don’t blame the wysiwyg editor

It used to be you couldn’t build a website without either a) knowledge of HTML or b) access to expensive software.

That’s not the case anymore.

In the last few years we’ve seen a proliferation of cheap and easy ways to get a website online. Because of this, more and more people are taking on the task of maintaining their websites themselves.

At least once a week I get a call or email from a frustrated client elbow deep in updating their website. They say, “The text won’t line up,” or “The spacing is all wrong.” Then inevitably comes the statement, “This stupid editor thing doesn’t work.”

Here I take offense. Because a WYSIWYG editor (WYSIWYG stands for “What You See Is What You Get”) is anything but stupid.

In human terms, a WYSIWYG editor is a translator. It takes plain old text and turns it into HTML (the language of a web page). This is a complex change, with some elements that don’t translate well. Most human translators have accents, so it makes sense a digital one would as well.

While most WYSIWYG editors do a good job converting basic text to HTML, where they tend to lose their edge is text formatting and spacing. But keep this in perspective. Can you get everything in Word to line up exactly the way you want every time, with zero frustration? Or do you end up feverishly using the “undo” key after your two columns somehow split into chaos on the page? Yeah. Me too.

(Something else to keep in mind: you shouldn’t be changing the color of that text anyway.)

Word is a huge, elaborate program able to make use of all your computer’s resources, devoted solely to formatting text.

A WYSIWYG editor is a tiny little program, dialed down to function in your browser, charged with the task of not only converting your text to HTML, but inserting it into the correct place on your webpage. Keep that in mind before you get too critical.

I prefer not to use WYSIWYG editors. This is because I am fluent in HTML, and I can write in that language quickly and accurately without going through an intermediary.

Because here’s the thing. HTML is quite simple. You could learn it yourself. If you invested a few weeks in an online course, you’d save hours of frustrating publishing, editing and republishing of your website. (Just make sure you learn the version of HTML your website is written in.)

If you don’t have the time or inclination to learn HTML, have a little patience with your WYSIWYG editor. It’s doing the best it can.

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