This is part of a joint presentation with R Ellen Greenblatt and Cynthia F Hashert, both of Auraria Library, Colorado. This first part has a general focus. The second part, given by Ms. Greenblatt and Ms. Hashert, provides a practical case study focused on library technical services.
Abstract for the overall workshop:
This workshop will examine WWW-based Internet site development from audience analysis through design execution. For a practical case study we'll look at the construction of a technical services site. We will address features available currently and in the near future as site building blocks and how to effectively incorporate them into an useful online presence. With a continually growing wealth of online capabilities bombarding us, how do we sort through cascading style sheets, server-side includes, layers, PDF, HyperNews, listservers, Chat, Java, animated GIFs, among others? Effective site design should entice the audience to come.
Table of Contents
|1||Intro||5.1.2||Images||5.5||Installing Windows and Doors||5.9||Hanging your Shingle|
|2||Why Build?||5.1.3||CGI||5.6||Adding Balconies, Lofts, and Spires||5.9.1||Identity|
|2.2||"Why?" for you||5.2||Raising the Walls||5.6.2||CGI Applications||5.10||Choosing your Neighbors|
|3||Design Considerations||5.2.1||One per Page||5.6.3||Helper Applications||5.11||Is it Solid?|
|3.2||The Tenants and the Guests||5.2.3||Frames||5.7||Installing the Phone Line||5.11.2||Stress Test|
|4||Drawing the Blueprints||5.2.4||Tricks||5.7.1||5.11.3||Statistics|
|4.1||Source of Materials||5.3||Building Staircases and Hallways||5.7.2||Web Forms||6||Planning Periodic Remodeling|
|4.2||Architecture Style||5.4||Moldings||5.8||The Writing on the Wall||7||The Porch Light|
|5||Raising the Edifice||5.4.1||Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)||5.8.1||General Guidelines|
|5.1||Laying the Foundation||5.4.2||Other Style Sheet types||5.8.2||Copyright|
For all slides associated with this talk: Use the left and right arrows to navigate from the current slide to the next or previous one. Use the up arrow to return to this talk.
This part of the workshop is geared towards all potential website implementations, whether you're considering a reference desk or a shopping mall.
I realized when I was putting this together that I've spent my whole career immersed in computers and the Internet and the related paradigms for navigating information. It's been a while since I've composed a talk or paper and I seem to have misplaced the art of serial exposition. So my part of the presentation is not linear. While some things definitely precede others, many of the topics I'll cover are better understood as tools in a toolkit to be considered and used as needed.
|2 Why Build?|
When the web was first utilized for commercial use, many large corporations hopped right on with extensive sites. It was estimated that three out of five of them shut down the following year. They had spent too much money for too little return. They hadn't really taken stock of what they were trying to accomplish and whether or not a website was the right move. After all, there's only so much value to online information about a car. When it comes down to it, you want to go down, kick the tires, and drive one before you buy. But, the web was a hot, new technology with lots of promise.
Now the web has become so mainstream that it's a standard part of most corporate PR. But how it's used varies drastically from site to site.
|2.2 "Why?" for you|
So the questions are:
Why do you think a website would be useful?
Who is the intended or primary audience?
How does the intended audience use online technology? One association considering an online publishing program that I spoke with years ago had only a small portion of its members even using computers. They knew their audience. Know yours.
Will you have a secondary audience?
What are the primary goals of the site? secondary goals? Is it to be a resource, a communications vehicle, a commerce tool, or some combination of these?
What kind of resources do you have? Technical, labor, funding
Who is going to create it? In-house? Vended out?
Who is going to maintain it? In-house? Vended out?
How is it going to be served? In-house? Vended out?
Do you have management buy-in?
Many of these considerations will seem obvious to those of you used to developing programs. However, they still get lost at times, both due to the lure of fancy technology features which keep popping onto the scene, and to misconceptions, particularly on the part of decision makers who are further removed from the project and the technology.
The primary point is that an effective website is not really a site at all, but an online program. It's not something to be built like an edifice, but more like a garden or farm, with a variety of plants, seasons, crop rotations, and different fields. Its design is not just layout, features, and navigation, but a planned evolution.
As I was working on this talk, I realized that the building analogy was not quite right. However, I'm going to continue to use it with the caveat that it works for snapshots of the project, but keep in mind that it is an evolving project with a relatively fast pace.
|3 Design Considerations|
|3.1 The Lay of the Land|
Building a dynamic site in a dynamic environment takes some creative planning. A good-sized part of industry is now devoted to increasing the utility of the web. And we get the fun of figuring out what to do with it.
Some of the materials available are essential to any well-structured site, some are useful if targeted well, and some have not made enough impact to seriously consider yet. The biggest thing to remember is that the pace of development for web-related technology is fast. What may be esoteric today may be mainstream tomorrow. Keep up with the pace or be left behind. This doesn't mean that you have to use each new advance, but it does mean that you should make sure that something you are using hasn't become obsolete and that you're still meeting your goals in the eyes of your audience.
And there's much more you should be aware of. Internet technologies have been the product of Internet Engineering Task Forces and similar preceding entities. These IETFs rely on the open participation of the Internet community, which means that people with expertise and interest participate regardless of employment affiliations. Now certainly, employers tend to support an employee's efforts in these IETFs if that employee is a major contributor to the technology. PR still abounds. But the directions that the technologies go are still based on the collective creativity and judgement of the participants.
