Building a Web Site; How Not to Set Your Head spinning.(LIFE - SCIENCE &Amp; TECHNOLOGY)

Article excerpt

Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …