Notes On Web Design And Accessibility
By Dan Byrnes
Dan Byrnes, a New England poet and historian has recently finished a course in web design. This has prompted some thoughts regarding how netsufers might views websites, on inexpensive forms of publishing and on Web accessibility.
A website above all should be confident. The website-creation problems are – to give it all the reasons, functions and information-delivery capacities and strategies the website will need to be confident at doing its job and serving its target group(s) of users. (1)
Since the website we are working on is for an educational institution (the Armidale ITAM website), we as the creators of the website ought perhaps be reading a government style guide or two, website-creation guidelines, and studying, say, a variety of websites made available by TAFE nationally. Just to sort out the models, and to avoid making earlier-made mistakes.
Is a website literate in appropriate terms? Is the designer suitably web literate? How web literate are its users, its target group(s)? Web users are increasingly web literate – which means, web designers need to be increasingly web literate. (2)
Web Literacy as a term goes beyond what is usually meant by an earlier term, computer literacy. Web Literacy refers to ways and awarenesses regarding how and why various kinds of computer literacy have been or can be used on or with websites. The ability to use the Web skilfully is now regarded as a new literary skill. A term already applied to weblogs (“blogs”, or web diaries), is “information literacy”.
Increasingly, webmasters can find WWW resources are growing in sophistication. In the US, Penn State University alone provides a substantial suite of helpful files for students and staff mounting websites on the university's system. It provides an editorial style manual as well as The Penn State Web Style Guide. It provides eg., one file for student use on Secure File Transfer Procedure, which documents four methods of transferring files to and from secure servers.
The latest edition of the Australian Government-issued style guide has been significantly updated to be able to advise its users on “web guidelines”.
Much free help is available, even on advanced programming, as from eg., Matt Wright's script archive at www.scriptarchive.com – free cgi scripts, many written in Perl. We can research web usability at: www.usability.com.
Tyrantula at animalaesthetics.com (linked by Penn State), provides a set of tools for analyzing aspects of web sites such as readability of text, estimated download times, and studying how web sites are listed by search engines. Dr. HTML can help with link validation, HTML style analysis and spell-checking. All of which mean fewer excuses for badly-made websites.
We can also remind ourselves that for many years now, there have been repeated calls for the use of plainer English in government circles, from legislators, bureaucrats, the legal profession, regulators and officials of all sorts. Plain English need not be boring. Our website, anyway, needs to be quickly informative from the point of view of anyone thinking seriously of taking a TAFE course - as we have done ourselves.
Websites are still a relatively new communication medium, full of old and new arts and sciences, but there are few if any reasons why, at the level of language use, any of the formerly-used rules of communication should be abandoned in favour of "website fashion"... as those rules have been used in newspapers and magazines for centuries now.
But we may as well say also, that some of the rules or customs of communication to be used on websites are also reflected in advertising as carried in newspapers and magazines - including at times the use of graphics.
We often find websites or webpages with many typographical errors which badly need proofreading... due to misspelled words, poor layout, poor writing.
Evidently, it simply does not cross the mind of many webmasters to simply print out their website and proofread, or find a friend more literate than themselves (and less preoccupied with "programming") to check the website contents.
Are the webpages printer-friendly?
This raises a related issue - are the website's pages printer friendly? This is another reason for any website to be printed out so its design can be reassessed from the point of view of a netsurfer - and their printer.
Web page printer-friendliness can relate to a great many other issues about website design, and here the views of web usability guru, Jakob Nielsen provide valuable guidance. (See Nielsen's views at www.useit.com/ and see also: www.webpagesthatsuck.com/)
And if we have for example consulted Jakob Nielsen's guidelines, we will find that good, clear and effective communication style is simply one of major design elements of a website.
There are opinions, and my own website experience confirms it, that writing for web pages is comparable to writing advertising copy. That is, brevity, clarity and succinctness should be the goal. In practice, this pans out to mean that the website should carry about one-third the words that might originally have been written for it. This means tight editing, and the kind of tight editing that needs some self-criticism and self-discipline. It's easy to find bad websites which are good examples of poor editing, there are thousands of them.
Web page writing style should also be clear and unfussy because, and as far as I can work out, from personal experience, from watching netsurfers old and young, experienced and inexperienced, from survey results, from discussions, IT newspaper pages, people rarely read websites - they merely scan them or consult them to find if some set of useful facts are actually available on the website.
(I mean "consult" here in the way we look up a telephone book, we look up a number or two and then close the book. People often do much the same with web pages. So web pages need to be written for this kind of reader.)
We will never know what proportion of our website users actually print out one of our pages and read it closely. However, the page should be prepared for this sort of use.
