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GUIDELINES FOR CREATING A WEBSITE


Planning a website may seem to be daunting prospect. Many people have thought for years that they "ought" to have a website, only to be discouraged by what seem to be technical mysteries or the thought of committing oneself to world view. I have prepared these guidelines in the hope of removing some of the obstacles by breaking down the process into manageable steps. Some of these steps are common to all websites, while others are specific to the way that I work. Please feel free to contact me by phone (914) 472 1390 or email sybilbarten@verizon.net if you need clarification.

 

First steps

Your webmaster will usually take care of these steps for you:

Obtaining a domain name. Some Internet Service Providers (e.g. Earthlink, Verizon) provide a free website to anyone with an email account. This is usually about 10 MB worth of space, plenty for a personal website with some pictures. There are two limitations: you generally cannot have a unique domain name. The "address" of your website will be something like http://home.earthlink.net/~smith rather than a unique domain name such as www.sybilbarten.com. An ISP-provided website is for do-in-yourselfers. The ISP provides software and instructions for creating web pages and posting them. So if 10 MB worth of web pages is enough, you know just what you want to post, unfamiliar software doesn't faze you, and a non-unique domain doesn't bother you, this is a good option.

How to obtain a domain name. Amazingly, every one of the millions of domain names (www.joeblow.org, www.joeblow.net, www.joeblow.com) is unique, so there has to be a way to find out whether a particular name is already "taken". If it is, you can't have it unless the "owner" is willing to sell it, often for a lot of money. One way to check on the availability of a name is to go to www.internetsolutions.com. There you'll find a form where you can enter the name you'd like and you'll instantly be told whether it's available and how to register it. You cannot reserve a name forever, and you must pay yearly. Most people register for at least two years, and the cost is in the neighborhood of $20 a year. It remains your property (unless you choose not to renew) and you will be reminded when you must pay again.


Another way to obtain and register a domain name is to combine the process with obtaining a web host. Most web hosting services now offer domain name registration with providing space on their server for your website, often at no additional charge.


Deciding on a w
eb host. Again, if you obtain your website through your internet service provider (ISP), you don't need a web host – the ISP is your web host. Otherwise, you will need to decide who should host your website. This is a server (or set of servers) where your website "lives." Some web hosts are free, but there is usually a price to pay for these in ads or limited space. One example is www.tripod.com, which features both free and paid websites. The free Tripod websites require ads (sometimes you have a choice of which ones), and the URL or web address of the free sites includes the tripod name. So, for example, one website on tripod, "Zal's Photography," has the URL http://zals.tripod.com/ Many web hosts are responding to the increased computer savvy of people who want to have web sites and their plans include software, usually called "web builder" or some such term that allows people to create their own website, often with lots of bells and whistles such as blog-builders and the like.

  • Which web host to choose. There are thousands to chose from, and the decision is usually based on discussions between you, the owner of the website, and your webmaster. The variables include: cost, size and complexity of the website, and features offered. The cost ranges from a low of about $6/month (at www.pair.com) to about $15/month, though for business sites, it can easily be $300/month and much more. $15/month will buy plenty of space for most non-business websites, and also provide one or more email boxes and even a chat room and database. The main difference between a host that costs $6 and one that costs $15 is that with the latter, you get access to statistics (e.g. number of hits) and live technical support, sometimes important for the webmaster.

  • When to obtain a domain name and web host. There is no need to reserve the domain name and web host before the web site is designed. It only takes a couple of days for this process, and you might as well wait till the website is almost ready to "go live".


Designing the website: General


The issues listed here are somewhat overlapping, and some of them may change in the process of designing the website. The more thought given to these questions at the beginning the better.

  • What is the purpose of the website? The first (non-technical) question to ask yourself, and one that the webmaster should ask you, is why do you want a website? The answer to this question might be a brief mission statement.

  • Who is the targeted audience? Your family and friends? Potential clients? Anyone who might be interested?

  • What image do you want to project? The answer to this question in part determines the "look and feel" of the website. You might begin by thinking of a number of adjectives, such as "warm," "professional," "accessible". Often it helps to think in metaphors here. For example, on the website I designed for the composer Nicolas Flagello the colors and background subtly reflect the personality and music of the composer (see www.flagello.com). If you want to include a picture of yourself, the one you pick and where you put it will be important, and the color scheme of the photo will have to be consistent with other colors on the page (and the website!)

  • What should the home page look like? This is the front door to the website and is particularly important in setting the tone for what is to come. Also, the rest of the website should be consistent with the front page, so it is usually the first page to be designed. Some more specific questions are:

  • Do you want a picture of yourself here or elsewhere? What kind of picture? What colors?

  • Do you want a logo? Do you have a business card whose design you would like to use in some way?

  • Do you want a mission statement or a personal statement?


Creating the structure and content

Structure Usually, a web designer does not begin work until all the general design questions are answered and all the content is submitted. Although it is crucial that all the design questions are addressed at the outset, sometimes it is not possible for all the content to be prepared ahead of time. What is vitally important, though, is to be clear on the structure of the website. This means:

  • Deciding on the number of major categories of content. These are the important section of the website, and are usually accessed by buttons or links on every page (the navigation bar). The number of categories determines the breadth of the website.

  • Deciding on the sub-categories. Not every major category has to have sub-categories. For instance, the category "Contact Information" rarely includes any sub-categories. By contrast, the category "Publications" might have links to some or all of the person's publications, either directly or indirectly, or to types of publications (e.g. books, reviews, articles...).

  • Deciding on sub-sub-categories. For example, if the category is "Publications" and there are three kinds of publications, each kind of publication might have links to a number of publications. The number of sub- and sub-sub-categories determines the depth of the website.


Although websites generally have a hierarchical structure, as the term "web" suggests, there can be links in many directions -- up, down, and sideways.

Content. After you have worked out the structure of the website, providing the content is the next step. This is the heart of the website. Since all web pages need to be coded to appear on the Internet, you must prepare all material in a format that can be converted to HTML or whatever "language" your website will require. All text should be provided as WORD or WordPerfect documents. If you want pictures on your site, you'll have to provide them either in digital form (preferably as jpegs) or in a form that can be scanned easily. If you plan to have music on your site, it will have to be in a digital form that I can convert (or compress) so that it can be played on the Internet. (As a rule of thumb, one minute of music takes up 1 MB of website space. Simple pictures take up less space, depending on their detail and resolution, and words of course take up even less.)

One important fact to keep in mind is that a website relies on visual thinking. This is true of text as well as graphic elements. Text often needs to be shorter and "snappier" than in a book or magazine article. Here, your web designer may function as an editor, and suggest ways to make the text more appropriate for this medium. The font that is chosen also should conform to the look and feel of the web site.

My preferred way of working
I usually do not begin the actual work until I have received most of your materials. Once we get started, I expect you to adhere reasonably closely to the schedule that we will establish so that I can proceed as efficiently as possible. We will work closely together on the project, and you will have the opportunity to see and comment on versions of the website before it is "live"on the Internet.