More Thoughts About Where Plain Text Falls Flat21 May 2014 | by Scott Nesbitt
As I mentioned in a previous post in this space, plain text matters. It’s simple. It’s ubiquitous. It’s rarely changing. It’s compact.
Having written that, I also know that plain text isn’t suited for every task. Since I last wrote about that subject, I’ve run into a few situations in which plain text falls flat. For many, these are edge cases. But they’re worth knowing about.
So, where else does plain text fall flat?
A big area (at least, for me) is collaboration and annotation. Sure, you can send text files around to people you’re working with (or make them available for editing on the web) but it’s hard to know who made what changes. Adding notes or suggestions isn’t the greatest, either. You can, for example, append a collaborator’s initials to a change or leave comments between square brackets. Those are hacks and can get messy after a while.
Plain text definitely isn’t the best format for archiving information, especially if you want to keep the formatting of that information intact. With plain text, you lose page layouts, images, interactive features like hyperlinks, and fonts.
Obviously, plain text is lacking (and that’s an understatement) when it comes to multimedia. The two mix worse than oil and water.
Related to the last point, plain text definitely doesn’t work when you’re trying to craft a diagram or chart. It is possible to create simple ones in plain text, but they’re not visually appealing. Some nuances and subtleties are lost.
Do you have any other examples of where plain text falls flat (that aren’t covered in the previous post)? Feel free to share them by leaving a comment.Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.