Getting Your Magazine Online banner Management & Editorial Decisions
Why be on the World Wide Web?
What content will you provide?
When will you put up/update your site?
Who will do the work?

The "Technical" Aspects
Getting Started
Site Organization
Page Design
Site Promotion
Site Maintenance & Further Development

Resources


Getting Your Magazine Online: The "Technical" Aspects

Don't let the word "technical" scare you off. Most of this is not rocket science (we'll leave that for later). You do not have to be, or become, a techie to develop a respectable website that people will visit and come back to. Nor do you need to invest years in the process. The Compass website was put up about 9 months after I first got a graphical browser and saw the wonders of the Web, and I did do some other work during that time. It isn't as difficult as you (might) think.
GETTING STARTED

small slug everything you need to put up a website is out there on the Web

The ethos of the Internet -- knowledge is for sharing (at least for now) -- means that all sorts of people post all sorts of information [much as I'm doing here], and some of it is about website development and web-page design. Of course, for those of us coming from the print media, books and magazines (a.k.a. dead-tree editions) still have some appeal, so I've included a few of my favourites in the resource list.
small slug and much of it is free, so actual costs aside from time and server space (see next point) can be quite minimal

Many of the tools you'll need to develop your site -- word-processing or text editing, vector drawing and bitmap editing applications -- you'll already have. What you don't you can get from the Web. Some are time-limited demonstration versions or shareware (so you can try before you buy); some are actually free. There are also lots of sites which provide graphics for others to use, for free, or for a credit/link. [see Resources]
small slug where to put your site

Your website has to be located somewhere on the Internet for people to access it. Unless your magazine has a large enough budget to buy your own server, you will be using space on someone else's. If you already have Internet access, you have server space provided by your ISP [Internet Service Provider]. However, some ISPs have restrictions about websites and/or charge extra for them. The extra charges, especially if you get a domain name, can be prohibitive (at least in my part of the world). There are other options.

There are companies called web hosting services which do not provide Internet access; they simply rent out server space for websites. Given the nature of the Internet, there is no compelling reason to have your website located where you are physically/geographically. If you don't have a server in your office, it doesn't matter whether the one you use is across town or across the globe. Check out the Top 10 Webhost List for information on web hosting services.

If you are having your site done by a web developer, they may be willing to post your site on theirs for a more reasonable cost than your ISP will charge. In some cases, they will be using a web hosting service themselves, in effect reselling server space to you. But it may be cost-effective and less work, to deal with them rather than directly with the hosting services.

In any case, there are questions to ask.
small slug How much server space do you have/get? Cost of more?

If your site is small, you may have sufficient space included in the Internet package from your ISP. Additional server space is much cheaper than paper; shop around. Web hosting services generally offer larger amounts of server space to start with.
small slug What is your "web traffic quota"? Cost of additional?

Web traffic is the amount of data transferred from your site when a browser pays a visit. Your basic Internet package likely includes a certain amount and, for the beginning, it may be sufficient. Most ISPs charge for additional traffic (something we should all pray for, because it means the site is popular); it may not be a significant amount, but you should know ahead of time. Many hosting services do not charge for traffic or allow large amounts within their base rate.
small slug Do they have a secure server? Cost of using?

This only applies if you want to set up online ordering and, since this page is about simple sites, we aren't covering it here, but it doesn't hurt to know for the future.
small slug Is there a set-up fee? What do they charge for a domain name?

Some ISPs charge a fee to allow you to set up a website, but not all; shop around. Also, if you decide on a domain name, they may want a monthly maintenance fee. [See below for more on domain names.] The same applies to hosting services, but in my experience they charge less and/or include it in the basic package.
small slug Can you use CGI or other scripts?

A year or so ago, image maps and forms all required some form of scripting, and some ISPs won't allow server-side scripts. The emergence of client-side image maps and forms have made this item less critical, but you might want to know what your options are in advance.
SITE ORGANIZATION

Site organization is, to my mind, the single most important step in developing a successful website. It will help you structure your site so that visitors can find their way around, and so that you can maintain and develop your site with a minimum of effort.
small slug do some research

Surf a lot, both magazine & other sites. This will give you plenty of ideas for your own site, but most importantly, it will give you a sense of the directional dilemmas possible in cyberspace. Magazine sites can be, or become, very complex, especially if you include your archives. If you establish a clear navigation system, visitors will be able to find their way easily to and from the pages they want to see and will be more likely to return.

While you're surfing, check magazine sites particularly for their directory structure--all that text showing in the location field of your browser includes the pathing to the page you're looking at. See how other publications have set up their back issue directories.
small slug chart the organization

Do an organization chart, both for the navigation system and for the directory structure. Both of these systems will be with you for a long time, unless you rebuild/redesign your site. If you establish a good organizational structure at the beginning, you can save a lot of time in the long run. [The Compass site charts are here.]
small slug plan the implementation

You need a game plan for putting up the site. No website is ever finished (feels more like life every day), and you shouldn't wait until you have everything ready to make your appearance in cyberspace. Decide on your essential components (see above) and select a realistic amount of material. Do those first, and add more/fancier parts later.

