Notes from the Technology Trenches - Web Site Management SoftwareBy Roger V. Skalbeck, Published on July 15, 2000
Managing Your Intranet or External Web Site
This month I’ve
decided to stray a bit from the purely legal topics of technology issues,
to focus generally on web site management.
Instead of going into detail about the various programs available,
I’ll feature two programs of differing complexity, while presenting them
in the context of wider site maintenance issues.
For those who have
already settled on a program for site management, hopefully this column
will suggest some ideas for how to plan for upgrades and ongoing
maintenance. For those who
haven’t yet decided on what to use to manage a site, this should give
you some ideas about where to start.
The programs referenced directly in this column are Microsoft’s
FrontPage 2000 and Macromedia’s
On the entry-level
side of the spectrum is Microsoft’s FrontPage 2000.
This has one of the easiest HTML editing interfaces that I have
seen, and it provides a very intuitive “what you see is what you get”
(WYSIWYG) page creation tool. Some
of the best features of this are in the area of site creation and
management. Microsoft bundles
a handful of “themes” as a part of the interface, so that you can
quickly set up a site that has an adequate and uniform interface replete
with common graphics, backgrounds and borders.
Beyond that, the program functions as an interface to a file
management system, and it has an invaluable facility for checking the
validity of links to external Internet sites, which can then be updated
One complaint that
some people have had about FrontPage is that it messes with your HTML code
you create or import, not allowing you to have absolute control about how
pages are rendered. The 2000
version has made improvements, but there are still some strange things
that FrontPage can do with your code.
For a program that provides for what many would term more
“pure” HTML, consider using Macromedia’s Dreamweaver 3 to manage
your site. There is a steeper
learning curve to using Dreamweaver, and the extensive tool set and
features place this if not opposite, then at least a distance apart from
FrontPage in terms of pure ease of use.
Nonetheless, I found it intuitive in the way it is organized, and
it does indeed give you explicit control over your HTML code.
As a nice feature for
publishing your site, Dreamweaver integrates the file transfer functions
directly as a part of the defining a site, which can be developed on a
local drive or networked file server.
In helping maintain the versions of files, Dreamweaver allows you
to check out files for editing, and it also provides you with a useful
interface for uploading them, where contents can be easily compared and
For more complex
tasks, Dreamweaver provides facilities for the following kinds of site and
page management tasks: HTML
validation and clean up, explicit control of fonts and style sheets as
well as the automation of mouse rollovers and similar tasks.
Beyond that, the editor program allows you roll back numerous page
edits, one step at a time, and you can preview pages in multiple browsers
without having to first save your file.
In order to manage a
site well, you will want to have tools that do more than just help you
write HTML code. You want to
have a tool that will help you see your site visually, edit elements
common to many pages at once, and you want to have a program that will
help to make sure that you are creating links that actually work.
One way in which you
can design a site that is easy to navigate and update is by looking at its
architecture visually. When
deciding to set up a site, it can help to develop a rough sketch of the
site on paper prior to actually setting up the necessary files.
In this way, you can devise a site map that will portray the
hierarchy of files relative to the rest of the site.
This is also a useful way to portray a site's content to somebody
unfamiliar with what is actually on it.
FrontPage and Dreamweaver allow for the creation and maintenance of sites with site maps of this kind, and they both provide visual representations of sites that are dynamically updated as you further develop your site. FrontPage portrays this chiefly through the navigation view of your site. Dreamweaver includes this as the site map view, which is an integral part of defining a site. With both programs, the site map and graphical navigation features work best if they are used from the time at which you first design and define a site.
Web sites are hosted
on servers that come in many flavors, each having its unique features,
quirks and attributes. In
deciding how and where to have your site hosted, you should consider the
available features in order to best leverage that power to serve up your
content. If you have played around with FrontPage at all on a local
PC, you may have noticed that some of the features don’t come through
perfectly, especially if you just copy them to a diskette or shared file
location. This is probably
because the machine where you posted your site didn’t support the server
extensions that requires.
