1998 on the Web
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Monday, March 30
QUICKTIME LATE, BUT READY
WEB SITE MANAGEMENT TIPS
visitors to cruise through
The reality is that most visitors to your site are probably headed somewhere else, looking for some other bit of information. Your site may have been near the top of a search engine's results page, or may be a secondary link from some other page he or she was reading. In any case, your readers are looking for value. They want to be able to peruse your site quickly and determine if a longer stay is warranted.
Think about your own browsing habits. I know I often hit the Web looking for specific data, jumping through a whole list of potential sites until I find the one that has the data I need. I don't like pages that take a long time to load or bother me with splash screens before presenting the real information. For better or worse, the Web has made most of us impatient and intolerant of delays due to poorly designed sites.
Check your site. Do you present a splash screen or other introductory pages before getting to the meat of things? Does a visitor have to wade through several levels of index pages before hitting pay dirt? Or are your pages short and sweet, allowing for quick downloading and rapid scanning? Judge your site from the viewpoint of an anonymous visitor. Are you accessible, or impenetrable? Do you invite a quick scan, or do you force users to work to find what they want?
It's often difficult to make these kinds of assessments of your own site, but visitors are doing it every time they stop by. Make their lives easier and you'll create a happier set of customers who will value your site even when it doesn't have what they're looking for.
Thought for the day: "An expert knows all the answers--if you ask the right questions."
GPS FOR YOU AND ME
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater said, "The new signals will have profound effects on the civilian transportation system and the people who use it, saving time, cutting costs, enhancing safety and providing unprecedented mobility.'' DOT plans to use GPS signals as an essential component of future air navigation systems. The Coast Guard uses augmented GPS signals to provide navigation aids for ports and rivers, while the Federal Highway Administration has numerous ongoing demonstration projects to integrate GPS into auto, truck and bus positioning and navigation systems. Developed by the Defense Department at a cost of more than $10 billion, GPS has grown from its original purpose of providing precise navigation for weapons systems into an information utility. The companies that manufacture GPS receivers have ramped volumes up to the point that the price of handheld GPS receivers is now down to $100 or less per unit.
WEB SITE MANAGEMENT TIPS
Often, Web authors envision themselves as artists, crafting each page as an individual masterpiece. Background art, fancy layouts, snappy graphics, and typographic effects may make your site look great, but they rarely contribute to the value of the information you're trying to convey.
Spend less time making your site look pretty, more time providing valuable information. Here's a simple test: strip all the tags from your pages and read the remaining ASCII text. Is there value in those words? Are you delivering facts to your users? While it's true that some information may be provided by images on your site, the majority of data you deliver is in the form of written words. Are your words making sense? Will users see the value in what you're trying to say?
Once you have users committed to using your site, make their lives easier. Don't advise them to resize their browser window to accommodate your pages. If you can't make your pages look good no matter what the browser window size, you have a serious problem on your hands.
Try to avoid "Under Construction" pages. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a link on a page, clicking it, and getting back an unfinished page. Don't be a Web tease. Either create the page and set it loose online, or disable the link. Incomplete pages are useless. Imagine opening a book at the library and finding the last three chapters blank, except for the words "Under Construction."
Thought for the day: "No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn back."
GATES TO HEAD APPLE
In an equally unexpected development, former Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs today sold his Pixar Animation Studios to Microsoft for a seat on the board of directors. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Speaking in bereaved hushes, remaining Microsoft officials refused to speculate on Gates' replacement, but hinted "it's not likely to be Jobs."
JAVA TO IBM
AOL TO SHOW TAPES
Thought for the day: "Have a happy April Fools' Day everyone."
Andreessen outlined a scenario in which Mozilla, as the Communicator code is called, becomes the GUI that runs on top of a Linux operating system. Netscape is taking steps to make this a reality, including making Linux a "total reference" platform just like Win 32 and Macintosh, and will develop all its products to work with Linux. Third-party developers have already compiled the Communicator code for Linux.
Andreessen's prediction could be bad news for Sun Microsystems, which has often allied itself with Netscape, particularly when it comes to battling Microsoft. Sun's Solaris platform owns nearly 50 percent of the Unix market, so it has much to lose if Linux adoption becomes widespread. But Sun will eventually have to embrace a free source model, Andreessen said, and companies must find a new way to be profitable besides keeping a stranglehold on a platform. He cited Java as a perfect example, saying it is fragmenting despite Sun's efforts to control where it goes. Mountain View, Calif-based Sun would be better off releasing control of the language to the larger development community, Andreessen said.
WEB SITE MANAGEMENT TIPS
One of the top reasons users abandon sites is boredom: they simply get tired of waiting for the site to download. There are several ways you can make sure that your site arrives as quickly as possible over the 'Net:
superfluous graphics. Graphics are huge bandwidth
wasters, no matter how much you think they add to
the overall visual effect of your site.
Background images, in particular, can consume
lots of bandwidth and contribute almost no value
to a site. If you must include images, make sure
you use the
Break long pages up into multiple smaller pages. Users can then download each page quickly, reading as they go, rather than waiting for a single long document to download. This is especially important if you use tables to control document layout. Browsers usually can't display a table until it has been read and sized in its entirety, so a long document, even text-only, contained within a table will appear blank to the user until it's been completely transmitted.
If you must provide graphics, consider providing preview thumbnails and links to the larger full-size image. That way, users can decide if they want to take the time to download the full image, instead of having the image forced on them every time they visit the page.