Both the organization and the implementation plan are likely to change as development proceeds--this is good; both should be modified to suit you and your site. The fact that you have these plans to modify will make your work much clearer and easier, and your site much better in the end.
WEB PAGE DESIGN

Information on the mechanics of web page creation is available many places [see Resources], so isn't covered here. But there are a few points which I'd like to mention for those coming to the Web from the print business.
small slug document formats: HTML vs. PDF

HTML = HyperText Mark-up Language; developed by academics/military for simple formatting of technical documents for transmission over the Internet; has many limitations from a page design/layout point of view, but is easy to use and inexpensive/free and very widely viewable

PDF = Portable Document Format; developed by Adobe Software as a platform independent format to allow transfer of fully formatted pages regardless of system, fonts, etc.; captures all page formatting & graphics, but components for generating PDF files are costly (the reader is free, but your readers have to download and install it); see Adobe website for more information
small slug HTML document creation

HTML is simply a coding system; HTML files are simply text files. You can learn the codes and enter them in a word processor/text editor, or use an HTML editor to speed up / automate (somewhat) the coding. Try a variety of editors--they really do vary, and some will suit you better than others. There are editors which save you from ever having to look at HTML code, but when I tried some of those, I found I wanted more control over the tweaking and fine-tuning.

Detailed explanations of HTML, design guides, tips & tricks for using (and getting around the limitations) are all available on the Web. Basic HTML is very simple; fancier elements (tables, forms, frames, guest books, image maps, etc.) are more complicated, but there are applications to do some of them and plenty of information on the rest. [see Resources]
small slug implications of browsers for page design

The browser software (Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer etc.) controls the page width (within the limits of the viewer's monitor), the typeface/font size of text (although this is changing), non-basic elements such as tables, frames, forms, etc., and may control colour and background graphics.

Each browser, and each version of the same browser, works differently. A separate page for every browser would be nice, but isn't practical. However, you'd be advised to check your pages in as many as you can (advice I don't follow very well myself)--you might be surprised at the results. While we're on the topic, try to look at your pages on as many different monitors as you can--there too you'll discover some of the wonderous variability possible in cyberspace, and you may find some things you shouldn't do.

Barring a perfect universe, specify on your homepage which browser you used in developing site and provide a link to a site where viewers can get it.

Don't forget to have text-only links for visitors using text-only browsers. There are still a number of people devoted to their Lynx browsers, or limited to text-only surfing by slow modems.
small slug the burning question: what is a page?

Web pages aren't bound by limits of cut-sheets, but are (theoretically) infinite. Practically, widths beyond 600 pixels (470 on the old Mac Classics, so I hear) will require scrolling for most viewers--justifiable for special items (e.g. large maps) but for common elements (graphics, tables, etc.) it's very annoying.

A file = a page, but length will affect download speed--short to medium length articles can be run as one "page", but longer articles or long lists (or pages with many graphics) should be split into separate files, or your visitors may get distracted before they see your material.

Because page length can be much longer than in print, consider additional illustrations (small ones) or pull-quotes to break up the text. If you're publishing new (web-only) content, you may want to modify your usual editorial practices and opt for more bulleted lists to help break up long stretches of solid print.
small slug implications of graphics

The WWW is a graphical medium, so do use graphics, but keep them as small as possible to minimize download time. If you can't keep them small, make sure they're important--and provide linked thumbnails with file size indicated so viewers can decide whether they want to see them. Here is an example of how we dealt with one grahic-intensive article from Compass.

PC monitors display 96 dpi; Mac monitors 72 dpi. Reduce graphic resolution to 100 dpi maximum; any higher resolution is wasted information in this medium.

Reduce colours to the minimum required for image; 16-colour graphics are much smaller than 256-colour images. File conversion utilities & graphics editors will convert your graphics to GIF (for line art, icons, etc.) or JPEG (for photographs, halftones, etc.) formats--the only usable ones at this time. I've noticed that some very detailed line drawings come out smaller as greyscale JPEGs than as GIFs, so experiment. Also experiment with JPEG compression levels; I've got a very good monitor and I still can't see the difference between compression levels 15 and 45, except when I look at the file sizes.

Graphics for buttons, icons, backgrounds, etc. are available free all over the Web or you can develop your own. Consider the latter if you can; it will give your site a unique quality. If you do want use graphic elements from elsewhere, keep looking till you find some that suit the visual design of your site. Sometimes all you need to do is recolour them to fit your colour scheme.
small slug colours & backgrounds

Viewers' monitors determine the display of colours, so your pages won't look the same on anyone else's monitor as they do on yours. Life in the late 20th century.

Background colour and/or background graphics can be specified in your files--the viewer can override these with her/his browser settings, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't use them. One useful trick, if you're using a background graphic, is to set the background colour as well. Some browsers don't support background graphics, but will display the colour you've chosen, thereby maintaining (or approximating) your design.

If you're using background graphics, be sure to read (and heed) the advice about how to make suitable graphics. Nothing is worse than a page that gets hung loading a too-large background, except a background that, when it finally loads, is so "loud" it overpowers the content of the page.

Text (both linked and regular) colours can be set, at least in Netscape (I'm not as conversant with the other browsers as I should be), and you should definitely do that if you're using a background that buries black text, which most of us have our browser defaults set to. Again, the viewer can override, but if he/she isn't doing so, they can at least see the text on your page.
Continue to Part 3, The "Technical" Aspects continued


Comments and suggestions to Gail van Varseveld



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