Most of the time, the web page reader will not resemble the reader who reads a novel (linear reading), or most of a newspaper (non-linear reading), or studies any sort of manual except perhaps a computer manual.
The web page reader is more like the person scanning a tourism brochure, or reading billboards as they drive to work. The web page read should be a quick read. (And we note here in passing, if you seriously want to slow down a reader, it's very easy to do. Just use as many commas as possible.)
It might also be an interesting way to regard the web page reader as being in a similar situation to someone who is reading something and being spoken to by a friend at the same time. Obviously, the more attention that is paid to what the friend is saying, the less attention will be paid to what is being read. People often consult web pages together, and talk while doing so.
This suggests that web pages should be written for readers who are giving much less than 100 per cent attention to the written material actually presented, while they are also busy perceiving graphics.
In educational circles is a view that with websites, we are not reading “words”, we are reading hypertext – and are experiencing a multi-linear information-delivery.
By the way, it's true that a good picture can be worth a thousand words. But is a bad picture as bad as reading a thousand badly-written words? You decide.
The emphasis on written words on web pages is of course even more reduced when we consider questions of good, non-confusing navigation, and use of graphics. The better the navigation, and possibly the more graphics used of an explanatory nature, and the better the graphics are and the more effectively they used, the less need arises for words on a page.
In this zone, website writing vis-a-vis web page design moves closer to the usual styles and methods of writing used for producing advertising copy. Pacy and able to get across quickly.
Options versus confusions
But here also, one must remain aware of the effect on the netsurfer of replacing words with navigational options, graphics, or some other features of a website. Questions arise: are there too few words? Too many graphics? These are all questions of balance.
Try to grade the number of choices and options the web page user has to consider. Or, to deal with at any one time. Say, no more than seven at any one time. If more than seven options are going to appear, then maybe use some sub-menus. Which may mean a re-design situation, major or minor? A re-think on navigation?
The problem of the monitor screen
The computer monitor is merely a small TV set. Hands up all those who regularly read TV. Ok!
In regard of the computer monitor - the browser and the monitor screen are a great place to find where some interesting information is located (at a URL). But the monitor it is not a good place to actually read and understand. Consider, that anyone using a computer is already rather busy-minded, if not a little speedy, so don't overload the netsurfer's headspace.
Here arises yet again the issue of printer-friendliness. The page should be fully printable on ordinary A4-size paper with normal margins. Often we find from the Net, a page with words not being printed fully, mostly on the right-hand margin; or sometimes on the left.
Far too many webmasters set their pages too wide as they work on them, and what they find is that a range of printers in netsurferland will not be able to print a useful page. And except where strong motives prevail of protecting copyright (literary or commercial copyright), I can't imagine why so many webmaster post webpages that will print - a blank page. What's the point?
A little physics is interesting to consider. You might never find out if your website user has some physical or ergonomic problem which reduces the time they can spend on your website.
Wensel cites facts: the computer monitor gives a reader problems that the printed page does not. Computer monitors cast light into a reader's eyes.
Computer monitor light is not steady, it is flickering between about 65Hz-90Hz. People blink less when peering into computer monitors, which dries out their eyes. Eyes get tireder, and the user is more likely to miss important information.
That is, one of the major components which help information delivery from the Internet, the computer monitor, is simply not so comfortable to use for a proper reader's proper purposes.
Ask yourself, apart from questions of information about how to use some software, or some downloaded programming or a manual for it, just how much time you spend doing serious reading for longish periods on the Net. Very little, I'd predict. If people want the information, they can copy it or print it. Which in turn pressurises the question - how printer-friendly is the website?
Observe the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid
One of the best definitions of proper computer literacy - and a first rule of good navigation is - from www.webpagesthatsuck.com - clearly show people where to go. Keep them aware of where they are. Show them where to go next. And it goes without saying, never develop a website which captures the netsurfer and refuses to let them get out and go elsewhere!
It always used to be said in journalism, that at The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, the newspaper was written for a twelve-year-old, using sentences of no more than 25 words. This is a good way to approach writing for the Web.
It's been said that with the best websites, all the best principles of good design will remain invisible to the netsurfer. This is easy to say, harder to imitate, and even harder to actually accomplish. In practice, it also means for web designers: NO SHOWING OFF!
Is the website reader-friendly and usable?
Web Literacy as topic is rapidly merging by now with discussions of website design, on and off the Net, certainly in the US. Here, I've found it convenient to take notes from Susan Wensel's website (USA) - which is standard fare and a useful introduction to the Jakob Nielsen approach to website usability. 3
We also find a useful educational model here being: Jonathon Reinhardt and Katherine Isbell, Building Web Literacy Skills, The Reading Matrix, Vol. 2, No. 2, June 2002. Their model is broadly similar to the model TAFE is using right now, minus the programming.
Websites (unless they are highly personal in intent) should not be written from the point of view, "What do I want to say", the "I" being here perhaps the programmer, the client, or even worse, both at the same time.
Websites should be written in terms of what the user needs or wants to know. Ask: What does the reader need? Ask also, if the website is worth revisiting? And by the way, if people do revisit, what sort of reward are they going to receive for doing so? More of the kind of information they want? If so, what steps will be taken in the interim to post that extra information, or revised information. Which of course, has to do with site maintenance.
Websites should be designed for easy revision, update and maintenance - more so if it is hoped the website will grow larger.
Wensel recommends that in order to find what information to post on a website, make a survey of the kinds of questions asked of the operation by phone callers, visitors, emailers, clients or customers, etc. The web writer needs to know what sort of information is usually given out by the operation, out-of-cyberspace, and also, what information the client or customer usually has to provide about themselves if they wish to deal with the operation.
Wensel asks: how many hits are each page of the website getting? Can low numbers of hits be increased by improving the information on offer? Actually, this is a very difficult area for the website writer to consider when page revision is considered. Of course, if you post a five-page website, one of the pages will turn out to be the least popular, whatever you do.
But worse, it is not merely a question of hits to pages. These days, many hits to websites can come from robots, or search engine webcrawlers doing indexing work, or checking the popularity of websites in terms of other sites linked to them. Or from viruses and worms. There are now many agents roving the Net, causing hits to pages which are not worth counting.
But there are related here, questions of page visits, duration of page visits, the navigation tracks that users make through a website (does this contribute to variations in page visits?). Methodologies for measuring these aspects of netsurfer behaviour are still primitive (in my opinion). There is much waffle spoken here, particularly by those wishing to chase advertising revenue from websites.
Ask yourself (Wensel says), if certain information is important for the user, how will they be provided with the information? Does the user have different information needs which can't easily be met on the same page? If so, you might have an extra consideration for the site navigation. (One option here is way to answer a question from the user's point of view: What am I looking for?
Another option is provision of a basic FAQ section.
Wensel emphasises, ease of updating a website, keeping it recent and accurate. Your website is competing for attention with a great many other forces - office chat between workers, time pressures, and at home, a crying child, a fight between children, TV or radio programs.
Wensel recommends also, keeping track of reviews of web pages, hits to them, notes being made, perhaps, on when revisions are made. Which amounts to some extra work for some people. Who is going to write the website history?
Time is short, and the ugly truth is...
Your web page, according to recent research, has only three seconds to grab the user's attention, and keep it. (Indiana University: http://www.iun.edu/~webnw/guidelines/). Some years ago, the grab-time was regarded as 10-15 seconds. Now it is seen as only three seconds.
Netsurfers merely skim-read or scan web pages. Jakob Nielsen says that only 16% of website users read each page word by word. Web readers skip big blocks of text not due to content, just because they are harder to understand and take time.
What netsurfers do respond to are visual landmarks, such as headings, bullets, bold or italicized text, numbers, or hyperlinks. One may as well say here, graphics, certain kinds of graphics, are important. Here, the words are also visuals.
At which point we tend to find, website users are not necessarily looking for visual or other entertainment (flashing lights, glitzy graphics, cute mouseovers, avant-garde nonsense). They are looking for landmarks, navigation, they want to know which way to turn next.
Too many webmasters mistake this search for landmarks for opportunities to provide dazzling and maybe confusing graphics. Due to research on such questions, many confusions have been stripped from government-type websites in recent months/years - around the world.
Vocabulary and reading ease
In the US, the Dept. Administrative Services (DAS) recommends that websites have a reading ease of 55-65, a measurable figure, suitable for the US 8th-10th grade educational levels. Which explains for example why so many web pages today are pitched at what looks like an introductory level.
Special steps should be taken if a website is going to present information that is more in-depth than the introductory level, and care should be taken with the vocabulary used. (See DAS Web Style Guide, http://www.das.state.or.us/DAS/webguide.shtml/)
Regarding vocabulary, Wensel recommends the KISS principles. Use simple and shorter words. Many people have trouble with more than eight letters in a word, or three syllables. Avoid technical jargon. Use commonly-used words. (4)
Use short sentences, as these will convey fewer ideas and so will be easier to understand. But remember, you are not writing for idiots, or for the uneducated. You are writing for people who want to absorb desired information as quickly as possible. Assume your netsurfers have time pressures.
