Cut the crap

Style and content, never having bothered signing a prenuptial agreement, are now bickering over who gets the keys to the cottage up north.

Hackers are reverse-engineering Web sites to cut out the crap. What crap? “Tables, ads and graphics.” The underground content fetishists go mainstream!

This fella named Nic Wolff wrote a proxy to cut the crap from According to an article, there are actually a whole host of samizdat methods to skim the vegan cream substitute off a “bloated” Web site. (Don’t you love how complex Web sites are always dissed with the same term, “bloated”?)

We remember a similar crap-cutter for the old Dejanews search interface. But since Google just finished buying pretty much every datum owned by Deja, we can consign that one to the dustheap of mergers and acquisitions. (We did, however, love the domain name My-Déjà.com. So spacey. Like a Jean-Michel Jarre composition, without the laser show and chest hair.)

And of course burnin’ up the wires among the Web intelligentsia is Jeffy the Z’s clarion call for adherence to Web standards, firmly separating style from content.

Do you remember, back in the dark prehistory of the NUblog, our eyeglazer on the separation of style and content? Our definition of “content” remains unequalled, in our opinion, for real-world validity:

We think that, at Web sites, whatever gives the visitor pleasure, or adds value, or informs, or makes the visit worth the time and effort is content.

So a site like Toys, which generates random fantasy URLs, is quite clearly a content site even though what you read on the site is as closely related to real URLs as Jabberwocky is to real English. ( A lot like Japanese English, isn’t it? “Wildlife Port en Ouest de Moose.”)

It gives pleasure. The visit is worth the time. It is content.

The “interface” that Nic Wolff’s crap-cutter elides is not content in and of itself because that would be nonsensical, like a water molecule without hydrogen. Even if you replaced all the real words on the Salon homepage with so-called Greeked text, the resulting nonsensical page would not amount to content.

(As a formulaism, “Greeked” is the “bloated” of typography: We never manage to come up with any other term, like, say, “Frenched.” Greeked text is in Latin anyway.)

But the text of the articles is content. Text of articles plus illustrations and ads and the interface are all content, too, when taken together.

Similarly, unless the topic of conversation is stylesheets, separating HTML from stylesheets, as Jeffy the Z advocates, does not mean that both halves amount to content. The HTML, as rendered, probably is. The CSS cannot be rendered without HTML. The rendered HTML and the HTML with its stylesheet, however, are indeed content.

The demand for multiple views of the same content is gaining force (and anyway is the standard practice worldwide in movies and television). Skinning is but one example (NUblog passim), and Apple is throwing hissyfits about skinned Aqua-like interfaces, which they’ve got as much chance of stopping as Rupert Murdoch does of stopping Black Bart Simpson T-shirts. (Irie carumba!)

Style cannot exist without content. Content can have virtually no style. Not rocket science, but this fundamental, even eternal truth is finally catching on.

Posted on 2001-02-21