In a recent doctoral thesis from the department of psychology at Gothenburg University, Sweden, Erik WÃ¤stlund provides some interesting findings on mental workload for consumption of information. Two of the principal findings are:
- Consumption of information is more efficient when information is presented on paper compared to presenting the information on a computer screen.
- Consumption of information generates less mental workload when the page layout is adapted to fit the screen.
The first point may not come as a surprise. Steve Krug has argued that users tend to scan web pages rather than read them and Erik’s study cites previous research that says users tend to have difficulties reading longer passages of text on a screen.
A fundamental characteristic of reading information on a computer screen is that it “involves both the process of reading the presented text and handling the computer. The reader’s processing capacity is being utilized not only for decoding but also for page navigation.”. When we read e.g. a book the mental workload is low because we know from experience where to focus after turning a page.
Adapting content to the screen
The second point has some interesting implications for people working with the web. Currently, web pages with a lot of text tend to come in two flavors:
- All text on a single web page and the standard browser scrollbar to move forward in the page. (Example: A review of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, May 2007 Working Draft).
- Paged text and one or more navigation buttons to move to the next page. (Example: Mark Pilgrim’s Dive Into Accessibility, Day 6: Choosing a DOCTYPE).
Paged text on the web today is rarely adapted to the browser window size.
In Erik’s study the test subjects were given reading assignments. One group read the document in a scrolled format (number 1 above) and the other group read the document in a paged format where the page format was adapted to the computer screen.
On the other hand, most browsers provide this functionality for scrolled pages in the Page-up and Page-down keys. In the usability tests I have participted in during the past years I can not recall a single user using the Page-up/down keys.
So, does this mean that scrolled text is better if user’s learn to navigate with the Page-up/down keys? Or should content authors paginate long documents? Will these methods have other accessibility implications?
Web accessibility is, in my experience, often considered late in the development process. Typically, accessibility evaluation is conducted by outside experts after the application is delivered and content is produced. This leads to issues being reported to developers late in the project, at a time when changes cost more.
In order to make accessibility development efforts more efficient I believe that accessibility has to be integrated into all stages of a project with as much automation as possible. Here are some ideas on how this can be done for the developer role.
Continue reading “Bringing Accessibility into the Development Process”
It has been almost a year since I tested accessibility features in some of the more popular WYSIWYG editors commonly found in open source content management systems (see Evaluation of WYSIWYG editors). During this time, most of these editors have been further developed. Let’s have a look at how they fare a year on.
The test method is the same as last time (to be able to see if scores changed compared to the previous test). In short, I tried to create a sample document in each of the editors. The sample document contains markup commonly found on the web. All editors were tested on the same date and the online demo version was used when available. If there was an option to enable more features, all were enabled. Please note that I am primarily testing the output of the editor and not the accessibility of the editor itself.
Most of the editors from the previous test are included this time. Based on feedback from the comments I have also added a couple of new contestants.
From the previous test:
- EditOnPro by Realobjects. Commercial license.
- XStandard by Belus Technology. Commercial license. Lite version free (also see special license for open source CMS projects)
- FCKeditor by Frederico Caldeira Knabben. Open source (LGPL), commercial license available.
- CuteEditor by Cute Soft. Commercial license.
- TinyMCE by Moxiecode. Open source (LGPL).
- New: Xinha. Open source BSD-style license.
- New: WYMeditor. Open source (MIT and GPL). For an introduction to WYMeditor see Visually Editing Semantics – What You See Is What You Mean.
- New: Loki by Carleton College. Open source (GPL).
Missing from this round is Kupu as it has not come out with any new release since the previous test. Also, eWebEditPro could not be tested. The online demo gives an error: “Error loading mycontent1”.
The total score for each editor is listed below. For full test result details see here.
||Score (out of 19)
If you find error in the results, please leave a comment or send an e-mail to peter krantz at gmail.com.
- Many of the tested editors have implemented more accessibility features since the previous test. This is good.
- The bold and italics icons are still used when creating emphasis.
- TinyMCE is one of the few editors that doesn’t nest list items properly. According to the developer comment to my previous article there is an option to corrent this behaviour but it isn’t enabled by default for some reason. TinyMCE now has support for acronyms and abbreviations (with icons that are easy to understand). TinyMCE would have had a score of 18 if the nesting was fixed.
- XStandard is the only editor that pass all the tests.
- WYMeditor is a very interesting contender. Although in a very early stage of development (only two versions released) it managed to score 14 points. It is also the only editor that clearly displays to the user what type of markup is being edited.
- Loki is one of the few editors that has a proper icon for block quotes (it looks like a quote character).
- Only XStandard and TinyMCE provide functionality to create acronyms.
There are now more editors that provide functionality to do proper semantic markup. This is great! My guess is that it would be easy to add many of the remaining features (acronyms, abbreviations and inline quotes) to many of the editors.
Which one will you be selecting for your next project and why?
I have created a Google co-op custom search engine with which you can search web accessibility guidelines. I have categorized each included page by country (for government guidelines) and I am adding more guidelines and categories. This means you can easily search e.g. the New Zealand guidelines for PDF recommendations.
If you work with accessibility guidelines you may find this useful. Suggestions are of course always welcome.
Many CMSs (content management systems) come with some kind of visual editor that allow editors to create and format content without knowing the markup involved. I evaluated some of these WYSISYG-editors back in March and found most of them lacking in features for semantic markup. One of the more commonly found problems is that they have a lot of features for visual formatting like font selection, font color, indentation etc. In most CMSs these are features you would like to avoid (ask your corporate communication department if they would like to have features that allow editors to go crazy with colors on the website…).
Som of you will argue that one should never use a WYSIWYG editor and instead deploy a wiki-style editing syntax like e.g. Markdown. This typically solves the problem, but in reality this type of syntax is very difficult for content editors to learn and becomes increasingly difficult if you want to do more advanced editing.
WYMeditor to the rescue
I was planning to start working on my own inline editor by forking TinyMCE and correcting what I thought was wrong with it when I found this comment from Jean-FranÃ§ois:
[…] Iâ€™d like to present WYMeditor: WYMeditor is a web-based XHTML editor, not WYSIWYG, but WYSIWYM: the end-user can concentrate on rich content, while layout and design are handled via style-sheets.
This sounded almost too good to be true. WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean) is of course how content for the web should be edited. WYMeditor is in an early stage of development, but after playing with it for a while it looks very promising. If it guarantees well formed XHTML it is an easy task to convert it to HTML 4.01 or any other representation you can think of.
Currently it works in Internet Explorer and Gecko-based browsers such as Firefox. You can try an online demo of WYMeditor here.
If content management systems were to use editors like WYMeditor web accessibility would get and instant boost. There are some issues that hopefully will be solved soon:
- icons for strong emphasis and emphasis look like bold and italics,
- heading levels can be mixed in a non-logical way (like inserting h5 after h1)
- support for som elements like acronym, abbreviation and definition lists, are missing
But, if I was developing a CMS I would definitely monitor the progress of WYMeditor.
Could WYMeditor make content editors aware of semantics in a way currently impossible in other inline editors? Will this type of inline editing merge with visual presentation Ã la XStandard?