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Writing Your Own Web Page

By Anne Marie Celestine Chua <ching@tridel.com.ph>

 

(This article is for people who are completely new to homepage creation, although experienced authors might just pick up a useful tip or two.)

You've been on the World Wide Web long enough to admire all those wonderfully-written pages, and drool over cool sites like the Coca-cola site and the Silicon Surf. You know that the best catalog around is Yahoo, and that Netscape is the leading browser for the Web. And now you want to make your own Web page for the whole world to see. How do you do it?

 

Hypertext Markup Language

The pages that you see when you browse the World Wide Web are written in what is called Hypertext Markup Language or HTML. Web authors use this language to tell your web browser how to display their pages, which graphics to show, where to put them, and where to bring you if you click on a particular link. HTML is a standard. This means that no matter what platform you use (Unix, Windows, OS/2 or Macintosh), and no matter which browsers people use to travel around the Web, they will be able to read your page.

HTML lets you do a great many number of things--from displaying graphics and text (or even video clips) to getting feedback from your visitors and processing the information you receive. Most importantly, it allows you to link your pages to any of the hundreds of other pages on the Web. You can have a link to Disneyland-all you have to do is click on it and you're there.

It almost seems like magic, doesn't it?

 

Inside HTML

I'm not going to teach you the specifics of the Hypertext Markup Language. There are a lot of other good HTML editors out there that can translate your concepts into HTML with a minimum of work. What I would like to share with you is an approach to writing Web pages, and just enough about the language for you to understand it and use it effectively.

The concepts behind HTML are really very simple. Each page that you see has tags embedded in it, to tell the browser how it should be interpreted. For instance, to tell your browser the title of my page and to say that it should be displayed at the top of your window, where titles usually go, I have this line in my document:

<title>Ching's Cyberplace:Learn About Writing Your Own Web Page</title>

The <title> tag tells your browser, "All the text after this is part of the page's title/" the </title> tag, on the other hand, tells the browser, "Ok, I'm done with the title! You can go back to normal text now."

The same method is used for inserting images and links, and for formatting text in other ways. This method of using tags makes HTML very flexible and easy to learn.

 

HTML Editors

"But how will I know which tags to use?"

Well, when you're starting out, you can do one of two things. If you enjoy programming and like having complete control over your document, you can get a copy of the HTML standard and plunge right in. on the other hand, if you want a graphical user interface, you can try an HTML editor instead. These programs assign format styles and functions to buttons and menu items and take care of inserting the tags for you.

HTML editors remove the need to know exactly how to use the tags. They give you a point-and-click interface and pull-down menus so you don't have to type the tags yourself. To add a title to your page, all you need to do is click on the menu item for titles and type your title in the dialog box. The HTML editor will then put your text between <title> and </title> and insert it into your document. Voila!

Even if you're an experienced HTML author, you may want to give some of these editors a look. Typing all those tags could be tedious at times, and editors these days are powerful enough that you'll need to do very few corrections or customizations by hand.

There's a lot of software out there, so try a couple of different editors and see which one you're most comfortable with.

Designing Your Home Page

Now that you have your editor, it's time to think about what to put on your home page. There aren't any real restrictions, so indulge your creative side and have fun. Your home page is entirely your own and doesn't have to be submitted to anyone else for approval or editing, so feel free to add your own personal touches.

Think about what kind of page you'd like to have. Do you want a lot of graphics, a lot of texts, or a bit of both? Do you want to use impressive special effects, or would you rather keep it simple? Will your emphasis be on visual display, or on content? There are many things you can do with this medium and it helps to think things out before you start working. Of course, it's always fun to plunge right in and let your page evolve are you learn.

You know which style is best for you. There are no objective standards for a "good" or "bad" Web page. To evaluate your design, ask yourself if you're happy with the way your page looks. If you were a visitor, would you want to read that page?

If you like the look of your page, you can stop for the moment and move on to the next one. Otherwise, rearrange or replace text and graphics until you're happy with what you have. Once you're content, take a break. You don't need to be a perfectionist to produce a great Web page, and it's easy to improve your page or add ideas as you go along.

Browse the Web and look at other pages for ideas you can apply to your own page. If you're borrowing a lot from one particular Web site, it's nice to send the authors a note telling them what you like about their work. It's also good form to add a small acknowledgment, perhaps at the bottom of your page. Many of these pages are cherished work of the people who don't receive any compensation for making the pages, and a short note goes a long way towards encouraging them to keep improving and maintaining their sites.

