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Webmastering 101

By David Reilly

Webmastering 101 is a series of tutorials that teach people how to create their own websites, and how to promote them on the Internet. If you've missed any of the tutorials, you may want to look at the index, and start from the beginning.

Hello! This is the first of a series of articles aimed at teaching basic web publishing techniques to new content developers. Webmastering 101 won't teach you how to write advanced Java applets, or the intricacies of HTML. It will, however, guide you through the process of creating your first web site, and towards the goal of becoming a confident webmaster, who can use the world-wide-web to publish content and information.

So you want to be a webmaster?

Many people have the ambition of becoming a webmaster (either as a profession, or for their own personal or commercial site). Its becoming a popular goal, as more and more people learn about the web, and how easy it is to create their own web pages. Authors, hobbyists, journalists, business people, and even individuals can all gain from becoming competent at publishing information on the web. If you're not sure, then see if any of the following reasons fit you.

This list is not exhaustive; there are thousands of good reasons why you should learn web publishing and thousands of ways in which you can benefit from the experience. Some people have an unfulfilled creative urge to develop content for others, and some people just want to develop new skills which may help them in their career.

TIP - Each lesson will contain a series of tasks. They're not very hard, so give them ago. Attempting them will make it easier to learn web publishing, because you'll be actively participating, and not just passively reading.
Task One - Write on a new sheet of paper two or three reasons why you would like to learn how to create web pages. File this sheet of paper away, and see if you have meet the objectives by the end of these lessons.

What does a webmaster do?

The title webmaster is claimed by so many, that its difficult to actually quantify what makes a webmaster. Some people create a homepage, describing their hobbies and interests - does this make them a webmaster? Some people create massive sites, with tens or even hundreds of pages, so should it be reserved for the professionals?

My definition of a webmaster is simple - one who creates or maintains a web site. A web site is not a single page, it is a collection of pages that are linked together in much the same way a spiderweb contains links that form part of a larger work of art. If you create, or maintain, a web site that deals with multiple pages, then you are a webmaster! As with any title or job, however, there are good webmasters and bad webmasters.

So how can I become a good webmaster?

Just keep reading! In future lessons, we'll learn the techniques that a good webmaster needs, and the tools which a good webmaster should use. However, there is are some important steps you can take to improve your skills - the most important being practice. Putting the skills learned here into use is important, and most lessons will require you to put in some time applying the techniques to actual web pages. For the moment, however, we'll take a look at some "good" sites, which demonstrate good webmastering skills, and a "bad" site, which demonstrates undesirable techniques.

The good, the bad and the ugly

I'm sure that you've come across sites before which you thought were fantastic, and some that you'd never want to visit again. As with anything creative, what looks "good" to one eye may look bad to another. However, on the web this problem is magnified. People don't all have the same type of computer, and they don't all use the latest browser. They don't all have the latest plugins installed, so a good site will look good no matter what type of computer or browser is being used.

For this lesson, we're going to look at sites which have been ranked highly by human reviewers. Lycos maintains a human review system, and lists the top 5% of sites. Take a look at some of the sites that its reviewers believe are the best of the web. Lycos groups them into categories, so you should pick several different categories.

Task Two - Select three (3) categories from the Lycos Top 5% of the Web collection. Take a look at four or five sites from your selected categories, and try to pick some of the attributes that you believe make a good web site.

Don't worry if your list isn't very specific, or if you find it hard to come up with a list of great attributes. Remember that each web page is different - there isn't a right or wrong way to present all types of information. A children's site will be presented differently to an automobile website. However, there are some basic elements that can be applied to almost any web site.

The following is a brief list of things that should be present on almost all sites :-

If your document doesn't have a title, you may find that search engines won't rank your site as highly. You should choose a good title for each page, because if a search query contains words in your title, many search engines will rank your page higher. Its also provides clues to the reader about the focus of the page, and should always be present.

Navigation is important, because people need hyperlinks to move from one page to another. Creating a menu on your main page is a good start! This makes it easier for readers to find the pages that most interest them. Using graphics for your menu is impressive, but remember to leave a text menu as well for people who are visually impaired, or who use non-graphical browsers.

Color and style are key features of any good site. Adding color makes a site more appealing to readers - but is important to have a uniform style. If you jump from one brightly colored background to another without any rhyme or reason, people may not return. Also, try to avoid colored fonts and backgrounds that are hard to read - this can be distracting from your message. If people can't read the text without squinting, then they won't be impressed, and may leave.

Make sure that you provide some sort of authorship information. Some sites like to copyright their work - this is your decision. However, you should at least provide your name and perhaps some contact details (such as an email address). This way, people know that its your work.

Another tip is to make sure their is plenty of white space (or if you use a colored background, some blank space). If you try to clutter a page up, then it becomes harder to reader. Take a look at any magazine article, and you'll notice that a large part of the page is actually blank. You don't need to worry about wasting paper, so don't forget to break text up into paragraphs, and to include headings or pictures to break up long blocks of text.

To illustrate this list, I've taken a screen capture of a site which includes all of its elements. The site uses a title, graphical and non-graphical menus. It has plenty of white space, uses color and still has readable text. It also has authorship information at the bottom of the page.

goodpage.gif (32899 bytes)

Not all sites on the web could be categorized as "good" sites, however. Many use bright, garish color schemes which make reading text difficult. Many have large images that take considerable time to load, and contain little real content that is of interest to readers. The next exercise will ask you to take a look at some of these badly designed sites.

Task Three - Look at some of the examples from the site Many of the examples on its tour are good things to look out for. Of course, you shouldn't be discouraged if you've used such techniques before - but they should be avoided in the future :)

In future lessons, we'll select a HTML tool that's right for you, and begin to write small websites that demonstrate good webmastering skills.


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