Home(page) Improvement

Posted on August 28, 2000

I'm not going to lie, I'm short on time this week because, well, I'm on vacation. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't give all six of you something to ponder for at least the next eight minutes.

Actually, it's something I've been pondering myself: What sites do people visit, why do they visit them and how often do they return? Sure, we can get information about how many people visit certain pages on our site relatively easily. And, if you remember from a previous column, there are plenty of ways for companies to figure out information about who is visiting their sites.

But how do I figure out how many people go to ESPN, or how do you know how many people visit this site, or how does anyone know how many people are visiting Graceland today? You don't. So instead of having my brain explode, I'm going to give all of you a few interesting places to go and see what can be done on a Web site.

First, any site that awards sites wins my award. I should be able to reword that sentence to form a palindrome. Anyway, The NewMedia INVISION 2000 Awards has some of the slickest pages I've ever seen, including that opening page that just says "LOADING." I'm now going to let everyone in on an industry trade secret, the program is loading, but this is not your standard HTML page. The page has been constructed using a program called Flash, which seems to be the current fad in Web design, although by the time I've finished writing this, there will surely be another.

According to Macromedia, Flash is more compatible with more browsers than any other Web solution. If you use two browsers, like Netscape and Internet Explorer, you should be able to notice some slight differences in most pages. If you don't, you either look only at Flash pages or you have been sitting at your computer WAY too long.

If it's the latter, print the rest of this out and read it while taking a bath or jumping on a trampoline.

In designing HTML Web sites, we have to look at generated pages in millions of browsers, including ones called the Typewriter, Abacus and Stone Tablet (not to be confused with the Antacid Tablet, which we no longer use) to test our sites. Well, maybe not that many browsers, but because there are distinct differences on different computers and browsers, we have to design from many vantage points. But for Flash, everything comes out the same. That is, if your browser supports Flash, and all of the newer browser versions do.

That doesn't mean Flash is the only program in which you can make things look more or less alike on everyone's machine. Another way to do this is by using mostly images on your pages. Kids' WB executes this nicely, although the page takes a few decades to load. This homepage stands out with its design and ease of navigation.

But obviously, you cannot have just graphics for a site with mostly text, for instance, if you were translating the Bible into rudimentary encrypted code. There really isn't much of a solution to get things to always look the exact same in normal html, but there are a few tricks to use along the way.

Cascading Style Sheets can be applied to your text and can be specified so that users cannot change font faces and sizes.

There's no way I could talk about every different program or language in which you could design sites, although for a hefty sum, I could make up enough stuff to keep you busy. There are others: Java, Javascript, DHTML, just to name a few, that can also be utilized to improve designing pages. We'll discuss these in a later column.

So instead of being concerned with what other Web sites are doing, and how many visitors they are receiving, just steal ideas from them. If you like a site, other people probably will too. Just look at a bunch of sites. I'll get back from vacation and make up something better next week.