Site Construction
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Design Goals

The easiest site to maintain is the one that is the least fancy. That is, of course, boring. Information on a page will be ignored if it is not geared toward the people looking at the page. I place people into a few broad categories:

Being technically proficient at the background processes does not necessarily someone can create a useful page of information. Creating a page of information on the Web is a combination skill of a graphic artist and a writer than either of them singularly. The form that the page takes will determine how much effort the person seeing the page must go through to learn the information. This is akin to a textbook but with the added dimension of interactively. Animated GIFs are an example of passive interactively (visual) while forms and hot-links are active. Pages where the user needs to exert the least effort to get the information they want are the best.

Tools

A lot of the larger sites have hired specialized people for doing each section of a page. Being one person I must do all of it. Much tougher. Also much more rewarding since the compliments I get all go to ME!

With the above ideas I have created my pages using what some would consider low-tech programs:

Why such a low tech approach? Glad you asked: $$.

The cost of specialized programs, especially since I do not do this for a living, is not justified. Also part of this is the philosophy (pun not intended) that I have of that if one learns what goes on behind the scenes - and each one of these programs forces your to learn this - the better you can create a page and site.

When I do go to a high tech program I want to know why it did something and how to change that "something" when the programmer did not allow for the possibility of what I wanted to do.

URL References

URLs that point off my site I, by default, have them open up a new browser window when they are clicked on.

Links that will show an example picture I will usually also put into a new window. This allows the person to see the larger image example on the screen while continuing to read text.

I usually do not open a new window for a page that has just thumbnails on it. In this case when the link is activated you will have to use you back button in the browser to return to the calling page. Since the page is a list of images with little textual context there is no need to create a new window while allowing you to read the text explaining the image.

Search Engines

On the web I have my site listed in all the major (and minor) directories and that means I can be found via most search engines. I am listed in Yahoo which took a lot of time since an actual person must review your site and evaluate it. If they do not like it, and the services that you offer, you do not get listed in Yahoo. One reason why it is worth the time and effort to do both a good useful site and to get listed on Yahoo: 95 percent of the sites listed in Yahoo.com are actually useful.

Cool items

A lot of the HTML coding that people are putting on a page are way cool - but functionally I find them of little use. Its back to that old saying "Just because they are there does not mean you have to use them." The goal of the page should determine as to whether to use these cool new items. For most of my pages there is no need to use the really cool stuff. One day when I have a need maybe - - but not now.

Now I concede that I do have some audio clips in here which are not needed. I hope they enhance the visit and I want them to be useful and at enjoyable in some way. If not I certainly want to know!

I also use a few JAVA applets and JavaScripts but they are very functional and not just decorative.

Page Organization

I lay out my pages according to topics. That's how most people think and organize things. Why break a 50,000 year old success story? I also think that nothing should be more than three clicks down from a top level topic. If you want to see this philosophy not applied go to the Microsoft Site. Start at the top and go through their procedures to download an update or add-on to a program. 8 to 12 clicks later you finally get the file you want. On the way to get that file you will come across a lot of clutter on a page hiding the information that you want. Looks cool but makes it hard discern information.

A lot of sites organize their sites according to their INTERNAL structure. This is stupid. People going to a site have no clue of that structure. Forcing people to learn the arcane names of their internal organization (and the continuous reorganization of it) to find the information is intolerable. That is why I state my opinion that you should organize everything according to functional areas. The functional areas will either get absorbed into a new group (name) or stay forever separate regardless of the political structure. There is always a core set of functions will always exist in any company - regardless if that function is in-house or out-sourced. How to interact with that function is always there. It also makes it a whole lot easier on maintenance of a site.

My Process

I thought of the main areas I am interested in and created those categories. Once that was done I thought about the names to use in each section. Since I started out on Prodigy I was restricted and constrained on how they did file names. This is why I initially had all my pages named Axx.HTM names. After dropping my Prodigy account and only having my CompuServe site to maintain I moved toward a mnemonic basis for the file names. Easier for me to remember. It also kept the names short making them easier and faster to type.

Once I dropped CompuServe due to their inability to answer questions and the extreme difficulty in getting reliable phone connections (teaching their tech support how to fix their modems was very annoying) I went to Linkport.

Now initially Linkport had Apache (UNIX) and Mac servers. I was initially running on a Linux box running the Apache web server but in DOS mode so short name. I then got moved onto their MAC server. This change allowed me long file names which I converted to using. Long file names make it real easy to keep pages and categories correct. Then I moved onto a new Linux server with long file name support so I could keep the long file names. Always design with ease of maintenance as one of the top three goals. This constant moves of servers shows why it makes everything else so much easier.

After being on Linkport / Integra for four years I went to an NT system at Interland since Integra were not going to NT anytime soon. With all my development tools being on Windows 98 / NT I had lots of grief having to convert my NT ASP VB stuff into CGI UNIX equivalents. I got tried of doing this double work and moved to Interland as my ISP Web host.

