Help:HTML and Inline CSS

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Categories: Styles and Standards

The following is technical and doesn't apply to most WikiTree members. It is primarily for those who are familiar with HTML and CSS and want to know if they can apply their advanced knowledge inside WikiTree profiles. The short answer is no. Formatting other than what is explained on Editing Tips is not recommended.

It is secondarily for those who have seen unusual tags in profiles and aren't sure whether they can be removed. The short answer is yes. Tags that are not recommended can be removed. For courtesy considerations, see Communication Before Editing.

The basic style rule on HTML and inline CSS is: It's not recommended unless it's specifically recommended. For a quick reference on which tags are recommended, see Recommended Tags.

Here is the discussion in G2G. Also see "Why does grammar style and formatting matter for 'cousin bait?'"

Contents

Wiki Markup vs. HTML

Wiki markup is the standard method for formatting pages on WikiTree. See Editing Tips to learn about it.

For example, === Level 3 Headline === uses wiki markup tags to produce this:

Level 3 Headline

It may be technically possible to use a variety of HTML tags and inline CSS on WikiTree pages. Some HTML tags do the same thing as wiki markup tags.

For example, <h3>Level 3 Headline</h3> uses HTML tags to produce this:

Level 3 Headline

Adding CSS to the example, <h3 style="color:red">Level 3 Headline</h3> uses HTML and inline CSS to produce this:

Level 3 Headline

WikiTree's systems don't technically prohibit HTML and CSS tags. (We do technically prohibit Javascript, since it's so dangerous in the hands of hackers and spammers.) However, just because something isn't prohibited doesn't mean it's recommended or supported.


Wiki Markup is Standard

Unless specifically recommended against on a WikiTree help page or style page, all wiki markup tags can be considered standard. WikiTree will attempt to support them if it doesn't already. We will publish a specific rule recommending against them if necessary.


HTML Tags and Inline CSS are Non-Standard

Unless specifically recommended on a WikiTree help page or style page, all HTML and inline CSS should be considered non-standard. Although we do not have rules about all possible combinations of HTML and CSS, when there is no rule that means it's not supported. It is not officially recommended. It is not part of the recommended style.


Standards are Important on Open Profiles

Design elements that require HTML and inline CSS are not part of the standard style recommendations.

We strongly recommend against using anything other than recommended tags on Open profiles of people. This is not exactly the same as saying they're forbidden.

Things like pornography and spam are forbidden through our legal Terms of Service. The points of the Honor Code, such as those on courtesy and citing sources, are rules that all active members are expected to follow. Styles and standards are more like guidelines. Style rules are the community consensus for what should be done.

It's strongly recommended that you stick to the recommended tags on Open profiles. If you add non-standard design elements, understand that there is a good chance someone else will remove them.


More Creative Freedom on Private and Free-Space Profiles

Members have somewhat more freedom to express their creativity on Private profiles and Free-Space Profiles.

Style rules theoretically apply equally to all WikiTree profiles. Practically speaking, though, the rules don't matter as much on profiles of modern people because these profiles are not widely collaborative. Conflict is less likely. If there is any disagreement among family members, though, non-standard elements should be removed without debate.

Those who want to experiment may end up leading the way in developing new standards. They just need to remember that experimentation carries risks. See below.

Problems caused by HTML and Inline CSS

Creative use of design elements on WikiTree profiles has obvious benefits. The costs are less obvious.

Aesthetic design is an area of potential disagreement

Our community develops style rules to resolve disagreements.

Let's say one cousin thinks that the text in their grandfather's profile should be green and the other thinks that it should be red. Who is correct? How can this disagreement be resolved? If the conflict went to mediation, the WikiTree community would have to develop a style rule that applies to the individual case.

Conflicts about design are not as unlikely or uncommon as you might expect. It may be uncommon for members to express their disagreements with other members' design decisions publicly. Often they're not even expressed privately to the other member for fear of offending them about a minor design issue. Sometimes they're talked about with third parties or suppressed altogether, which leads to future conflicts.

