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Creating an Effective Web Site

Before you even consider creating a web site, there are quite a few issues you should think through. Here's a few to start off with...

There's more to creating a great web site than taking your paper documents and throwing them on-line. Working in hypertext takes a little more thought and planning. By its very nature, hypertext works differently from paper documents; it's more of an active media, with readers choosing from a virtually unlimited range of directions. Furthermore, you have a number of choices and techniques available that are not available on paper: Should you link to other people's web sites? How many routes through your own web site should you provide? How many pictures should you use, at the risk of irritating people by providing slow downloads?

In this chapter we're going to begin by looking at a few major issues in a design overview. In the following chapter we'll get a little closer and discuss some very specific design issues.

Two Schools of Thought

There are a couple of schools of thought about what makes an effective web site. Here's what the first school seems to consider the essence of perfection in the world of the web:

Web sites must be "cool"
You need lots of pictures
Adding sound to your site can help make it more interesting
Adding animation to your site makes it more exciting
Your site must be in a state of constant change, or people won't come back

What do these people think the web is? An entertainment system? Certainly many of them do believe that, and of course parts of the web are just that. If you're MTV or Nickelodeon, maybe you do need to have all these things: pictures, animation, sounds, constant change. But there's no rule that says ever web site must be "cool".

Let's get back to the real world for an example. When I ship a package via FedEx or UPS, I can call the company to come and pick up the package. Now, when someone from FedEx or UPS comes to the door, do I expect a song and dance? Do I demand poetry or a joke? Of course not. So why do I need these things when I arrive at a web site? In most cases, I don't.

I've said it a few times before, but I just have to say it again:

The Internet is a giant jobs program for computer geeks

Why are so many people telling you that your web site must be cool? Because creating a cool web site is really a lot of fun. I've used many of the tools required to do this sort of thing, and if you're of a geek frame of mind (as I freely admit I am now and then), this stuff really is entertaining. Hell, it's better than working!

You get to express your artistic tendencies a little, even if a little is just how artistic you happen to be. You get to play with pretty pictures and the programs that create them, fool around with all sorts of neat software, connect a microphone to your computer and pretend to be a radio announcer, tweak this and tweak that. Playing with computers can really be fun: after all, why would I be writing this book rather than getting a real job?

Let me give you an example. A while ago I watched a presentation given in Las Vegas at the National Association of Broadcasters convention. A young man (a Webmaster, as he called himself) who worked for a television station in California was showing his web site, and at one point he played some video of the funeral of David Packard of Hewlett-Packard. He'd put the video at his web site for visitors to view. His explanation? "Now people all over the world can feel like they were there."

If I'd had the opportunity to talk with him, I would have asked two questions. First: So what? And second: How does this make money for your television station? Someone in Japan, for instance, could view this video; how nice. But does it help the company posting the video on the web? Not at all.

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