After 4 years on Interland, and the latest lack of info at to when I could convert to DOT NET code, changes in their payment plans (no more options for small customers), high prices, and other reasons, I moved to DiscountASP.NET as a host.

With all the pages in familiar categories and in self documenting form it is easy to move all the like HTML pages associated and static graphic files around - much easier when using Dreamweaver which updates all the links as you move files.

When I set up my CompuServe web site back in 1992 I used the first 4 letters to identify pages and graphics but discarded that method when I moved to a pure host site. (I have over 170 separate pages and over 1500 links on my site.) However, this up front planning make it easier to transition to the taphilo.com account and move from host to host.

Grabbing Attention

With the design finished I had to come up with a way to grab attention on the my home page to convey the most information in the shortest possible time. This has been an iterative process.

I did the old classic method of projecting myself as a user who was looking at my page for the first time and said "would I go on to look further if I saw this page." I also worked the page so that any type of browser would look good when viewing my pages. I also worked it so that with no graphics enabled the information is still readable and useful. My initial working process also included the monitor type to be a 15" monitor at 640 x 480 and 256 colors. A reasonable guess. The trend now is that 85 percent of all people now use 800 x 600 screen resolutions and > 256 colors (i.e. true color) so I moved my site to that resolution standard back in 1999.

Wanting to waste the least amount of space at the top of the page in my personal area but convey the pertinent information for each page I created all the "verbal" graphics. They enhance the style of the site and at the same time they let the user know when they are in my personal area and not the photo commercial area. This use of graphics in my personal area is much better than using HTML H1 H2 tags to describe what the page is about in this case. In the photo area I used the H1 H2 method since I already have images on the page and the extra download time for graphics is not worth the style enhancement.

In my own area I split the words out in the titles into separate graphics. This way if a graphic could be used on another page it could be read via the local system cache and not have to download a new image speeding up the viewing. This method also saves on storage space on my site and on the user's machine. However, each time you use a graphic a separate trip to the server is still needed since the browser MUST check to see if the graphic has been updated - even if it is already in the local system cache. So there is a slight time delay hit when it does this check. If you had 15 to 30 graphics on a page that made up a title it is very noticeable. With only 3 the delay of 1/3 of a second is okay.

Frames, Tables and Style Sheets

Initially I used no frames, then went to frames (with embedded no frame alternates). That lasted two years but when I got over 30 pages I moved to server side includes and plain layout, then added in CSS starting in 2002. I actually skipped using tables for page layout since my design is so clean. Again, the goal was ease of maintenance. The frames worked but problems occurred when jumping from frame to frame and tracking what frame you were in programmatically. It also limited the image placements so after two years I converted from frames to plain layout format using CSS and server side includes.

Summary

I always try do have a menu setup whereas a person is at most three clicks away from any section on the site. Using my name on each page ("branding") lets people know whose site the are on, and the category structure of the site helps at the same time. The different menu in my personal area from my business area lets them know which section they are in easily.

Keeping a site up to date is a challenge. The time needed to devote is around 30 hours a month. Not bad at all. An hour a day. Converting from one format to another, like from frames to CSS, took around 6 hours to do the 70 or so pages that existed in 1998 (195 or so as of September 2005). Now when you want to ADD more pages and features (which I did when I converted) then it gets to be more time consuming.

If it was only a personal site then it would be much lower amount of time to maintain than a commercial one. Maybe 5 hours a month. My site went from a primarily personal into a split commercial personal one in April of 1998.

I initially split it out into three major subject sections: Photography, Reliv and my own personal section. Since my web site was up and running long before Reliv's own site I had more info than they did for a while. They have since "taken ownership" of all information pertaining to Reliv product information so I had to wipe out the 20 or so pages I had concerning these nutritional food items. This leaves just my personal and photography sections to maintain. This keeps it enjoyable for those who are here to purchase my photos services as well as others to enjoy the photos and learn reading my pages.

I designed my own web site. You can always design your own by reading lots of books and having the time to experiment or even by asking friends to do it for you. there are many BIY (build it yourself) menu driven web site companies out there now too. Using templates your can create a basic site in a few hours.

A web designer prepared a quote for a potential client, a bankruptcy lawyer, and sent it along. The bankruptcy lawyer replied with a link to a DIY turnkey web design package. Much cheaper than the web design quote. The web designer, in turn, replied with a few links to DIY bankruptcy packages. The web designer got the job.

 

Spending $ (usually at $75 an hour or more) will of course get it done by having someone else design it. The owner, regardless, still have to do some work to maintain the site in some manner (DIY or outside hire.)

It comes down to personal desire to create it and how much time you have.

Tom Philo

Locally the MultiMedia Internet Developers Group ( http://www.oregon.org/ ) is where to go if you want to learn how to overload a web site.