The Internet: Where Do I Begin?

Part 2

For Part 1, see CBI January - August 2001: The Internet: Where Do I Begin?

I won't try to cover all of the basics of making up your page in this section. I will cover mainly what HTML tags to use where and how you can enhance them to achieve the results you want. For information on the basics of the HTML language I would recommend a good book called, Teach Yourself HTML 4 by Laura Lemay. Published by Samms Press it is available from bookstores or from the Internet itself. The best way to find it on the web is to type in the above title or author name in a search engine and you will probably find a list of stockists for it. There are probably many other books just as good, so perhaps a trip to a bookstore where you can browse wouldn't be a bad idea

However, the Internet is a good source of information on itself and many people have websites devoted to the HTML language. Simply go to your favorite search engine and type in HTML Language and you will find hundreds of pages that will teach you the language. Armed with that information and a basic text editor you can create the most sophisticated website on the Internet. (Two sites that are good are The HTML 4 Reference at http://www.htmlhelp.com/reference/html40/ & HTML Goodies, Getting Started Tutorial at http://www.htmlgoodies.com/tutorials/getting_started/index.php )

Developing a Structure

There are many different ways to arrange a web page and you should be guided by the subject of your website for the one which best meets your needs. What I am going to cover are two methods you can use to bring order and structure to your home page.

Having a structured home page will make it easy for your customers to find what they want on your web site. The one thing that I am learning as I develop our company website is KISS, Keep It Simple Sam. I am aiming to find the simplest method to get across to our customers what we, as a company, offer them in one page and with minimal scrolling. I keep in mind always that the Internet is slower than working on my local computer, so I don't want our customers to have to follow dozens of links just to find out what we are about. So on with the two methods I mentioned.

The two methods you can choose from to structure your home page are: Frames or Tables. Lemay covers Tables in Chapter 13 of her book and Frames in Chapter 14. Simply put they allow you to arrange your page into columns and rows, which can be of various sizes and positions. At the end of this article I will discuss why you might choose one over the other. For now here are the technical details.

Frames

(The picture shows what a frames based website appears like in your browser.) Frames allow you to partition the page in many ways (as do tables) but frames have the ability to keep one section of the page constant while another section changes. Thus you can split the page into two frames or columns, keeping the left column as a constant menu that doesn't change while the right column changes to reflect the menu choice made from the left. Here is how such a two-column frame works. Your home page is actually a page that is split into two frames and each frame holds a separate page (HTML file). These frames allow you to load a new page into either frame without the entire page changing. Thus in the left frame you could have a file that has links to various sections of your website, a sort of navigation menu. Then, in the right frame you load the page that corresponds to the link that is clicked in the left frame.

There are two advantages to this method. First, the only thing that changes when a link on the left is clicked is the information in the frame on the right, so some parts of the home page remain constant and thus your visitors are not left with a white, empty space while waiting for the next page to download. I find this to be one of the most reassuring things on the web-I always know where I am at on a website when something on the screen is remaining constant before me. The second advantage is for you, the developer. As you develop your website you will probably be adding pages or sections and thus changing your menu. With the frames method you can have one menu file that you change and because that is the file loaded into the left frame, which doesn't change as your visitors navigate your website, it will always work for every page. You will understand this advantage better as we discuss tables.

There are a couple of important things to remember about frames. First, you can divide your page up anyway you like with as many rows and columns as needed and you can size each individually. The other is that each frame can be scrolled separately from the others, which is why frames do very well when used for a menu type navigation system. There are a couple of drawbacks to frames, however. First, it seems that search engines have a difficult time with frames so they don't always get your page indexed correctly. I have noticed that since frames were introduced the use of them has declined to the point that many of the top websites aren't using them. However, this could change so if the advantages of frames are most suitable for your situation then don't give up on frames. The other disadvantage to frames is that they are less flexible to layout than tables, and slightly more complicated to use.

I am going to discuss the use of tables in my next article and then you will be able to decide which of these two methods is better suited to your situation. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to write or e-mail me at e-mail: webmaster@worldinvisible.com

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