For most websites, the varied educational and intelligence levels of netsurfers will tend to mean that the information will be pitched to people who fall into two basic categories - those who are unfamiliar with the information, or those who have time pressures. You don't need to appear smart; you do need to deliver your information efficiently from your website.
If a sentence begins to convey two or more ideas at once (by use of colons, semi-colons, subordinate clauses (while, if, although), or due to use of qualifications and distinctions, then two sentences ought to be used. Complex sentence structure slows down reading speed. So do commas. Keep paragraphs short, with say a five-line maximum.
Wensel suggests keeping web pages short, no more than one-and-half-screens. This is actually a very confined space. And I can only think of one website I have ever seen which confronted the netsurfer with a pointer to everything major on the site, explained itself, and provided all the basic information necessary for starters - using one screen only. (5)
So, our website should begin to explain itself in the small space of one-and-half screens!
Readability resources in MS Word
Wensel suggests we read the Readability Statistics in MS Word. Go to Tools, Options, drop down menu, Spelling-Grammar, checkbox for show readability statistics, check OK. This can allow you to copy your web pages into a word document and give them a spelling and grammar check. To which I would add, get someone who knows the English language to properly proofread a website, MS Word will miss a lot of things.
This MS checking system applies the Flesch Reading Ease measurement tool, (1-100, with the higher scores indicating a better readability). And the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level measurement tool. (indicates which educational level the material is pitched to).
Wensel suggests: the goals should be, using these two measurement tools, Reading Ease to be 55-65, and Reading Level, the US grades 8-10. (In Australia, possibly Year8-Year9?)
Here is just a little of what MS software can inspect regarding your text: fragments, run-ons, misused words, negation, noun phrases, possessives and plurals, questions, relative clauses, clichés, colloquialisms, jargon, contractions, passive sentences (use the active voice), gender-specific words, sentence lengths, unclear phrasing and structure. “wordiness”, split infinitives – and much more.
By the way, it seems that no one can use apostrophes properly anymore. That doesn't mean you should misuse them. It means you should have your website properly proofread so you don't spread the disease.
There are by the way, many measurement tools which can be used to test reading levels. But there are traps for young players. I once used one on a newspaper I worked for, to see if we were too far above the level recommended by The Daily Telegraph. This test got caught out by something very Australian.
The test disapproved of words with a larger number of syllables. As a result, it disapproved of a lot of Aboriginal and place-name words. These words gave us a high count. But if those words were deleted from the count, our reading level was ok for the type of newspaper we were. This sort of oddity can also apply to methods used to test the readability of a website. Meantime, ask yourself how someone in Scotland, or Russia, is going to cope with one of our Aboriginal words, such as "Kamilaroi", who were one of the tribes of Northern NSW, or an odd place name like Condobobolin.
Wensel says, each time a web page is updated is an opportunity to make the page more useful to readers. And she suggests, this is even more so if anyone happens to be moving from one content management system to another. (Eg, a website being moved into Dreamweaver from eg., MS FrontPage, or in a larger organisation, moved to any new-wave Content Management System.)
How netsufers read websites - now and in the future
Moving deeper into theories of website literacy – considering users' points of view now and in the future... (6)
Since before mid-2002 in the US, building Web Literacy skills has been growing as a specialist topic in educational circles, but less so in Britain and Canada. Some of the major propositions are that: the definition of (print) literacy is changing; students need help in developing and understanding, and applying specialized computer literacy skills. (Partly as these will relate to participation in the global economy.)
Computer literacy skills are different from those used with printed materials. Much information available on the Net is unregulated, so student need to develop critical thinking skills and strategies to examine and evaluate such information.
Social theorists and literary scholars now tend to believe that Internet use is changing the definition of literacy. (I agree.) Net-familiar literacy now involves being able to make sense of and navigate through various forms of information, including images, sounds and animation, or, say, a well-done CD-ROM production.
Educators now have a duty to provide explicit skills for students who will have to read, comprehend and extract information from the Net. (7)
Some 65% of webpages are in English (almost 4.5 billion or so by now, as Google will indicate).
"Web literacy" is pitched at the point where computer literacy (technical skills needed for computer use) merges with information literacy - which involves "the practical skills involved in effective use of information technology and information resources, either print or electronic". (From Kirk, 2000).
So Reinhardt and Isbell (p. 1) define Web Literacy as: "the technical, critical and analytical skills users need to effectively locate and evaluate online information according to their personal or academic needs."
Students will be encouraged to critically examine and evaluate online information. "Reading hypertext is a unique, non-linear experience that cannot be easily equated with reading traditional, linear printed text." (And even so the authors seem to overlook the implications of youngsters being encouraged to deal with interactive-style websites from their earliest years).