 

Putting Up Your Home Page

To actually put up your Web site, you must first find out where your pages should be stored. Usually, you will have a special directory in which you should put your HTML files. This is so that the Web server on your machine will know where to look for them.

If you donít know where your files should go, you can send mail to your system administrator. This is normally the root account at your site. For instance, my e-mail address is ching@tridel.com.ph, and the address of our system administrator is root@tridel.com.ph. Tell your system administrator that you would like to put up a home page, and ask which directory you should put it in.

If your system administrator is too busy to get back to you right away, you can try asking for help from the other users on your site who already have Web pages. Or, you can experiment. Adding /~ and then your login name to the URL for your host will point browsers to your home directory. Often, there is a special subdirectory in which you should place your home page files - this name is pre-assigned. For instance, the URL for my old home page, http://zeus.engg.upd.edu.ph/~achua, to the public html subdirectory in my home directory (~achua). On other systems, this may be the www subdirectory. Still other systems may not have default subdirectories at all.

The easiest way to find out where to put your page is to ask your system administrator or some other knowledgeable person at your site.

 

Making Your Pages Accessible

Make sure that all your pages have the .htm or .html extension. If you have any graphic links on your page, make sure that they are in a supported format and have the proper file name extension. Popular graphics file formats are Compuserv GIF (.gif) and JPEG (.jpg).

 

Testing Your Page

The first thing to do is view your page with your favorite browser and see if everything displays correctly. If you've forgotten a tag or misplaced a link, it will be easier to see with your browser than with an HTML editor. Next, check your links. Make sure that theyíre all up to date and working. See if you like the layout of your page.

Then try viewing your page again with a couple of other browsers (make sure at least one is a text-based browser) to see how it might look to others who don't use the same programs you do. This step is particularly important for those who use Netscape, since Netscape supports many features that other browsers do not - and if you use these fatures on your page, it may not display properly when viewed with a different browser.

Once you're satisfied with your home page, call in a couple of friends to take a look at it for you. Ask them to test everything on your Web site, and comment on how it looks or how it works. If they find something awkward, ask them to tell you what it is they don't like, and change it. Remember, your page will be viewed by many, many people - and not all of them will share your idea of a good Web page. Sometimes, you will have to alter a portion of your design or change the content of your Web page to make it easier for your viewers to access the information that you have on your page. For instance, if most of your readers have slow connections to the Net, they may not want to sit around for half an hour waiting for your graphic-intensive page to load. Tailor your Web page to your target audience. The best way to check this is to have some of those people check out your Web page and send you their feedback.

 

Promoting Your Page

Okay..so now you've created your wonderful Web page and you're ready to present your brilliant new creation to the world. But how will you let all those people out there know what you have to offer? The solution lies on exposure - submit your home page's address to Web catalog sites like Yahoo. Submit it! Does an excellent job of doing this for you. Tell your friends about it and ask them to come visit. If you write a lot of e-mail, include your URL on your signature. There are many accepted ways of advertising your Web page, and a lot of curious surfers will come visiting once they know your pages exist.

Be careful, though, particularly if you're promoting a commercial Web site. Do not put blatant advertisements or long press releases in specialized newsgroups or mailing lists. A short blurb is all right if it's accompanied by an informative article relevant to that particular discussion group. However, unsolicited and inconsiderate advertisement posts (the Internet equivalent of junk mail) will earn you the ire of the group's participants and will probably get your mailbox filled with flames or mail bombs.

 

If you would like to announce your new Web site to a particular special interest group, post an article that you're sure they would find interesting (read the list first to see what kinds of posts they like!) and include a short blurb about your site - such as "This article on protons was brought to you by ABS Corporation. You can find out more about particle accelerators at our Web site, http://www.abc.com".

 

Now That I've Finished My Web Page, What Do I Do?

 

Well, that's it! You've created your Web page, posted it on the Internet, tested it thoroughly and made sure that anyone who's interested will be able to find it. Congratulations! You've succeeded in carving out your own corner of cyberspace.

Just remember, though, that the Web is a very dynamic medium. Web pages are never really finished and there's no room to be resting on your laurels. You need to be constantly on the lookout for new ideas to incorporate into your Web page, to keep your readers interested and to keep your information from getting stale. As you continue surfing the Web, you'll spot interesting new concepts that you'll want to add to your Web site. You might just even decide to redesign it completely! Donít be afraid to modify your pages or make a whole new start. After all, every change you make is a step towards improving your Web site and helping make this Web a better place to live in.

So surf the Web and keep building your page - and don't forget to have fun doing it!


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