If your site allows searching, enable users to constrain the search, reducing the time they spend waiting for results. For example, if you provide the ability to find a local reseller of a product, allow the user to enter her state of residence before starting a search. That constraint should make the search much quicker, reduce the load on your server, and deliver the result more quickly.
Thought for the day: "To err is human, but when the eraser wears out before the pencil, you're overdoing it."
NETSCAPE UPGRADE AVAILABLE
WEB SITE MANAGEMENT TIPS
This may seem a bit obvious, but make sure you put links in your pages. Not just links to your other pages, but links to related sites, products, and vendors.
Linking to your own pages is obvious. Make sure that you can reach all of the pages on your site in a logical manner from any other page. This means that every page needs a consistent set of navigation tools that link to the next, previous, and parent pages on your site. It's easy to forget that most visitors don't enter your site via its top-level page. Instead, they wander in three levels down, deep in the document hierarchy, and get hopelessly lost trying to find the rest of your site. There should be an obvious way to get to the main page of your site from any other page, and there should be effective links between related pages on your site.
Lots of sites have effective internal links, but far fewer have effective links to other sites. Remember, it wouldn't be a Web if we didn't link everything together. One of the most significant values you can add to your pages is good links to related sites. This allows the visitor to find other places that may pique his interest, or probe deeper into a topic that you touch on briefly.
There's a simple reason why most sites don't have these kinds of links: it's hard work. It takes time to find links to related sites, and it takes ongoing effort to make sure those links are up-to-date and correct. Still, your job as a Webmaster is to provide value to your users, and those links are important. Take the time to link to related sites, whether it's a site with content similar to yours, a vendor of a related product, or just a site that provides good background material on a word or phrase you use. A link-rich site is far more valuable than a site that's just a dead-end on the Web.
Thought for the day: "I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization." - Detronius Arbiter, 210 B.C.
The violation occurred two years ago and was in part due to unfamiliarity with the rule, said Round Rock, Texas-based Dell, a leader in direct marketing of PCs. "We don't acknowledge any intentional wrongdoing. Our awareness of the rule and capabilities to deliver our products are even better now," said company spokesman T.R. Reid. "This settlement will not have any effect on our relationship with our customers." Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the FTC enforces the rule vigorously to ensure that consumers have confidence in mail transactions.
WEB SITE MANAGEMENT TIPS
Alternative browsers exist for a variety of reasons. There are hundreds of other browsers out there, bundled with other software packages or under limited release from niche vendors. Many "browsers" are, in fact, robots or other automated site indexing tools, using one of several popular libraries of site access tools. While no human will see the results of these browsers, they still need to view your pages in a coherent manner so that they can build their indices or update their search engines.
Alternative browsers also exist for the disabled. In particular, browsers exist for the blind and the visually impaired. How would your site fare when translated to Braille? All those clever images are useless; items that could have just as easily been represented as text are simply lost when rendered as an image instead. Other browsers are intentionally text-only, targeted for user environments where the only display device is a 24x80 dumb terminal. How does your site look when rendered on a 3270 display station?
Another class of browser has graphical capabilities, but in a limited sense. The popularity of WebTV and similar interfaces places great constraints upon the page designer. Can your site stack up when rendered with just a few hundred pixels? How about in a monochrome graphical display in a hand-held PDA? A huge variety of devices will soon have access to the Web, and you may find your site popping up in all sorts of unusual places.
Last but certainly not least, we often forget that most popular of all browsers, the printer. At some point, all of your pages will be printed. Will they look good? Will information be lost due to background image dropout or strange font color conflicts? An increasing number of Web authors are providing links to printer-friendly versions of their sites, with fancy formatting removed and easily printed text flow. You should always take the time to print your pages on a black-and-white printer to make sure things are acceptable.
Thought for the day: "Every man ought to be inquisitive through every hour of his great adventure down to the day when he shall no longer cast a shadow in the sun. For if he dies without a question in his heart, what excuse is there for his continunace." - Frank Moore Colby
MORE POWER TO YOU GUYS
The people calling for the "moratorium" make up the same group of just under a dozen antispammers who have used so-called Usenet Death Penalties to force several ISPs to stop allowing their customers to flood Usenet with spam. But the problem is a lot bigger than one or two ISPs, according to the group. Antispammer Chris Lewis cited statistics showing just how clogged Usenet has become with spam in a posting to "news.admin.net-abuse.usenet" calling for the moratorium. You can view Chris Lewis' call to in-action here.
PAINT SHOP PRO TIPS
While not as popular today as last year, drop shadows are still an attractive graphics effect. Create a selection area using the Selection or Magic Wand tool. To open the Drop Shadow Parameters dialog box, choose Image, Special Effects, and Add Drop Shadow. If the option is grayed out, it means that your image is not a 24-bit color image or a 256-shaded grayscale image. Choose the settings for your shadow--color, opacity level, blur, and offset adjustment. To apply the shadow, click on OK. If you like what you've created, right-click on the selection area to deselect it. If you want to try again, choose Edit, then Undo (or Ctrl-Z).
For more information about the Paint Shop Pro graphics editing shareware, visit Jasc Software, Inc.
Thought for the day: "As the trials of life continue to take their toll, remember that there is always a future in Computer Maintenance." -- National Lampoon, "Deteriorada"
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