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ASSE Chapter Website Hosting

This guide is intended to assist ASSE Chapters with the planning, design and launch of their own Chapter websites. Although building a website can be time-consuming and technical, there are many opportunities to be creative and enjoy the interaction such a process will afford members of your Chapter. With this in mind, this guide should be viewed as an informal “primer” for use by the true novice. Many of the ideas and concepts presented here are merely starting points for further discovery.

ASSE hopes you and your Chapter members will continue to learn and grow with the process of building your Chapter website; remember to note the many references to online tutorials and other widely available web resources, and please, take a moment to surf the web to learn more about the procedures and methods discussed in this appendix.

Believe it or not, your ASSE Chapter can build an award-winning website, and you will be surprised at how simple it can be. Essentially, there are three important steps, oversimplified below:

  • Step One - Purchase a domain name for your website such as “chapter-xyz.org” so you have a website name. The vast majority of internet domain names are purchased through NetworkSolutions. com, at an average price of $35 per year.

  • Step Two - Purchase “space” on a webserver so you have a place to “house” your website, and to upload and edit all your web pages. Space is available through national and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as MSN, YAHOO, GeoCities and others, or through the webserver used at ASSE Headquarters. Average costs are around $20 per month.

  • Step Three - Build the web pages using an HTML editing program such as MS FrontPage or Dreamweaver, or by using other programs such as MS Word and even Windows Notepad. When the pages are complete, simply upload them to your new webserver space through your ISP, or Hosting Company.

Thanks to today's Web authoring tools and all the Web authoring resources on the Internet, you can create a great-looking Web site without knowing any hypertext markup language (HTML) code. Of course, if you want to learn the technicalities of HTML, there are plenty of places for you to turn for information.

Getting a domain, or Web presence is vital to the success of your site, and obviously, you need a name for your site! Before you can post a Web site to the World Wide Web, you need a unique address for the site. This address is your domain name. The domain name for ASSE is asse.org, and the uniform resource locator (URL) for ASSE’s home page is http://www.asse.org.

What is InterNIC?

To ensure that each Web site has an address that no other site is using, domain names must be registered with the domain administrator. In most cases, this is InterNIC. InterNIC administers domain names ending in .com for commercial enterprises, .org for nonprofit organizations, .net for networks, .edu for educational institutions, .gov for government organizations, and .mil for military services. As the Web grows, new suffixes are being added frequently; some of the latest are .biz, .info, .name, .museum, .coop, and .aero.

How to Register

You can search domain names to find out whether the name you want is taken and can register a domain name through InterNIC or Register.com. Networksolutions.com provides detailed information about how to register and what is required before you can register.

Consider These Sites to Visit
Planning Stages

Developing an effective website requires thoughtful planning. Understanding the entire process before you begin will save you time as the project progresses. Although sites range anywhere from just a few pages to more complex ones with hundreds of pages and sophisticated features, the development process remains similar.

There are four basic stages:
  1. Content development

  2. Graphic design

  3. Programming

  4. Maintenance.

Depending on your areas of expertise, you may need assistance for some or all phases of your project. Compare the project to building a house: first, develop a good blueprint, perhaps with the help of an architect; then hire individual contractors for the various tasks, or perhaps hire a general contractor.

Planning

First of all, you have to determine who the audience is for your site. This is critical, because many design and content decisions depend on this. Does your target audience access the internet from work, school or home? How fast is their Internet connection? Do they want to be informed or entertained, or a little of both? Make sure you know the answers to these types of questions from the outset.

Your site must be well organized, both for the benefit of your members, and to visitors, and to make it easier to maintain. Map out your site in storyboard or schematic form, perhaps as a flow chart. Consider using index cards to represent the prospective web pages. You can rearrange them very quickly, and visualize the website structure.
Spend as much time as you can surfing the Web at this stage. Take a close look at the
websites you like. Many sites credit the design company and link to its website so you see what else the company has done. If you decide to hire outside help, make sure the company is experienced with projects of your size and scope, regardless of whether or not your Chapter works with ASSE Headquarters on building your Chapter website.

