Home Page Construction Set / ERIC'S TIPS FOR WEB AUTHORS

Document Design

  1. Make your pages as browser-independent as possible. Don't demand that your audience upgrade their browser to Netscape before they can read your pages. Netscape may be the best browser around, but Netscape isn't the only game in town. Besides, technically, Netscape is not free for most people (if you are using Netscape, see about:license).

    Remember, the whole purpose of HTML is to provide a way of distributing information in a non-browser specific format (for a browser-specific format, look at Adobe Acrobat). It's pretty pointless to create documents that only work on certain browsers. Minimally, your pages should be readable on at least Netscape, Mosaic, and Lynx.

  2. Don't use HTML 3.0 tables for critical content. There simply aren't enough browsers that support tables. Pages that are formatted with tables are impossible to read with most of the browsers that are out there. If you insist on using tables, be sure to provide a non-table equivalent (such as a GIF or <PRE> version), perhaps linked like this:
    Here's the <A HREF="table.html">daily schedule</A> for browsers
    with table support.  For other browsers, a <A HREF="table.txt">
    text-only version</A> is available.

    Let me stress that I'm NOT suggesting that you should avoid using tables. Indeed, tables are one of the most useful improvements to the HTML specification. However, if you do use tables, you should always have a backup presentation to accomodate those who do not have table-capable browsers.

    So when will it be "okay" to go exclusively with tables? In my opinion, not until the "Big Three" browsers (Netscape, Mosaic, and Lynx) support HTML 3.0 tables in their production versions (so beta and test versions do not count) on the three major platforms (Windows, Macintosh, and Unix). Since the Lynx developers have already begun to work on a version with table support, I think we can begin to rely on tables by the beginning of 1996.

  3. Avoid the long "Mega Document." This is often a characteristic of HTMLized FAQs (Caution: 125 Kb!) or link lists. (Caution: over 400 Kb!). Huge pages take forever to load and often load more information that a reader wants to get at that moment. Rather than just adding a table of contents to the top of a big document, break each section into a separate page and use a table of contents page to link to them. If your page is over 20 Kb or takes longer than 15 seconds to scroll through, it might just be a Mega Document.

  4. Make an extra effort to write clean HTML source. This will save you an enormous amount of time when you update your pages or hunt for a bad tag. For example, feel free to insert carriage returns within tags or between sections--the browser doesn't care. Try to keep your line length around 80 characters--super long lines are difficult to edit and may cause problems. Make your source as readable as possible, since others will most likely look at your source some time (read on!).

  5. Read and study other people's HTML source. That's how you learn new techniques to incorporate into your own pages. I learned quite a bit about both forms and formatting tags by looking at other people's source. That's why writing clean source is so important--someone may be using your source to learn HTML!

  6. Give credit where credit is due. This should be obvious, but it's amazing how many people don't think it's wrong to blatantly rip off ideas, content, or graphics from other pages without giving any acknowledgment to the author (let alone asking permission). Just because the Web allows the free viewing of material does not mean that everything on the Web is public domain.

  7. Be very careful about copyrights. Just because it is 'easy' to copy items using the Web or because 'everyone is doing it,' does not make you exempt from the legal consequences of doing so. If you don't believe that a big company or author will track you down, check out an actual "cease and desist" letter to someone who distributed icons of characters from a copyrighted television show. For further information on copyrights, the Copyright WebSite may be helpful.

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Last Modified: January 27, 1996
/ Eric Sasaki
esasaki@nyx.net (feedback welcome)

All original content Copyright © 1994-96 Eric Sasaki. All rights reserved.