Despite the acute accent in his name. Rick Bébout was American. He came to Canada after the Vietnam War, worked at The Body Politic, and was a lifelong observer of the gay community. He died last month.

His site, rbebout.com, is a major repository of Toronto gay cultural history – particularly of the Bar, a Platonic entity that was, in his view, the core of urban gay culture no matter what the currently fashionable bar of the moment might happen to have been.

Bébout put out a lot of “content” on his site well before such was fashionable, and in long form, too. At a technical level, he did what he could with the knowledge he (and most of us) had at the time. As the homepage states: “Notes on style: This site has no font style tags, so will display in the default font you have set in your own browser program. (But it does look pretty in Palatino, point size 14, on Internet Explorer; that’s how I designed it.)” That was outdated even when he wrote it.

I don’t know who has the rights to the site now that Bébout is dead, but presumably they’ll pony up for 10 or 20 years’ worth of domain-registration and hosting fees and keep the site up more or less indefinitely. (The cost is peanuts.) The site will continue to work as is for all that time, though, as is always the case with ill-crafted sites, it works only because browsers are custom-engineered to work around lousy code. But if we want to adapt Bébout’s work to other platforms (the site explicitly authorizes such adaptations), it would help to have a better codebase.

So I am pretty much volunteering to be one of the people who converts the site to full standards compliance. We won’t change any of the copy, just upgrade the code – no more tables for layout, neutral quotation marks, fake dashes, and other abominations. We’ll add a real print stylesheet. Copy could then be rather easily converted to ePub and, with not much more difficulty, to a printed book. (A workflow of valid HTML → Word → InDesign is not uncommonly used in structured-document creation.)

Of course we’ll retain the original version (easily done), perhaps at a subdomain like old.rbebout.com. (Or invert that arrangement and have the new site at new.rbebout.com.) Historians need not worry that we’ve destroyed the original copy in transcribing it. We’ll need a set of legacy and obituary pages, or at the very least some notation that the author of the site has died.

What’s my next step to make this happen?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.08.07 14:40. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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