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The Dystopia of Web-Only Documentation

Once upon a midnight dreary in December 2023 I came across this 2014 post by ESR about his plans to move FSF documentation to the web, with the final two steps being

Some time ago I added to Linux man(1) the capability to recognize HTML pages in the man hierachy and kick them over to the user’s Web browser. All Linux and *BSD distributions now ship this code.


Kill off info. […] Where we’re probably going is that (a) info will die, to be replaced by HTML browsed from within Emacs, and (b) Texinfo will be replaced by a modern lightweight format that can render to both print and HTML; most likely asciidoc.

I’m glad this didn’t happen.

Having HTML/web-based ways to read man pages and Texinfo documentation is awesome, yes. If those ways are in addition to the traditional ones.

Texinfo in particular is structured, semantic, accessible, and has a glorious legacy of being one of the very first public hypertexts.

Rather than killing it, I’d want to:

Improve its web exported output

As much as I hate the web, being able to search up documentation on the web and read it right there is a good thing. Not as much in practice, but as a just-in-case if the web somehow becomes good again.

Make it easier to write

Having a light-weight source language designed with Texinfo in mind would make writing it a lot quicker and easier. A good source language for Texinfo would have all the stuff it needs while getting out of the way for everyday stuff like paragraphs. The converted could help autogenerate tables-of-contents and stuff or prompt for missing metadata fields.

Keep the specific reading apps around

Or even improve them or make new and better ones. That’s one of the main benefits of a format like Texinfo, it’s so structured, so ordered, no popups or tracking or wasm, just documentation.