Web for Beginners
Fundamentals of HTML
Constructing a web site, whether for an organization or for an individual, is a lot like constructing a house. Your first thoughts should not be of buying the nails, the wood and the tools, or telling your friends the new address. There are more important things to think about first. What kind of a house would you like? Is it appropriate to your lifestyle? Can you afford to maintain it? Does it fit in with the neighbourhood? Are there zoning regulations to consider? Will you need help building it?
In terms of a web site, the questions you should ask yourself are very similar.
Before beginning, accept two basic realities:
- You have no control over the way in which users will proceed through your web site.
- You have no control over the way in which your page will appear in every kind of application, browser, or computer which may be used to view your site.
If you can truly accept these realities, you will spend far more time on the content, functionality and usefulness of your site, and far less time worrying about constructing a perfectly designed, beautiful site.
Mission and purpose of the site
- This is probably the single most important decision to make. It has an impact on design, on links, on content, and even on site maintenance.
- If you are putting up institutional or organizational information, are you the source of that information? Most institutions and organizations have particular departments or units that are responsible for the currency and accuracy of particular pieces of information. You should not usurp their authority by adding your own version to your web page. Instead, you should link to the authoritative source, after receiving any necessary permissions.
Appropriate to web-based organization of information
- If you have lots and lots of text with few or no links, you need to re-consider your container. Web-based organization is non-linear, and non-hierarchical. Structure of the information should be based on standards and on a thorough knowledge of how automated robots, wanderers and spiders index web-based information and sites.
Past, present and future represented
- Just as libraries may have several editions of the same book and indicate in their catalogues when new items are on order, you may want a spot on your site for archived materials (older versions of information or older items) and an indication that future items are expected.
Links to related resources
- There is nothing less conducive to return visits than a dead-end site. Self-contained sites are often nothing more than advertisements or elaborate brochures; once you have seen them, you don't bother with them again.
Consistency of format
- The home page and all adjacent pages need to look and feel similar to the user. Consistency is reassuring and allows the user to scan materials efficienty once they have a feel for the sites layout. As well, many users may come to a page on your site without passing through your home page. Always, always, always, make sure they can tell immediately where they are, and where your home page is. Location, as they say, is everything.
- When you build a house, you want tight joints and square corners -- it is the same on a web site. Make sure your content is coherent and logical. The most important information needs to be up-front. Who, what, when, where, why, how, and how much will provide a quick guide for creators, and users.
Accept the global nature of the web
- People all over the world can and will access your site. Is what you are saying appropriate to a global audience, whose first language is not English, who may not understand cute icons, contractions or slang expressions? Are your addresses and phone numbers complete enough for a global audience? Is the organization of your information based on standards, or did you simply organize it in a way you liked? Different parts of the world have different accessibility problems. Do you have applets that eat bandwidth and cause the download time to increase beyond the patience of the average user?
- Be discreet. While you might think it is cool to have your picture on a web site, you may be courting trouble. Personal information such as the name and address of your significant other, where you work, your children names and ages, where they go to school, hobbies, etc. is just that -- personal. Not everyone on the internet is there for legitimate purposes. Stalkers, harassers, pornographers, and con men will use all the information they can find. Identity theft is a growing problem.
- Remember your users have rights as well. Do not ask for unnecessary personal information and under no circumstances use such things as bots, intelligent agents, and cookies to collect and / or disseminate personal information without the users' informed consent.
- Make sure the important links are the first links the users see. Add a table of contents of some sort (this might be a button bar, a site map, a tab index).
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- Make sure your pages are not crowded with so many bells and whistles that your users cannot find what they want. White space is important and should be used effectively.
- Each page on your site should be functional (just as the kitchen in your house is designed for cooking, the dining room is designed for dining, etc.).
Text path/Low graphics
- Many people do not have T1 or T3 connections to the internet. Graphics take forever. Many serious researchers shut the images off to speed up load times and avoid the distraction of advertisements and other extraneous information. If you have to use graphics, make them minimal and/or provide a text path.
Sound and Lights
- Blinking text, running footers, and tinny music may be popular with designers; they may drive serious web users away from your site.
Utilize web structure to good effect
- As noted, this is the web -- you are supposed to be making hypertext connections, not linear and hierarchical connections.
Portrayal of the item in various browsers / coding standards
- If you designed your page for IE® on a high resolution monitor using a specific web editor, that may be the only configuration in which it looks good. Try checking your page in several different browsers and in several levels of technology before mounting it. You may be surprised at how it appears.
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If you want to have your page mounted on a server, you will have to follow the standards and guidelines laid down by the server's owner. The owner of the web server may share legal liability for the content mounted. Intellectual property, as it relates to the ownership of materials which are mounted on the server, permission for certain links to be made, third party ownership of technology/applications used for document creation, ownership of trademarks, etc., are matters of valid concern for server owner, web site creator and web site maintainer. Once mounted, your page is available worldwide. If you have violated someone's intellectual property rights, they will find out about it. Every document, design, file, and the like has an owner. You must not mount anything on your page that is owned by someone else without written permission. Further, you must not indicate or even imply you are the property owner if, in fact, you are not.
- All documents should be coded to an accepted markup standard.
- URL naming structure should be based on standards and on a thorough knowledge of how automated robots, wanderers and spiders index web sites.
- All documents/pages should provide a link to the site home page.
- The URL should appear within every document/page.
- All documents/pages should carry accurate creation and revision dates.
- If you must have large graphics, estimated times of download must be provided.
- Any required viewers, plug-ins, applications, and the like should be noted and if possible, links should be provided to allow users to download needed programs.
Maintenance is where the real cost of a web site surfaces. The cost is hidden in the amount of time it takes to answer questions, check links, rebuild old pages, and build new ones.
Every page should have a mailto: and/or some other form of email contact for the creator and/or maintainer of the page/site. Mail should be read and answered at least every two to three days (more often if your page is an institutional or organizational home page). Links to other sites should be checked frequently to determine if the urls are still active and the sites are still useful. Pages should be updated/revised/altered on a regular basis.
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This page created and maintained by Linda Hansen.
Comments and suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Created: 1997/08/20 Last updated: 2010/08/18
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