Kaye and Geoff's web page documentation 

Introduction

At this point we are sidestepping from the HTML lessons for a while to cover some topics which relate to creating web sites but are not strictly about HTML. We will do this again later to look at graphics, web tools and CGIs, and now and then digress in a similar way within pages.

HTML editors

HTML files are text files, so they can be created using any text editor. While any text editor will do to enter and modify your HTML, specialist HTML editors can make the task easier and less error-prone. Most provide some way of entering whole tags or HTML structures with a single keystroke or menu item selection, and also colour-code different HTML structures so that they stand out. This means that if you enter an image reference, for example, but it does not display like one in the editor, you immediately know that you have made a mistake - maybe omitted a closing quotation mark or angle bracket.

Here are some links to HTML editors:

Stand-alone web page creation packages

By definition this documentation explains how to write your own HTML, but there are programs which will create web pages for you without requiring you to learn HTML. If you choose to use such programs, you still should put some work into understanding and processing pictures for the web (see our graphics documentation). Be wary of using a Microsoft HTML generator - they are notorious for including large amounts of code which only Internet Explorer can make any sense of. Despite this, we have sometimes used the "save as HTML" feature in Microsoft Word (older versions produce more simple and reliable code than the more recent ones) to rapidly turn large and boring reports sent to us by government departments into basic web pages which we can then rapidly clean up. It is not unusual for us to remove more than 80% of the generated HTML without changing the appearance of the page!

Here are some links for WYSIWYG web page programs:

  • Microsoft Word (PC and Mac) and many other word processors and editors include the ability to save the contents as HTML. The quality of the code produced by these "part time" web page creation programs may be poor.
  • Dreamweaver - The ultimate package - supports style sheets and javascript, has server side tools and inbuilt FTP and much more - needs Aftershock to create HTML
  • Joomla and Drupal are free and available on most Unix-based hosting services
  • FrontPage - now discontinued but may still be found in old copies of Office; produced very non-standard rubbish which even some versions of Internet Explorer could not understand. Replaced by Expression Web and Sharepoint Designer.
  • GoLive - Adobe's entry in the market - claims to support standards and includes the ability to generate Javascript, etc. More useful information is at Golive Essentials
  • Wordpress - described as a blogging package but can be and very often is used to create sophisticated web sites. Often available for free on web hosting sites and has an active developer community. Have a look at Websitesetup for detailed instructions on using Wordpress.

Making your pages available on the internet

Unless you are running you own web server (in which case you do not need advice from us) you will have to move your completed pages to a hosting site on the internet. If you are working within an organisation your webmaster or system administrator will explain how this is done; if you access the internet through an ISP then you will need to use an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program to copy your files to your hosting site. If you are using a web creation program they will generally include the ability to perform this process for you.

Be aware that the transfer process for "text" (HTML) pages may be different from "binary" (other files, such as pictures) and so you may need to tell the FTP program which type of file it is transferring, however modern FTP programs normally work it out for themselves. You can also use the FTP program to delete obselete files on the remote site and set permissions if required. Be careful if your file transfer process fails for any reason before it is completed - this can leave a corrupted file on the server. And remember that if you are using a Unix web server then case matters in file names, and that Unix, Macs and PCs all use different line terminators. Many FTP programs can be set to automatically translate line termination characters as part of the file transfer process.

There are a lot of FTP programs available; here are a few, followed by links to the common browser websites:

Content management packages:

There are also (of course) web-based web page editors, generally called content management systems, which for some reason seem cursed with peculular names. These have the advantage that they do not require any knowledge of HTML, and they usually include features which allow several people to update the web site. There are numerous proprietary examples, but many are open-source and so not only free, but also supported by dedicated web sites where you can get help and advice on how to use them. Most depend on the use of templates, but there are quite a few to choose from so you should be able to find one which will suit your site. They may require your ISP or web site administrator to install them on the server.

