Starting simple

It's interesting to see how a lot of people could follow you when you say something is easy.

So you start to do it simple, all the people come, take a look and then say "Ok, it's simple, i take it".

Then you face a lot of problems you underestimate, misconsidered or totally missed, intentionally or not, at the beginning.

And then you add more and more complexity, so that people who wish to do complex thing they want, could do it.

And then, people who at start were ok to agree to simplicity, begin to disagree.

This little story is the story of

  • HTML
  • Basic
  • Wiki
  • MS Windows
  • Cars (the thing you drive, not the movie!)
  • and so on...
Starting complex

Some start complex, and simplify so that more and more people come:

  • People are aware it is complex, so they accept easily complexity
  • But, you never reach the same audience as starting simple

This is the case of:

  • C
  • Linux
  • etc.
So what could be the good choice?

Starting simple IS a very good choice, but with taking into account at the beginning that it will become complex. And then you design it as an onion:

  • First level IS simple and STAY simple (stay conform to your first choice)
  • the more you go high in the levels, the more it will be complex (add complexity but control it)
  • higher levels MUST just be options to call from a lower level (no mix between levels)

This could be called "DESIGN BY LEVEL"

A lot of specifications, are now inclined to take this way (CSS, DOM, etc.), but haven't yet crossed the major point which is to strictly separate all this (NOMIX rule).

For example, for HTML, the level 0 has been put into XHTML and level 1 and more into CSS.

In CSS, we can imagine making those levels more visible

h1 {
  color: blue;
  -extension {
     // this is a hook for inserting in place CSS level 2 and higher
    font-stretch: ultra-expanded;
    -extension {
       // this is a hook for inserting in place CSS level 3 and higher
      font-effect: emboss;

-extension {
  // this a hook for extending at the template level 
  h1:before { content: "Title :" }
A concrete example: Wiki

The wiki syntax was simpler than HTML and al. to edit page, and that's why Wikipedia contains now millions of pages in hundreds of languages. In Wikipedia, it is possible now to implement very complex thing.

So what could be a good way to handle this complexity.

First redefine what is the Wiki level 0 syntax:

  • this syntax will have to handle simple editing problems and accept hook for more complex things.
  • Then emit warning when one try to use more complex thing in a space where people are waiting for level 0 syntax, so that (s)he can move it to the appropriate place for that level of complexity


blabla [[link]] etc.

and hooks

Date=July, 9 2006}}

And then define what are complex things:

  • defining color inside a table and a lot of extra information
{{|border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="1"
|colspan="10" style="background:#98A1B2;color:#FFFFFF"|'Groupe A'
| {{evenMoreComplexThing|1998}}

and the evenMoreCompleThing could make a call to something programmatic like {{#expr: {{{1}}} + 2 div 4 }}.

Is it simple to do?

Of course it is not! The complexity must be handled by the main program to catch what could be considered as overcomplex to first class users.

Then in the complex level, you have to handle complexity level and it is less and less obvious, the more levels you want to have.

But, one explicit win is semantical:

to handle hook, you have to separate data from the design, so you have to give then more significance and that's AFAIK one of the goal of the Wikipedia!

Inspired by jy[B]log through <Glazblog/>, and Wikipedia of course!