Students will be taught browser-use skills, knowledge on the structure and organization of the Internet, WWW, websites and webpages. Students will deal with learning modules on such matters, dealing with vocabulary related to browser use, often in a learning-by-doing context.
Students will be taught to read sub-text, to read between the lines, how to evaluate what is not said, how a writer's assumptions can colour a set of information. More is involved than just simple decoding and comprehension of the text. Students will also be encouraged to critically evaluate their own reactions to information they encounter.
Students will be shown the contrasts between traditional linear text like novels, semi-linear texts like magazines, and user-driven, multi-linear hypertext environments like websites.
They'll be taught how to evaluate website structure, organization, navigational elements and design theme. Students will also be taught how to regard and assess websites with unknown authors or sponsors, outdated information, questionable purpose, unclear URLs and poor design features. How the website addresses its users, successfully or not. Consider web page authoring. Expand technical skills.
And worldwide, one educational ambition is to encourage language teachers around the world to teach students - website literacy. Which seems mildly revolutionary!
Web Survey Skills will include:
World Wide Web Basics (how to use a browser, navigation skills, file basics).
Website Structure Basics (analysis of text, images, navigational elements, internal vs external links).
Website Content Basics (critical reading skills re website author(s), audience, website purpose, URL basics, evaluate success of the website purpose, assess how current the contents are, find out who sponsors the website, and why).
(NB: We find at www.sausage.com, the distributors of HotDog, a supertool they provide commercially called “SafeSurf”, which advises on website contents in terms of The Safe Surf Ratings Standard.)
Strategies for Web Searching (re organizing information, using search engines, applications of keyword development for web searches, practical sessions after brainstorming on sets of keywords).
All this as four, self-directed online learning modules - which are available online at:
http://www.miyazaki-mic.ac.jp/arc/websurveyskills/index.html. (Unfortunately, a 404, this website did not appear for me!)
In short, if this educational outlook progresses, and there seems every reason why it should progress, it means that in five years or more, a great many nineteen-year-olds around the world will be quite sophisticated in using the Web in a multitude of ways - which places considerable pressure on all website designers..
As this educational generation gets older and teaches its own children its skills and outlooks, such people will be highly critical, able to organize and re-organize increasingly larger sets of relevant information, and able to spot and then ignore a badly-done website on almost any topic one could name. They will be frightening.
As well, it is easy to consider further implications of this multi-linear literacy revolution...
(1) The costs of computer labs/equipment in educational institutions, for teaching of Web Literacy;
(2) Provision of classes in Web Literacy for Adult Education programs, and provision of general information about job opportunities. (8)
An inexpensive form of publishing
Websites are a relatively cheap and easy way for all sorts of people around the world to self-publish on an uncountable number of topics. But none of this provides any excuse for a badly-done website. Why are so many websites so poorly proofread? I've had some parts of my websites criticised for this myself, by the way, by emailers who tend to have very strong views on these matters. And when I looked, I found they were generally quite right.
By the way, do not confuse style sheets (Cascading Style Sheet), with publishing style, or house style. “House style” is an old term used by publishers and newspapers regarding their favoured fonts to use, style of language to use in various circumstances (eg, formal or informal), captioning style, what sort of words to use in italics, or not. Publishers impose house styles for many reasons, but one reason is that all staff merely have to look up the house style book to make a decision on how to render something. (Is the Queen the queen or The Queen, her majesty or Her Majesty?) Of course, this saves time and money.
There's no reason to compile your own style book. Just find one at your nearest university, or quality bookshop; or buy the Australian Government's style guides for all sorts of publications from a bookshop. There is much to be learned about all sorts of styles of expression, and types of publication in “the government style guide”.
Style guides are also very handy for settling potential arguments in offices about how to be consistent.
Keep in mind as well that Australians use three different types of spelling: British-English, Australian- English and American-English. Do not mix the styles, as this is bad form and people will notice. For Australian-English consult the Macquarie Dictionary. Not Microsoft! (9)
Points/Recommendations - two kinds of markets and return visitors
Personally, for practical purposes, I regard websites as appealing to two basic target groups. The family market, or the non-family market. Of course, a huge number of topics could be in either basket. We don't actually need here to think about the non-family market.
The family market is basically the market where – the responsible parent will have no objection to their children of any age viewing a particular website. The family-market website is basically non-objectionable. If you have a website for this market, you may as well maximize its virtues and try to widen its appeal as far as is reasonable.
We cannot say the same thing about websites for the non-family market at all. About the family market, the point is not that the child may be interested in the website, or not. The point is that neither they nor their parents will tend to be offended if children view a particular website.
Because, if family folk are offended, they will probably not return, and websites should attract return visitors.
