So, you want to build a web site but don't know where to begin? Based on my own experience, I have found the following items to be essential to the creation of a viable presence on the web. Sure, other utilities exist that are equal, maybe even better than the ones listed here. However, these are the items that I have used and can speak for.
If you are going to create web sites, the fact of the matter is that you should probably use a 32 bit operating system (OS).
Most web surfers have a browser, and many have two. As a web site developer you will need to be familiar with the latest versions of both 'big gun' browsers: Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. A web page is presented slightly differently on both browsers. You should be aware of your site's appearance and functionality on both browsers at different resolutions (480 x 640 and 600 x 800 at least). Also, each browser supports some unique features. You may have to devise a means to present your site's content in a manner which is satisfactory to both browsers. You could even have a 'front door' that directs the users of one browser to one version of your site and the others to another version. This will become more important with the increased use of Web TV which doesn't support many of the added accouterments of the browsers.
As a site designer you can use a variety of web page editing programs, and each one has its own merits and pitfalls. While I still use my page editor to update my site, I input all of the HTML code by typing rather than by using the provided 'shortcut' buttons. It just seems quicker and I have a better idea of what I want and what I can do and use as I go. The editors are a great way to learn HTML code, though, and I recommend any novice web author use one.
Of course, once the site's pages are complete, the author needs to upload them to a service provider (ISP). Many ISP's give their clients free storage space on the server for web pages. My ISP costs $20.00 / month for 200 access to the internet as well as 10 MB of storage space free. Each additional MB costs $1.00 / month. Check your service provider's agreement to see what options you have for a web site. Some web editing tools provide a file transfer protocol (FTP) utility to send pages to the service provider.
No way can I or anyone else (with the exception of your ISP) tell you what you can and cannot post on your web site. But you should consider content carefully before you 'make your presence known.' In my disorganized ramblings around the web, I have found some truisms that I can pass on to you.
- You must have something that compels people to visit. Call me crass, but I'm not going to visit someone's personal web page just to read about them. Chances are we're not going to meet face to face, so your autobiography won't grill my steak. Do something creative. Make me say, 'Hey, that's a neat idea; wish I'd thought of that.' Then I'll check back every now and again to see what other developments you've made.
- You have to offer the visitor a 'positive' experience. That doesn't mean your site has to be gushing with joy, it only means that the viewer takes something away that s/he didn't have upon arrival (information, a downloaded image, a program, or an attitude all count).
- Update your site frequently. A web site, much like a model railroad layout, is finished when you're finished. When you think you are done and nothing else can improve your site, people stop checking back. Your site becomes the antique store in the old neighborhood, the one with the display window frosted with dust. No one stops by; they've seen it all before. Your counter ticks like the odometer of a parked car. Stagnance in its highest form. Death.
- Keep the bells and whistles to a manageable minimum. Many denizens of the internet choose to 'travel light.' I don't have every add-on and plugin available, nor do I want them all. Many people who visit your site will be using older computers, browsers, and operating systems. Words cannot express the vitriolic odium surfacing when a site's technical 'advancement' slows my browser to a crawl. Use new technologies with care, and please, don't force-feed every single technology down my pipeline at once!
- Break the content into easily consumed portions. You don't eat a Big Mac's two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun in one huge bite, so why cram your Web Page's two all-banner gifs, special Java, links, mpeg, jpg, twirly thing-a-ma-jig on a continuous stream into a solitary html document? Make four or five smaller (read 'quicker') pages rather than one catch-all monster that allows me a full game of Tripple Yahtzee during its download.
- Don't do anything that distracts from the message of your pages. The background should be pleasing to the eye and should not make the text hard to read. Tiled images are the bane of the internet. Using background textures is acceptable as long as the textures don't swallow the text. Many experts claim solid background colors are best, and I tend to agree (although I obviously don't follow that advice myself!). As far as background colors go, pale yellow, and tan are my personal favorites because they don't seem to strain my eyes as much. Red and light blue backgrounds are painful to view for long periods. Black is fine as long as you don't get too wild with the font colors.
- The most important rule to remember is: Ignore the rules. The internet's paradigm is one of unbridled expression. Once you've found your niche, use whatever means you can to get your point across. The so-called 'rules' are mere guidelines (kind of like a speed limit---it's someone else's interpretation of your ability to drive based on data collected from other people's mistakes). When you learn all the answers to building a successful web site, let me know.
My information is far from comprehensive, especially when it comes to programs. If you know of an exciting web tool that should be included e-mail me here!
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