The following statements summarize my beliefs on how web sites can and should be best implemented. They comprise over 8 years of personal research into how and what makes the web tick.
I. There are Web Standards.
I follow the web standards as determined by the W3C as much as popular practice and implementation allow. I avoid the use of proprietary HTML tags and code implementation that requires selective web technologies for viewing and general use.
II. Web Pages are Fluid.
There are those within the HTML community that believe web pages are just like printed pages – i.e. they should all be a certain size (8½ by 11), etc. These people incorrectly treat web pages as if they were static and unchanging like their traditional counterparts. This view stems from a basic misunderstanding of how web pages differ from traditional printed pages and how best to use them.
When implemented correctly, web pages are fluid – they may change shape and size to fit the needs and requirements placed upon them. These requirements come from:
- the hardware, (Web pages can be viewed on computer monitors as well as the smaller Cell Phone and PDA screens.)
- the operating system, (The Macintosh OS consistently displays fonts smaller than the Windows OS.)
- the screen resolution, (800×600 and 1024×768 are currently the most common, but still differ in width by 20%.)
- the web browser, (Once, Netscape dominated the market and then Internet Explorer came along. Will Firefox be next?)
- the user, (Users don’t have to maximize their browser windows and can customize their browser interface.)
- and spyware. (Spyware can make changes to your computer without permission that inhibits normal activity.)
Fluid web pages allow for a customized fit of their content while ignoring most external factors. Although no approach is perfect, it is best to make use of this inherent strength given the sheer number and variety of variable requirements.
III. Separate Content from Presentation
Your content is your information. It should never be lost and it should be accessible no matter how it is stored. This might be in a tabular format in a PDF file, as a list in a word document, or viewed on a cell phone as a web page. It should just work.
Things start to break down when the presentational aspects (style and design) have to come along for the ride. The future tells us only one thing: information will remain important but the form it takes will inevitably change. By separating the two, the information is kept ready for whatever the future holds. As a very nice side-effect, it’s MUCH easier to manage and update both parts to any web site.
IV. Small is Beautiful.
Just like Steve Gibson of GRC.com (who may have coined the phrase above), I hate waste. Web pages should contain the necessary code to make them load correctly in a web browser and no more. Too many “modern” programmers (including those who create web pages) generate a lot of waste and superfluous code. They take shortcuts by letting their software do the work for them. Software can’t optimize itself. It will often include extra components and features that aren’t fully utilized. Furthermore, software will never be able to achieve the efficiency of a good, manual programmer.
Take Microsoft Word as an example. It is probably the best known word processor on the planet and as such does a good job. As a web page creation tool, however, it is absolutely horrible. The pages it creates are horrendously bloated with superfluous code. I am referring specifically to the 97 and 2000 versions. Hopefully, newer versions will do a much better job. Earlier versions of Microsoft FrontPage are equally bad at producing unnecessary code.
Instead of creating code that is bloated, takes longer to download, takes longer to process, and wastes both memory and disk space, I create web pages that only contain what is necessary. My sites load fast because their pages and images are optimized (all things being equal). A lower page size translates directly into a faster transfer and more bandwidth available for other purposes. And the faster a page loads, the less likely a user will go somewhere else because they don’t like waiting.
V. Neither Aesthetics nor Functionality must be sacrificed.
I have seen web sites that functioned well but would never win any awards in the looks department. I have also seen web sites that must have cost a fortune, looked like a million bucks, and were effectively useless, empty shells. They lacked either usable content or functional navigation. Given the choice of these two extremes, the former is definitely better but why be forced to pick? You can have proper functionality AND good looks at the same time.
VI. Content is Key.
Someone once said the most important thing to remember when starting a business is “Location, Location, Location.” If that person were alive today, they might say the most important thing to remember when creating a web site is “Content, Content, Content.” The old adage “if you build it, they will come” does not apply. It is content that brings the masses to your web site. It is equally important that the content be appropriate, unique, and organized. Without proper content, visitors will go elsewhere as your web site is passed over for more interesting, meaningful, and fulfilling sites.
Now, what is content you may ask? It’s all the stuff that is available on a web site. It is the sum total of all the information contained in all of a site’s pages. It can be text, images, movies, songs, and more. It is the substance, the subject, and the reason for the existence of a site. Think of all the stuff you can access in a multimedia encyclopedia and you’ll have the right idea.