In deciding where to
have your site hosted, it is imperative that you also consider the
features that are available on that server.
If you use FrontPage to edit your site, it will make things easier
if that server supports FrontPage extensions.
This provides essentially two major advantages.
First and foremost, it will allow you to use features like
scrolling marquees, shared pages and other FrontPage-specific elements.
Beyond this, if you have your site hosted on a server that supports
these extensions, you will have the ability to update content directly,
without the need to edit files in one place, only to have to use a
different program to get them to your server.
In short, if you use FrontPage without actually running your site
on a server that supports its extensions, you are chiefly using it as an
One great feature of
FrontPage are the “include pages”, which are essentially independent
HTML files that you maintain in one place, which can be included on
several pages throughout your site. As
an example, you might want to have a uniform header and footer throughout
your site, but you don’t want to have to update every file with these
attributes each time you change content.
With the use of “include pages”, you can maintain a single file
for the header, footer or even for a left-hand navigation menu, which need
only be updated once.
The concept of
include pages is not unique to FrontPage, and thankfully Dreamweaver helps
you to do this for what are called “server side includes”, which
function in the same fashion. With
a slightly different implementation method, Dreamweaver makes it fairly
painless to insert and then preview the inclusion of shared files, even
before they are transferred to the actual server.
In addition to shared
or included files, your server or web host will quite likely provide for
usage statistics. If you
contract with a web hosting company, these statistics are quite often
included in the price of hosting the site.
If you host your own intranet or external site, there are some free
programs such as Analog
which can be used to help analyze server’s log of what kinds of users
have visited which kinds of pages.
To learn more about web
authoring tips and tricks, check out one of the following:
– This site is dubbed “The Web Developer’s Resource”, and it
has technical advice and how-to article for expert and novice alike.
In addition to their sections on authoring, design, programming
and the like, you can also subscribe
to their Elbow Grease newsletter, which provides daily or weekly
tips on web development.
Builder.com – This provides “solutions for site builders”,
which includes how-to guides on HTML authoring and design, programming
and similar topics. In
addition to this, they also have an extensive Tips Library covering
specific products, including FrontPage and Dreamweaver.
In closing, I think that
it is best to use a single program to edit your site, and I think that
this needs to be a robust site management tool, and not simply a fancy
HTML editing program. As soon
as you are faced with the task of creating or updating more than just one
or two pages, you will quickly begin to see the value of being able to
manage content throughout the entire site.
Being able to do this in a uniform, logical manner, you should be
able to avoid problems of version control, broken links and pages that get
out of synch with each other.
It is now possible to set
up and edit an entire web site without ever having to see a single line of
“raw” HTML code. In order
to make the most of the new breed of site management programs, I think
that it is more important to get to know the detailed features of a
program with which you are comfortable than it is to spend time learning
the intricacies of HTML tags and specifications.
Microsoft FrontPage 2000
the two mentioned in this column, I have heard great things about at least
three other programs, which you might want to also consider:
GoLive! –From what I have heard about this site management tool
from Adobe, those who have used this love it for getting sites set up
quickly. If you already
use programs like PhotoShop, Adobe Acrobat or other products in the
Adobe family, GoLive! is sure to integrate well with them.
Fusion – This program has received very good reviews (highlighted
on the NetObjects site), and it looks to be a great platform for
providing comprehensive site management.
It looks to be a good option especially for designing
professional home and small-business sites.
HomeSite – While this is really more of an HTML editing program
than a site management tool, it is very robust and complex in the
features that are available. Allaire
describes Macromedia as a technology
partner, and many features of both HomeSite and ColdFusion
are integrated with Dreamweaver for site maintenance.
have comments or questions about this column, feel free to send me an email
Web Sites Mentioned in this Column:
(logfile analysis tool)
Copyright © 2000 Roger V. Skalbeck. All Rights Reserved.