As to "information vs knowledge", I have a copy of Encyclopedia Britannica (1962), and given this, I would observe that there are still few really useful encyclopedias available on the Net. However, what is available online does tend to compensate in range for what might be lacking in depth.
The point for serious seekers of information is to supplement online gleanings with material from books, and vice versa.
And finally, of course, no discussion of Web Literacy for adults can be complete without mention of, regular intake of, and appreciation of - Dilbert cartoons. Which fix a gimlet eye on the evils of how most of the above has been and remains so idiotically regarded, around the world, in "management circles"!
Web editor kits: some practical considerations
From users’ points of view, websites should in general be able to used in cross-platform and browser independent information-handling situations.
It is helpful for webdesigners to become familiar with a range of web editor kits, not the least because of recent discussions, as from Joel Spolsky, of usability in general vis-a-vis Content Management Systems (CMS), which are useful for large organisations.
Just a few kits to consider are: MS FrontPage. Sausage Software HotDog (and now its sub-varieties for juniors). Macromedia Dreamweaver (the world's top-class web editor kit). Trellian (a free download). Open Office. MS FrontPage. (XML-based, open source software, free download, and with a cost-free method of producing PDF files). Spolsky's XML-based CityDesk Lite (free download) is a way to experiment with Content Management System-style website development (CMS), and this experience leads on to the idea of multi-workers (as in a newspaper) independently and semi-independently loading new material to a large website.
I have been using HotDogV3-5 for so many years, I forget why I first decided to use it. I do not actually know anyone else who has used it!
Anyone wanting to refine their outlook on CSS, and for extra clarity about matters typographical, should spend time studying the zen garden website on CSS. (See: www.csszengarden.com/)
Recent versions of MS FrontPage have some interesting features, including sets of templates to use (purpose-built designs, plus pre-fab code for discussion groups, forums, etc.). Plus an ability to deliver a set of reports, some visual, on conditions/state of a website as it is improved, in terms of navigation, tasks completed/uncompleted, integrity of internal and external links, broken links, lists of oldest files, or recently-added files. Examination of folder structure and individual pages.
To assess aspects of website design success – marketing, design, accessibility and user experience - webdesigners can find these web features can be part-measured by a check at SilkTide SiteScore, at www.sitescore.silktide.com/.( 10)
Increasingly, we can find sets of software, or services offered on the Net, which can assess the effectiveness of many features and characteristics of websites. Such as W3C (on HTML, CSS and other code validations, advice on technical specs). CSE (Lite) HTML Validator V6.5.
Quite apart from questions of pure programming, and MS software in its entirety, both the PC and the open source computing worlds increasingly offer handy software assisting the webmaster, much of it free. Such as:
Belarc Advisor (free), which lists all the resources on a computer (and changes to them). Adobe Reader V6 (free) can quality test one's own-produced PDF files. Copernic Desktop Search V1.1 (free) is simply marvellous, as I found out only two weeks ago. WS-FTP (free) is now merely one of many aids for file transfer protocol work - upload of websites. Irfan View V3.15 (free or commercial) is a lightweight viewer of many graphics file formats, very handy for quickly switching graphics in and out folder structures, and quickly identifying information on an individual graphic. Sausage Software's Web Downloader V1.25 (not free, but an add-on for a commercial package) is efficient at copying entire websites for study or other purposes.
That is, unless you study several entire websites downloaded from the Net, it will remain likely that the only other websites you study in entirety will be ones you create yourself. Which for the novice is likely to remain an inadequate situation.
Web accessibility, redesign, rethinking
Worldwide, governments have ordered that their departments' websites must be readily accessible. The risk for government departments and more self-respecting businesses which do not provide fully-accessible websites (as for those with disabilities), include: litigation, costly settlements, poor reputation, bad publicity, and potential loss of business. (11)
At www.watchfire.com/products/webxm/accessibilityxm.aspx, or Watchfire, a service is available enabling "web accessibility compliance".
Intimidatingly for novice webmasters, the Watchfire service offers 90 web accessibility checks (per page) and delivers reports detailing how a website might not comply with a variety of recommendations. Which seems extraordinary!
Today, many website experts offer commercial services for website assessment and redesign - eg for "website structure and design assessment services". See www.webtrend.net - whose own website is somewhat bland, I thought.
Rather surprising is a service for the corporate market from www.diamondbullet.com/usability-services.txl.
Diamond Bullet emphasises user-centered website design and user-proven designs. But here, one might ask, what is a .txl file extension? It comes from TXL, which is an arcane programming language for expressing transformations of trees (see: www.txl.ca/nabouttxl.html/)
TXL programming language is a hybrid, functional and rule-based language with unification, implied iteration and deep pattern match. It can be used for software engineering, database and document processes, provide help for design layout for silicon chips, and aid the tasks of reverse engineering.