Aesthetic style rules are difficult to write and enforce

Since direct communication about design preferences is uncomfortable, many design issues are never discussed in G2G. Because establishing consensus through G2G is part our system for developing style rules, writing and enforcing a large number of style rules about design questions becomes that much more difficult. (Note that we say "difficult" but not impossible. We will almost certainly develop some style rules in the future to support particular design elements.)

Even once the individual design rules are established, there's likely to be a fair amount of confusion and misunderstanding related to them. Misunderstandings are at the root of most conflicts between members.

Advanced coding adds complexity

WikiTree is all about collaboration. A central goal of our community is to encourage more descendants to contribute to their ancestors' profiles.

We recognize that creative freedom can be inspiring. It can encourage some advanced members to spend more time creating great profiles to honor their ancestors.

On the other hand, one member's creative use of CSS and HTML can be intimidating to another member. A new contributor might be afraid to edit the text because they don't know what the tags mean. This fear is well-founded. Inexperienced coders can easily break a page.

We want WikiTree to be "user-friendly" and inviting. New contributors already need to develop some familiarity with wiki mark-up tags. Requiring knowledge of CSS and HTML adds an extra layer of complexity. It limits the number of people who are able to contribute to their ancestors' profiles.

Separating content and design makes it more accessible

We want the content on our ancestors' profiles to be accessible to as many people as possible.

This is very difficult because there is a wide variety of computer hardware and software. Even minor differences between people's systems can mean that they see pages in a very different way. What looks good to one person may actually be unreadable to someone else.

The WikiTree team is constantly working to ensure that the pages you see on wikitree.com are accessible to as many people as possible. At the same time we don't want pages to be completely plain and unattractive. It's a difficult balance. We're always working to do a better job of it. We can't ever stop working on this because technology and how it's used continues to change.

When individual members put CSS and HTML tags inside the text of profiles it becomes even harder for the WikiTree team to anticipate how profiles will look to different people. Instead of judging whether the coding of one style of profile will work for an almost infinite number of different people and systems, we have to consider an almost infinite number of profile styles.

If the content and its aesthetic presentation are separate (with site-wide style sheets), improvements and corrections to make content more accessible can be made regularly and relatively easily. If aesthetic presentation is hard-coded into individual profiles (with inline styling) mistakes can't be easily identified and fixed by the WikiTree team.

It's easy to make or introduce coding mistakes

The section above is true even if all the CSS and HTML is coded flawlessly.

In reality, no code is perfect. Every programmer and designer makes mistakes, especially when editing tags manually as is done inside WikiTree profiles. It's very easy and common to include something extra like a quotation mark or leave something out like a closing </div> tag.

Mistakes become even more common when you have multiple people editing the same profile. Code that was carefully added by a CSS pro could be broken by a less-experienced coder with a single keystroke.

Pages that mix wiki markup and HTML are hard to validate

Coding mistakes might not be very problematic if they were always readily apparent to the person editing the profile. However, many small mistakes don't appear for the person who introduced them because their web browser, monitor, operating system, etc. doesn't show the problem, or because they don't currently conflict with the other CSS and HTML on the WikiTree profile template in a serious way.

This issue has been faced by web designers for 20 years. To address it, many tools for validating CSS and HTML code have been invented. These tools won't work inside WikiTree. Even if you copy and paste your code into them, they probably won't work because the CSS and HTML tags are mixed with wiki markup tags.

Coding mistakes make content less resilient to future changes

Numerous errors were highlighted during a 2014 graphic redesign of WikiTree. This graphic redesign was significant, but it was relatively minor in the grand scheme of the evolution of computer hardware and software. Technology will be very different just a few years from now. Our descendants will be accessing this content through technology that we can't even imagine today.

The best way to ensure our content is accessible in the future is to keep it simple and have all members using the same standards.

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This page was last modified 11:09, 12 April 2018. This page has been accessed 2,617 times.