Welcome to TidBITS-100 and our new setext format! The term "setext" stands for "structure-enhanced text" and we have designed and optimized the format for use primarily by online publications such as TidBITS (i.e., 7-bit text only). We’ll be publishing more about the format itself as time goes by, but for now suffice it to say that there are vast advantages of using a consistently-defined text format, both for you that read us online and offline and for ourselves, the publishers. At the very least, our weekly issues should be easier to read and peruse directly online without having to download first.
This week we have a number of excellent articles, so please bear with some administrivia first. Those of you that have not seen TidBITS before ought to know that we’re a FREE weekly electronic newsletter, with a full 100 issues since April of 1990 to our credit. The first 99 were written and distributed in the HyperCard stack format. We’re now switching to the setext format to widen our accessibility on all computer platforms. Those of you on the Internet, AppleLink, or CompuServe (i.e. who can send electronic mail to the Internet) can receive more information about TidBITS through our fileserver. Address the email to:
The fileserver, which is an automatic program that understands commands sent to it via email, will send you back any file whose name you specify in the Subject: line. For help and an abbreviated listing of what is currently available, send a message with the single word "help" (without the quotes) in the Subject: line. Any text in the body of the letter or other words on the Subject: line will be ignored.
More about setext — From now on all issues of TidBITS will be readable directly online (for those of you whose systems support this anyway). Those of you wishing to download/ read/ archive them at home may read the files with any computer program that is able to open TEXT documents. In time – not too distant, we promise – there will be special setext browsers to automate the task of searching, archiving and transforming bits of the encoded material into WYSIMOLWYG ("What You See Is More Or Less What You Get"), to permit navigation in large archived mass of data, and more. At least two people are currently writing setext browsers, and they will not be specific to TidBITS but to any setext publication that conforms to the format. We also hope to have browsers for direct online use (attachments to rn etc., so if you’re interested in writing one, please contact us). For now any word processor or even TeachText (for issues under 30K, as most will be) will do the job just fine. Incidentally, setext issues submitted to the Info-Mac archives and other archives will have an ".etx" suffix ("enhanced/ e-mailable text"), to distinguish them from plain ".txt" files, but they’ll contain nothing but pure, undiluted, structure-enhanced text. So look for "tidbits-###.etx" documents.
Introducing: The Delimiters! — Another of the new enhancements is a special article-end-delimiter, expressed as "end" sandwiched between the "<>" characters at the very end of each article. You’ll see it. This should allow importing of the issues into any text database programs (like Storyspace from Eastgate Systems or ThoughtPattern from Bananafish Software) that can break text into chunks based on specific text patterns. Small items within "compound" articles may also be delimited with four offset hyphens on a line by itself or with short sub-subheads.
Finally, among the most noticeable changes in the structure of TidBITS is the placement of the review listings at the end of each issue. From now on, this is where they’re going to be found. Quite frankly, they are boring to read but are useful to many. Those of you downloading and archiving the issues may still want them for occasional searches but the majority of (online) readers won’t have to scroll or page first in order to start reading. We’ll have more on the setext format in future issues as well.
Ian Feldman — [email protected]
chief designer, demon encoder-coder and the current Setext
Oracle, hard at work on a browser & the setext format release
Adam C. Engst — [email protected]