- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

Spiders spin webs, and so these days do humans. Unlike arachnids' creations, however, much of the World Wide Web is invisible, with connecting links that expand the network every day.
And while the spider has instructions for its fragile designs built into its DNA, humans have to learn how to make the sites and pages that are the most visible part of one of the 20th century's most phenomenal inventions.
Fortunately, plenty of resources exist to help anyone gain the skills required, and not all of them involve a great deal of high-tech knowledge. However, someone planning to build a Web site should be prepared ahead of time to answer several basic questions.
At the outset, the nature of the enterprise determines how much work is involved: whether the site is a personal one, for the posting of a resume or the creation of a family history, for example, or whether it is being done for more ambitious commercial reasons.
Quite soon will arise the matter of what is to be printed on the page, or pages. This involves organizing information in an attractive, succinct manner. It makes little sense to post a site without making the information it contains as intelligible as possible. Down the line, too, there is the secondary matter of maintaining the site keeping the information current.
Such matters are critical as more and more people seek to communicate by this method. Never underestimate the Web's expansion power, warns information design specialist Thom Haller, who teaches technical writing in the University of Maryland's Department of English and similar courses at the USDA Grad School.
"For every sentence in print, there are 300,000 more sentences on the Web," Mr. Haller says. His special interest is understanding what happens in people's heads as they try to find their way through this maze how people process information and in telling people how to structure language in electronic form.
When in doubt, go to the experts to learn. The staff at the University of Maryland's Office of Information Technology assists with and directs campuswide electronic communication for a community of about 35,000 students and 10,000 faculty and staff.
Led by Assistant Director Lida Larsen, the O.I.T. staff pointed out several easily available instructional sources both on and off the Web. A public library is the first place to go for help, staff members suggested. (Maryland residents can connect to the Web through their local libraries.)
Assuming a person desiring to learn already is connected to the World Wide Web by a service provider such as America Online (AOL) or CompuServe, they urge him to see whether that ISP (internet service provider) can provide space, noting that many such providers have free Web space underwritten by advertising. (University of Maryland students automatically get free space on their campuswide server and are encouraged to take instructional courses offered by the O.I.T. staff. Similar courses are available to the public at many of the area's community colleges.)
Further, certain community or special-interest sites have free space on their domain sites. There are whole networks online the world of bed-and-breakfast hostelries, for instance that host resource locations of this kind, and some will provide templates, or models of Web pages, that have the codes built in. All a person needs to do is follow the step-by-step instructions and fill in the blanks. Some even include a choice of graphics.
Production elements involve hypertext markup language, or HTML, which is easier to learn for some people than others.
"It means dealing with a lot of blinking tabs," says James Melzer, a Web developer on Maryland's O.I.T. staff who also works as an independent Web consultant. "Your local 16-year-old might be able to do a simple Web page for you if you don't want to learn yourself.
"The first Web page for Maryland State Police was done in 1994 by a 12-year-old," notes Ms. Larsen, who was told that by Steve Outten, director of the Maryland State Police Information Technology Division. The developer was Mr. Outten's nephew, in fact, way out in Oklahoma, who wrote a prototype page for the agency on a casual voluntary basis, Mr. Outten reports. "The present page was done in 1996, and I can't say it has changed all that much," he says.
Some commercial sites use XML, which is short for extensible markup language. XML, which is similar to HTML, provides rules for structuring the data so that it can be universally transferred.
In addition, experts available for hire include the all-volunteer DCWebWomen (at www.dcwebwomen.org) and Webgrrls International (www.webgrrls.com), an organization of female computer designers. The cost of hiring an outsider depends on the complexity of the project and the expert's skill, but charges can range from $10 to $125 an hour. Creating a Web page can take one hour to several days.
Online tech dictionaries that teach a beginner the pertinent language include www.Yale.edu/yup the site for a book called "Basic Design Principles for Creating Web Sites," by Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton (Yale University Press). Online tutorials can be found at Terra Lycos' www.webmonkey.com that walk a beginner through the process, enough to enable the novice to create pages for a family history site or a print-and-photographic journal of a recent vacation. The New York Public Library also offers Web instruction on www.NYPL.org/styleguide/.
In addition, software packages such as Microsoft's FrontPage and Macromedia's Dreamweaver are available commercially for more complex projects. A Macromedia software product called Coldfusion creates pages that are database-driven. To ensure that the creator of a Web site follows legal guidelines on what is permissible to reprint or download, Maryland's O.I.T. staff recommends www.copyright.gov, which is owned by the Library of Congress.
There are plenty of places for a Web novice to find help. One of the easiest and least expensive ways of creating a Web page is provided online by Yahoo at its GeoCities site. For an initial fee of a minimum $10, plus monthly charges that start at $4.95, a person buys a template that just requires filling in blanks and is a way of avoiding the blinking codes of HTML. To illustrate this method from start to finish, Henry Staples a senior technical consultant for Advanced Technology Systems, which is under contract to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. volunteered to create a page this way.
Mr. Staples, 36, frequently offers his services gratis for nonprofit endeavors such as the Arlington Farmers' Market; his own www.elvithe4kings.com explains a 24-hour bike relay race in which he is participating this weekend for the benefit of the American Lung Association of West Virginia.
Yahoo's $8.95 monthly charge for its GeoCities Pro program appealed to him because it allows for a free-standing domain site or your own domain, as opposed to being part of another site or domain, plus "site stats" that tally the number of "hits" or viewers. An example on the Yahoo Web site of a domain is www.your_name.com. You also can have subdomains. The site www.lib.umd.edu is a subdomain of www.umd.edu.
For the purposes of this article, to illustrate how to create a Web page, Mr. Staples reinvented himself as a nutrition consultant and called his page, in good humor, Can I Eat Bacon (www.canieatbacon.com). On this mock site, he offers viewers his experience as an athlete who has examined firsthand various fitness and diet regimes.
The first step called for him to create a Yahoo ID password and an e-mail address ([email protected]). He read the page outlining the terms of service and signed a legal agreement, paying with a Visa card. If he cancelled at any time, he would be sent to geocities.com for free space supported by a number of pop-up ads. It took one hour to own a Web page and would take 48 hours for his domain name to circulate throughout the world.


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