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WYSIWYG: What You See is What You Get (Part 2: Pros & Cons)

By Mac Moyer

To WYSIWYG or not to WYSIWYG? Let’s answer that question. Our last blog post, WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get (Part 1: An Overview) introduced you to the concept of WYSIWYG. Remember, “what you see is what you get” refers to an interface— used in online tools like Wordpress— that allows non-technical users to make changes to a site without having to understand code. This means that you don’t have to be tech expert in order to make content updates to your website. However, as helpful as WYSIWYG can be, it has its limits and detriments.

Here are the pros of using a WYSIWYG

  • It's easy and efficient, even for technically savvy personnel.
  • The people entering content don’t need to know all the “behind-the-scenes” language and can get by with limited knowledge of HTML and CSS. (HTML and CSS are a series of codes and tags that allow content authors to edit the style and format of a web page.)Theses less technical content authors can accomplish complex formatting without knowing how it's put together in the behind-the-scenes code.
  • There's no time lapse between making the content and seeing what it'll look like. What you see is... what you get.

Like a CMS a WYSIWYG can be the bridge between creative content authors and the technical demands of a website. Surprisingly, it can also be a valuable tool to accelerate the work of even hardcore computer wonks.

So what’s the catch?

Does it sound too good to be true? Well, for some users, a WYSIWYG meets all their needs for content editing in an elegant way. However, there are some cons associated with WYSIWYG:
  • What you see in the WYSIWYG may not be what you get on all web browsers.
  • What you see in the WYSIWYG window may not be what you get when the content moves into the wider format of a full computer monitor, or into the narrower format of a tablet or smartphone. In other words, WYSIWYG may not be responsive.
  • A WYSIWYG may not handle all the formatting you need, especially when you want something complex or specific.
  • A WYSIWYG may generate HTML code that is not compliant with the Web coding standards set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium, also known as the W3C.
  • A WYSIWYG won't enforce look-and-feel and brand standards; it's up to the content author to do that. It may be difficult to represent your brand in a unique way, since you’re often limited by a template in a WYSIWYG.
If you decide later to switch to using plain-text HTML, it may require additional work to make the HTML code generated by the WYSIWYG readable and consistent with standards and style conventions.

And when problems crop up, the advantages of your WYSIWYG turn into roadblocks:
  • Many WYSIWYG tools have a source code view that can help you troubleshoot when things go wrong, but not all, and you have to understand what you’re looking at when you switch to source code view.
  • A WYSIWYG may or may not accept handmade code that doesn't fit its paradigm. (Even if you get your friendly, neighborhood computer geek to help out, there may be nothing they can do to achieve the outcome you’re looking for within the WYSIWYG).
  • If you don't have the necessary expertise in HTML, CSS, or JavaScript, problems become even more opaque.

Are there other options?

The option we programmer-types prefer is plain-text HTML. In a way, that's our WYSIWYG, because we have the ability to mentally translate and “see” the outcome of our code. When we want text to be bold, we can enclose it in the right tags. When we put in an image, we can point directly to the file path. We know how to tie our code directly to our CSS, and we can change CSS targeting directly when we need to. If you're not technical, knowing a few basic tags goes a long way. And HTML is scalable; that is, you can learn the tags for bold and italics now, you can work your way up to images, links, and bullet lists when you need to, and tackle more complicated functions when you've mastered all of that. Another strong option that we prefer for our clients is wiki formatting. Like HTML, wiki formatting is a markup language. And, like HTML, it has a learning curve. But it has the advantage of being simpler, and more focused on formatting the content than on structuring pages.

If you’re not sure which kind of Content Management System is right for you, we can help you here at Lunar Logic. We believe in providing our clients with functional websites that they can learn to use on their own with a little training. Give us a call today for an assessment of your digital needs.

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