Technical support

easy as child's play

Easy as child's play?

I have an occasional role as member of a technical support team for a rather large website. Normally it is a relatively undemanding task, and luckily enough, for the questions asked are generally simple enough to give me the appearance of being knowledgeable, an impression sometimes different from the reality.

Over the last couple of days I received a series of help requests from a user completely at a loss over a very simple feature of this website's content management system, and try as I might, every attempt to explain it's proper use led not to clarification but confusion, an ever spiraling maelstrom of misapprehension in which issue became plural and then profusion, molehill into mountain to quite humourous effect.

The poor user in question being a very good sport, I am sure will not mind me sharing our written exchange—and my amusement—their identity hidden to prevent embarrassment already present becoming public.

User: Hi John, I'm just wondering if you can help me with something... I'd like to put a video on my page, but I can't seem to work out how to do it. (Then again, as you can see, I have trouble putting photos on my page.) I didn't even know it was possible to include vids, but I notice that you and X have both been able to do this. Please help. Myself: Hi, To add videos you have to use html mode (instead of reSt), and copy and paste the "embed" line of code from User: I just went to do this. Dumb question: how do I change from reSt to html? I thought this would be straightforward - and if I knew how to do it, I'm sure it would be exactly that. Please help. Myself: See the screenshot. I promise I won't tell anyone that you had to ask me this ;-)

(I attached a screenshot to this message with the control panel in question circled in thick red pen) |

User: In case you were wondering, I wasn't actually joking! I can honestly make no sense of your last message about the "screenshot" (a word totally unfamiliar to me). Please tell me what you mean. I have no idea whatsoever how to get into html.

Upon receipt of this message I begin to laugh uncontrollably, apparently random public hysteria causing flatmates in rooms beyond to question out loud my sanity. Paroxysm of mirth now passed, I pen possible replies of felicitous wit, but err finally on the side of patience, and politeness, as I do still recall being a novice myself, and often didn't receive a patient or friendly hand.

Myself: The image attached to the message was the "screenshot", a captured picture of my screen with the two dropdown selectors you have to change from restructured to html to be able use html. Selecting html won't give you a different interface (you have to enter the html <p>yourself</p>), but just will accept text formatted that way. I have attached the image again just in case you missed it last time.

Very polite and patient I thought—he obviously missed the attached image last time. Surely we are almost there. Almost? Not even! It gets better...

User: I think that's what I was doing. I used that same coding (cut-and-pasting from's embed function). But can I place that html in my page, while everything else is entered regularly? Or should the entire page be entered in html? I've saved it once in the former way, but it only gave me the html coding. Apologies for my ignorance. I'm honestly finding this hard to work out! X is to blame (mainly because he's the last person I've seen today).

Actually I don't think X is to blame, but as I have already reminded myself, I am being polite today...

Myself: Yes, if you use any html (the code from is html), then everything has to be in html. Which means all your paragraphs have to be formatted in <p> tags etc. Just the same as you would do on your website. User: Well, it still doesn't work... The HTML formatting is all visible. For the record, I didn't have any choices for Text Format apart from HTML - so obviously, I didn't change anything. (Still, I imagine it was the same for all the other pages I've done.) Here's what my own screen looks like. Does it give you any clues as to the cause of my problem (apart from inexcusable ignorance)?

While trying to avoid the conclusion that there is a bigger issue here than anything technical, I do have an inkling as to what the latest "problem" is.

To quote an earlier message: "I've saved it once in the former way, but it only gave me the html coding."

This is a common error in when working in Dreamweaver's design mode (which may or not be the case here), and very easy to do if you aren't familiar with working in pure html. If you copy and paste html into the design window in Dreamweaver, which operates under the same principles as a text parsing utility like Plone's Restructured Text editor, all of your html is interpreted as text rather than code, the result being that tags like <p> and <a> are parsed into their literal html equivalents, ie &lt;p&gt; and &lt;a&gt;.

Obviously this occurred when the user entered the html in question into the reSt editor, and they are now understandably at a loss as to why their embedded video isn't displaying, while a whole lot of ungainly parsed as text html is.

In the end it was easier to simply log into their page and fix it myself, finding and replacing all of the converted tags back into html using Dreamweaver—a hunch confirmed 10 minutes later when even over the phone I was completely unable to explain what the problem was, or how I had solved it, and could only emphasize strongly that html should only ever be used when the html editor is selected.

Computers—there really should be a license required to drive them! But then again, they should be simple enough to be used as easily as the pen, paper and typewriter which they have almost completely replaced.

I am still waiting for that day...