But I cannot work out if a consultancy for user-centered website design and redesign, whose own website files have a file extension I've never heard of before, derived from a programming language I find indescribable, is being cute, witty, clever. Or stupid.
Presumably, they want to keep their varieties of coding recommendations under wraps. But their website does navigate well. So well, I thought it is worth copying and studying!
Which is to say that today, the Net is so informative about website-design-questions, it is almost impossible to ask a serious question about anything, and fail to learn something useful or new.
Andrew Bonime and Kent C. Phlmann, Writing For New Media: The Essential Guide to Writing for Interactive Media, CD-ROMs, and the Web. New York, Wiley, 1998. (An excellent book. With chapters on Interactivity. Books/eBooks. Intrinsic Interactivity: Some Media are Already Interactive. Linear Writing vs Interactive Writing. How to Think Interactively. How to Plan and Present an Interactive Title Idea. Planning for Interactivity in a Linear Title. Interactive Grammar. Interactive Sentences - Designing the Perfect Data Chunk. Here, chapter 14 recommends using Sidebars, how to integrate footnotes, bibliographies and supporting material. Chapter 15 presents: Understanding How Interactivity Affects User Comprehension and Retention. Part 4 of this book, chapter 16+, is on Interactive Storytelling, including story branching, Plot Complexity and Chaos Theory (all too post-modern for me!). Part Five presents material on: The Technology of Interactive Publishing, eg., CD-ROM vs Online. Layout. Web Journalism (before it was called "blogging", or, web logging). Content Automation. And see p. 181, the three basic zones driving the economic models for online publishing are (a) advertisers (b) offers on subscriptions (c) commerce. While I am more interested in presenting more literary sort of material online, for which there is almost no economic model. In this book the emphasis for online writing is thus: (1) Write less (2) Write concisely (3) Write using sidebars (a term imported from newspaper design tradition) (4) Use pictures and multi-media sparingly (5) Allow for searching of words/phrases/topics. But here, personally, more so for young students, I would recommend that Web writers also provide a clear indication to users of websites of just how complex the consideration of any topic can become. Even if only by way of providing a bibliography (or "weblography", a list of URLs) on more advanced readings/presentations on a topic.
Chris Brock, Inspiring Creative Web Design: Part Present Future. Crans-pres-Celigny, Switzerland, 2002.
Michael Clark, Cultural Treasures of the Internet. New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1995. (Concerned with the Internet and "Information Revolution, this title already looks-n-feels quaintly old-hat, but is exceedingly well-intentioned.)
Paul Kahn and Krzyszof Lenk, Mapping Web Sites. Crans-pres-Celigny, Switzerland, 2001. (Very detailed, and almost an art book on websites. Treats mapping hypertext, techniques of how to visualize the design or uses of websites.)
Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide: Basic Principles for Creating Web Sites. Edn 2. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001. (An excellent book on basic approaches and design principles. A preface states: "no communication device is more inexpensive or far reaching..." We find that after the invention of the WWW, the inventors had emphasised the structure of documents, more so than how to use the structuring elements skilfully and with style, and tended to ignore visual elements. Then came a growing role for graphic designers, who tried to apply a range of tactics for webpage design, and also tried to tighten designs. (This was due to the relative "looseness" of a webpage as compared to usual tactics used for print media design. Writers, however, barely got a look in.) Then came a later phase, still with us, with website users wanting more breadth, depth and integrity. Sections of this book are illuminating on: website pre-planning, even with the use of "information architects". The pithy phrase is used, "scope creep", as applied to the dismal webpage design tactics employed by webmasters who originally failed to properly plan a website, and later try to cope with futile strategies as the website grows - or is forced to grow. (One could well accuse www.microsoft.com/ of this crime!) I personally know one webmaster with severe "scope creep" problems by now, who did not know enough about website design when they began, and is now in deep design and presentational trouble. Also, this person uses MS FrontPage. One design problem this website has, more so as it tries to keep up with trends, is a need for archiving, restoring or deleting of old material.
Bryan Pfaffenberger, Computers In Your Future. New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 2002. (General issues.)
Jonathon Reinhardt and Katherine Isbell, Building Web Literacy Skills, The Reading Matrix, Vol. 2, No. 2, June 2002.
David Siegel, The Art of Third-Generation Site Design. Edn 2. Hayden Books, Indianapolis, 1997. (Containing interesting samples of workable code.)
Tay Vaughan, MultiMedia: Making It Work. Edn 3. Berkeley, California, Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 1996. (More on technical detail and how to use it.)