The following are links to content management systems:

  • Drupal Free, open source
  • Joomla Free, open source, used to be called Mambo
  • Mysource Free, open source
  • Zope Free, open source
  • PostNuke Free, open source
  • Plone Free, open source, based on Zope
  • Pluck Free, open source, written in php
  • CMSimple Open source, does not require SQL to be installed and many different templates are available

Web site design

We are not qualified to give advice on how individual web pages should be designed, but we will offer some comments on the overall design approach. The most important is that you should consider your pages from the point of view of the people who you want/expect to look at them, not from your own understanding of the subject. For example the most important (to viewers) content should be easily accessable, the language used should be appropriate and the illustrations should download rapidly and they should relate to the text. Do not give overdue prominence to descriptions of your internal organisation, mission statement, and so on, if your customers want to know what a blue widget costs or how many green widgets fit in a box. If you must include the minutes of the last three year's industrial relations meetings on your pages, put them somewhere where the majority who are not interested do not have to get past them to find out what they really want to know.

It is a peculiar feature of web pages that you do not have ultimate control over how a person sees your page. This is not an oversight on the part of the designers of HTML, but the result of a deliberate decision on their part to try to make the web as universal and free of any specific bit of hardware or software as possible. So you should embrace this idea and try to make your pages suitable for viewing by as wide an audience (both in terms of people and computers) as possible.

Accept that some users may have poor sight and therefore will set the text size to be larger than normal, some may only be able to afford an old 640 pixel wide monitor, some may have pictures turned off (they are at the end of a dial-up line) or they may have changed all the default text colours and fonts (they are seven years old and Mum and Dad are out of the way). Nine point text, even the same font, will probably look different on a PC compared to a Mac, so it is best to avoid the smallest text sizes. There are gamma differences between Macs, PCs and Unix systems - gamma is a measure of the brightness of the display, and explains why pictures that appear reasonably acceptable on a Mac can appear dark on PCs. If your pictures look a bit dark (especially Mac users) then lighten them up a bit before adding them to your pages.

Even assuming that your audience has a computer set up in a standard way, you cannot predict what type of computer it will be and what browser they will be running. So you should think carefully before using HTML which only one browser understands, or features of HTML which most browsers are yet to implement. Here are some links to further information on browser incompatabilities:

Universal access

While you may consider that your pages will be of interest mostly to locals, remember that the web is international and endeavour to make it accessable to as many people as possible. Consider the following:
  • Use internationally unambiguous date formats: 12 Oct 2004 rather than 12/10/2004 (or 10/12/2004 if you are American)
  • Use international telephone codes which start with the country code.
  • Make the location of geographical place names clear, for example whether you mean Denmark, the country in Europe, or Denmark, the town in Western Australia
  • Try to avoid words which might be offensive or have different meanings in other countries, for example in Australia an eraser may be referred to as a 'rubber' but in North America....
  • Use the alt attribute within <img> tags and elsewhere, so that blind people who use speaking browsers (or those who have pictures turned off) have some idea that the page includes a picture and what it represents.
  • A significant proportion of people (mostly male) are colourblind, and the commonest form is red-green colourblindness. These people will not easily be able to read a page which uses red text on a green background (or vice versa) or make sense of graphics where the most important elements are red and green.
  • Have a look at Disabled access to the WWW and True web usability - principles over laws

Maintenance

Many web pages are created with great enthusiasm which wears out as time goes on, meaning that correcting errors and updating and improving the content is carried out sporadically or maybe never. With some static information this may not be important, but usually it becomes obvious if pages are out-of-date, and this typically reflects very badly on viewer's perceptions of the entire site. It is even worse if the site is promoting a commercial concern or organisation, since it is likely to reflect badly on the whole business, so in this case no web presence may be better than a badly-maintained web site.

Try to avoid time-dependent statements such as "Yesterday we..." or "Our project will end next week." or "... is coming soon". They date very rapidly, and even if you regularly update such comments, your viewers do not know this and therefore do not know what period they are relative to. If you do have this sort of information on your site then it is better to mention an actual date and be disciplined about keeping it current.

Remember that even if your information is static, or you do review it regularly, that sites you link to can change or disappear. So your review should also include checking your links for validity. There are a number of sites available to help you keep your site shiney and new-looking:

Some of these programs have to run on the server and therefore require cooperation from your ISP/webmaster.

More information

For definitive reference information you may wish to check the WWW Consortium. For a more detailed discussion of HTML composition style, you could also check out: If you want to find (particularly free or cheap) software to help you create your web pages, the following sites have lots to choose from: If you want to have a look at other opinions on HTML and how to write it, try:
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