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10 Things that every web author must know

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1. The Web is not WYSIWYG

It's frustrating but true. The Web is not What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. Well, actually, that's not exactly true. What you see is what you get, ofcourse.

The problem arises when you mistakenly assume that what you see is what everyone else gets. The key thing to remember here is that there are millions of Websurfers out there who don't use your favorite browser, your ----- card, your screen settings, or even the same kind of computer as you.

2. HTML is a structural markup language, not a page-description language

When you write HTML, you are defining the structure of a document, not specifying its layout. Yes, HTML does include some basic formatting and alignment tags. But it's very easy to misunderstand and misuse these tags.

You heard right -- it's possible to misuse HTML tags. In HTML, there are actually rules for what tags are okay, and where they are okay. There are even tools available to check your pages to see if they follow these basic rules of HTML.

3. Web authoring is not word-processing

When you create a word-processing document, you can exercise precise typographical control over some or all of a printed page. Defining the structure of a Web page is a much less predictable process.

Get over the urge to control every little formatting feature of your Web pages. The surest way to create a Web page that looks good to all your readers is to trust that your readers' browser will render your page the best it can, if not exactly the way you'd like.

4. Not everyone browses graphically

Graphics are a great way to spice up a Web page. But there are at least a million people in the world who, whether of necessity or by choice, don't browse graphically. That's a lot of readers. Build pages that convey their message and navigate easily, even without graphics.

5. Most "cool tricks" aren't really all that cool

When you're new to the WWW, pages that automatically load other pages seem almost magical. But most of the cool stuff you're encountering for the first time has actually been around for quite a while. It's been done already. Truth be told, it's been done to death.

6. Gear-driven Web pages get very old, very fast

The Web is like a high-tech toy store. Everyday, someone comes up with some cool new toy that's the absolute latest in smell-o-matic-blur-o-vision technology. And like all good toys, these new techno-gadgets are undeniably fun to ---- with.

Here's the problem: twenty bazillion other people are also rushing to employ this latest breakthrough in trendy technology. And after you've seen 10,000 smell-o-matic-blur-o-vision pages, it's hard to get excited about seeing number 10,001.

7. Original content is the key to a good Web page

Presentation is an undeniably important element of good Web design. But more folks use the Web as information source than as an entertainment source.

By implication, there is simply no substitute for good content on a Website. Individuals and organizations alike can make a unique contribution to the World Wide Web. Simply share what you know and think about the things that interest you.

It doesn't really matter whether it's needlepoint, or motorcycle engines, or landscape architecture, or stupid Unix tricks. After all, you think it's interesting, so it's a good bet that there's other folks who think so, too. Building a good set of Web pages means putting some of yourself into your Webspace.

8. Don't use reports of your browser's popularity as an excuse for invalid, exclusionary, non-HTML markup tags

Statements like "97% of all people use Netscape or MSIE" are:
1. statistically suspect and verifiably untrue
2. irrelevant
There's actually a fairly complex set of statistical reasons why these reports are inherently suspect and statistically invalid. But you don't have to be a statistician to understand that if you build a page that only works in, say, MSIE, pretty soon, all the people who come to your Web page use MSIE! (Surprise!)

The reason it's irrelevant is that there are literally dozens of versions of these two programs floating around out there. Thus, the terms "Netscape" and "MSIE" actually refer to dozens of different feature sets, quirks, etc.

Web clients are unpredictable, idiosyncratic, and buggy. Structuring your pages to accommodate or exploit browser quirks is a fairly spectacular example of letting the tail wag the dog. (It's also a great way to build a very high-maintenance Website.)

9. Fast-loading pages make for happy Websurfers

Most folks' biggest beef about the Web is piggish, slow-loading pages. Fast-loading pages make for more (and happier!) visitors to your Website. The key to building fast-loading pages is simple:

Send less data.

There are two key elements to building fast-loading pages. One is to build relatively small pages, and then use hyperlinks to connect these smaller pages into a larger Website. The other key is to reduce the size of your graphics files; it's really fairly easy to do, and your visitors will love
you for it. Honest.

10. Watch your step

Web design is undeniably fun and exciting. As your Webspinning skills evolve, you'll probably find yourself interested in exploring new avenues for your technical and creative talents.

As you explore, it's important to bear in mind that "the Web" is actually dozens of different technologies under a single name. All of these technologies are still very young, and many are still fairly unstable. Some are even downright dangerous.

Proceed cautiously, and realize that a lot of uncertainty still exists about almost everything Web. In fact, about the only thing you can be sure of is: you'll never be bored.

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