However, web technology is no longer the product of IETFs. A consortium (W3C), primarily funded by industry, is responsible for the evolution of the web. And to add to this, two of the largest web-related members of this consortium appear to be vying for position by adding competing non-standard features to their web products in an effort to get them incorporated as the standards.
Being aware of this environment will make it easier to decide the value and potential risks of using things like layers, Channels, and similarly browser specific tools on your site.
|3.2 The Tenants and the Guests|
Be aware that tool choices may exclude some of your audience. Design for your primary audience, the tenants, using tools which will reach almost all of them. Excluding some of your secondary audience, the guests, may be acceptable if the tool is useful enough to the tenants.
Before building your site, get to know the audience. Surveys are invaluable for this.
Know the browsers they use. Mosaic, Cello, Netscape, Opera, IE.
Know their level of comfort with associated software and it's installation. It does no good to spend a lot of effort creating a streaming multimedia presentation if most of the tenants aren't DIYers and aren't going to install the plug-in required to view the presentation.
Know how they connect to the Internet: T3, T1, ISDN, 33.6, 28.8, 14.4, 9.6.
Know when they connect. A Saturday morning, 28.8 crowd may be able to handle more than a large, very busy ISDN office during the workday.
Know their computer equipment: SGIs w/ IRIX, 486s w/ Linux, Macs, Pentiums w/ Windows 95, 386s w/ Windows 3.1.
|4 Drawing the Blueprints|
The goals and audience have already been identified earlier in the process. Now it's time to consider the flow of the project along with the design of the site.
|4.1 Source of Materials|
The first consideration is the source of the content. Does it already exist? If so, what will be needed to repurpose it? If not, where will it come from? Whatever it's origin, you'll want to consider the whole process. For instance, if the material were originally for a print publication which is being converted to an online publication it may be worth getting your authors versed in the basic use of an HTML editor instead of the standard word processor. There's a lot of similarity in use and issues like "it's bold and 14pt, is it supposed to be an H1 or an H2?" become moot. This may not be a practical route, but it's worth looking at the entire process from content creation on to determine pragmatics.
|4.2 Architecture Style|
It's a good idea to settle on a style for the site that has a look and feel consistent with the goals of the site. The gravity of a site on criminal justice is not well served with cute cartoon characters.
Carrying a theme throughout the site gives the audience a sense of where they are no matter what page they're on. This is particularly useful given that links can just as easily go directly to the middle of other sites. If your site has a common theme a user will know just by appearance whether she's hopped to another page in your site or to a different site altogether.
|5 Raising the Edifice|
|5.1 Laying the Foundation|
|5.2 Raising the Walls|
|5.3 Building Staircases and Hallways|
Navigation can make or break a site. If it's easy to get around and efficiently find what you want, you'll be happy. If navigation is ambiguous or circuitous, you'll probably try to find the info elsewhere.
Hypertext adds a dimension to structuring material. Don't restrict yourself to serial or hierarchical layouts for the pages. You now have the means to connect pieces any way you can imagine. The key is not to think along the lines of layout of an outline or book. Rather, consider the connections between material and concentrate on how people would traverse the data if they could easily jump from one piece to another. For instance, it can be quite useful to be able to get to a page on CPR from each of the pages on shock, drowning, and heart attacks. And likewise, the CPR page could have links to all of the pages for circumstances that might require CPR.
Think in terms of navigating the information in line with the goals of the site. It's quite acceptable to not provide links that take people on tangents. The site on 1st Aid doesn't need to link to information on causes of accidents just because it deals with them.
Though we've talked about giving the site its own flavor so that it comes across as a cohesive project, there are emerging tools, which can help create and maintain aspects of the site style. Most of these are known loosely as style sheets. The other tool is the Server Side Include.
|5.5 Installing Windows and Doors|
|5.6 Adding Balconies, Lofts, and Spires|
There are many extensions to the web that can be used for many purposes. These basically fall into three categories.
|5.7 Installing the Phone Line|
To best serve your audience, it's good to keep in touch with them. Always provide a way for them to contact you.
|5.8 The Writing on the Wall|
It's useful to publish any policies regarding the site and it's contents.
|5.9 Hanging your Shingle|
|5.10 Choosing your Neighbors|
Linking is a major part of the beauty of the web. However, its use can be abused. And on the flip side, some sites basically keep you inside like the circuitous paths in a department store. If you didn't find exactly what you were looking for, you need to start over again.
People seemed more pleased with a store when the clerk can suggest alternate places to try to find just what you're looking for.
Common courtesy suggests that you get permission to link to someone else's site. If there is any commercial aspect to your site, permission for linking elsewhere should definitely be gotten.
|5.11 Is it Solid?|
|6 Planning Periodic Remodeling|
An integral part of the project should be reviewing all of the steps again on a periodic basis. This doesn't mean starting from scratch necessarily, but it does mean considering all options to determine if you should start from scratch. With changes in your audience, advancements in technology, and new goals, it may be more efficient to start fresh.
|7 The Porch Light|
Critical in the deluge of sites cropping up daily in webspace is being seen. There are all sorts of tricks to getting web indexes to list your site, but webspace doesn't exist in a vacuum. If you are already in touch with your audience via other media, use that to direct them to the site. Regardless of how much the web indexes toil at accumulating all of the sites that exist, they only get part of what's there. Don't count on being found via a web index. Web index search is not very sophisticated and takes a lot of time even for seasoned searchers to find just what they want.
However, it never hurts to use them. Use the meta tags in your web pages to define keywords that the various web index bots will collect to provide an entry for pages on your site. And use one of the handy software tools that will submit your site to a group of web indexes in one fell swoop.