Vivid Studios (Compilation), Careers in MultiMedia. Emeryville, California, Ziff-Davis Press, 1995. (Wide-ranging on types and sub-divisions of work, even on hiring-and-firing, workplace relations, some legal aspects of multimedia work.)
Robin Williams and John Yollett, The Non-Designer's Web Book: An Easy Guide to Creating, Designing and Posting Your Own Website. Berkeley, California, 1998. (A title extremely useful for expanding on the ideas I present elsewhere here, for checklisting tasks accomplished as a website project develops.)
British Government: Cabinet Office Advice on Website Development: ("Checklist, specifying your website") at: cabinetoffice.gov.uk/e-government/
Jakob Neilsen, website usability guru at: www.useit.com/
CSS Zen Garden at: www.csszengarden.com
Diamond Bullet (Usability Services, USA) at: www.diamondbullet.com/usability-services.txl/
Today, many website experts offer commercial services for website assessment and redesign - eg for "website structure and design assessment services". See: www.webtrend.net/.
SafeSurf: (Promoted by Sausage Software at: www.sausage.com, the distributors of HotDog web editor kit. A supertool they provide commercially, “SafeSurf”, which advises on website contents in terms of The Safe Surf Ratings Standard, the origins of which I did not note.
SilkTide SiteScore at: http://www.sitescore.silktide.com/
Trellian web editor kit at: http://www.trellian.com
Tyrantula at animalaesthetics.com (linked by Penn State), provides a set of tools for analyzing aspects of websites such as readability of text, estimated download times, and studying how web sites are listed by search engines.
USA - Dept. Administrative Services (DAS): See DAS Web Style Guide, http://www.das.state.or.us/DAS/webguide.shtml/
Web Accessibility at Watchfire: www.watchfire.com/products/webxm/accessibilityxm.aspx, for a service enabling "web accessibility compliance".
Web Guidelines (generally): Indiana University: http://www.iun.edu/~webnw/guidelines/
Website Usability (or, its opposites) at: www.webpagesthatsuck.com/
Web Usability: at: www.usability.com/
Susan Wensel (URL did not print): At University of Oregon. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Wright's Script Archive at: www.scriptarchive.com/ – free cgi scripts, many written in Perl.
1 One notes here that in discussion of Web Literacy, use is made of an inappropriate metaphor, and I wonder why. The phrase is used, "target audience" of a website. Why audience? No one is speaking. Consulting a website can be a very silent activity. So in my opinion, websites do not have audiences, they have users, who mostly are individuals who may have no obvious connections with each other, except perhaps curiosity about a particular website and its contents.
2 Andrew Bonime and Kent C. Phlmann, Writing For New Media: The Essential Guide to Writing for Interactive Media, CD-ROMs, and the Web. New York, Wiley, 1998. (An excellent book., p. 181, the three basic zones driving the economic models for online publishing are (a) advertisers (b) offers on subscriptions (c) commerce. While I am more interested in presenting more literary sort of material online, for which there is almost no economic model. Here, personally, and more so for younger students, I would recommend that Web writers also provide a clear indication to website users of just how complex the consideration of any given topic can become. Even if only by way of providing a bibliography (or "weblography", a list of URLs) on more advanced readings/presentations on a topic.
3 See a website by Susan Wensel - URL not printable - at University of Oregon. email@example.com.
5 I was so impressed at the time, I found this website had been created in New Zealand with an early version of Cold Fusion, and was propagated from a server in Gunnedah for a rural-services operation. And by the way, how many websites do any of us come across which are so impressive, we decide on the spot to research something of what went into creating them?
6 Jonathon Reinhardt and Katherine Isbell, Building Web Literacy Skills, The Reading Matrix, Vol. 2, No. 2, June 2002. See http://www.readingmatrix.com/articles/isbell_reinhardt/
7 Andrew Bonime and Kent C. Phlmann, Writing For New Media: The Essential Guide to Writing for Interactive Media, CD-ROMs, and the Web. New York, Wiley, 1998.
8 Vivid Studios (Compilation), Careers in MultiMedia. Emeryville, California, Ziff-Davis Press, 1995. (Wide-ranging on types and sub-divisions of work, even on hiring-and-firing, workplace relations, some legal aspects of multimedia work.)
9 Personally, I use a mix of Australian-English and American-English, due to having worked for newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, and his house style is American-English. (Program, not programme).
11 Recently a professional medical researcher I know wished to buy an AUD$300 medical textbook online. He found the US publisher's website impossible to deal with, e-commerce-wise, and that the firm refused to answer e-mail he sent them. This can only be called, cyber-madness.