly briefed and trained editors, however, feel uneasy with this form of data entry. They feel limited in their expression and unable to “convey the brand” or “highlight special items.” In essence, they want to paint with text, which is virtually impossible in a CMS environment, and it should be. A website with a consistent look and feel and content structure is much easier to use and more accessible, as it is easier to understand.

A lot of editors don’t want to type anything but the text; that is why wonderful ideas like Markdown [1], BBCode [2] or Textile [3] are also doomed to fail. Amusingly enough, these same editors seem to be happy to use BBCode in forums of their football clubs or on dating sites; there must be a bigger incentive. 

For this reason, most top-selling CMSes come with a WYSIWYG editor of sorts, and we are left in the cold with the task of cleaning up their output. The code is not an issue; we could use Tidy [4] to do that for us. The freedom the editors have to generate whatever they want is the big problem. Visual representation supersedes semantic value, or, in simple terms, the text is not structured but painted. A headline is not a bigger and bolder text; for accessibility reasons and ease of conversion to other formats ,it needs to be a headline element.

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