Bear in mind that a website is a perpetual work-in-progress. Most websites change fairly often because the technology makes electronic publishing rapid and relatively inexpensive. A well planned site simplifies this process. New content and features can be easily added without having to redesign the site.

Content Development

The content of your site will most likely be a combination of information that you currently have and information you will have to create. This may be a time when you may want to search your Chapter membership for those creative writers, and to contact ASSE headquarters for Public Relations assistance.

One kind of content is “customer service-oriented information.” What questions do people ask most often? If you don't have a list of frequently asked questions and answers, sit down alone, or with your staff and write one. Then post this information on your website. The more your Chapter members can get answers from your site, the less time someone has to spend answering those same questions on the phone or in writing.

Obviously, a webmaster or content manager should be charged with the task of keeping track of the text, graphics, and programming necessary to create the content and get it online. This kind of help can be hired on a temporary basis if you don't have the expertise within your Chapter. ASSE Headquarters can also be of service; contact headquarters for details.

Graphic Design

No matter how well-organized and interesting your content, graphics set the tone. You can create a good impression with some well designed graphics on the home page. Repeat a few design elements throughout the site to create a sense of continuity.

The most important thing to keep in mind in choosing graphic designers is to work with professionals who understand the unique requirements of the Web. The technical limitations (and opportunities) of web pages are foreign to most graphic designers trained in other media. File size requirements, color limitations, and screen resolutions are much different from those in print. Even if you have a Chapter member with graphics experience, you may want to hire a Web-savvy graphics person to bring your people up to speed on the demands of online design.

Programming and Technical Help

Once you have planned your site and created the content and graphics, you will need to convert your information into a Web-readable form. You can do this by converting text documents to HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and converting the graphics into GIF or JPEG format. Learning the basics of HTML is fairly easy. If you have only a few pages to create and some time on your hands, you can probably do it yourself. Again, ASSE Headquarters can be of assistance; contact Headquarters for details. If you need help, you can hire an HTML programmer for about $25 to US $75 per hour. Software to convert text files to HTML (HTML editors) can be of great help. You can even use Microsoft Word to save a document as an HTML file.

If you begin working with forms, CGI scripts, image maps, or online transactions, you probably will need the services of a programmer, or ASSE Headquarters staff. Depending on the service agreement your Chapter has with the local web hosting company, your maintenance may be included in your monthly fee. If not, you will need to consider these costs separately from just a “web hosting-only” arrangement. Programmers can cost $50 to $200 per hour, depending on your geographic location and the programmer's skills. Many web developers offer programming as part of their services. You can also find hundreds of programmers on the Net. Make sure you see some working examples of previous projects, no matter whom you hire.

When all of your material is ready and you've got a programmer ready to roll, you will need a place to host your site. Most Chapters and other individuals host their sites with their Internet service provider (if it provides this service) or with a web hosting company.

Marketing and Promotion

Creating a brilliant website is fun and can be rewarding, but -- what if no one knows about it? With millions of sites, capturing attention can be a challenge. Some developers offer marketing and promotional help as part of their package. You can get things rolling yourself by registering your site with the major Internet search engines such as Yahoo, Lycos, Google and others. Some websites employ crawler technology that will “seek out” websites and categorize them. However, it is usually a good idea to send your information to the search engines, rather than wait to be “found.”

Maintenance

Don't make the mistake of assuming that once it's online, it's done. If you want people to return to your site, someone will have to add new content and update existing material; there's e-mail to answer, links to check, and perhaps usage statistics to track. For a small site, this can take as little as two or three hours a month.

Maintenance on a large site can be a full-time job, so build the costs of continuing maintenance into your budget. If you're working with a web developer who is helping with aspects of your project, the company may offer a maintenance agreement as part of the contract. Ask about such an agreement at the beginning of the project. Working with the same people throughout will ensure consistency; a new person or company won't have the same working knowledge of your site. More on maintenance in the next section.

Having a website requires a lot of time, thought, and resources in the initial planning and implementation, but creating it is only the first task. Once you've actually put the site online, the real challenge lies in maintaining and updating it. Keeping your site fresh encourages people to return. Poor maintenance is a sure way of losing visitors, perhaps permanently.

In general terms, maintenance means making sure that your files and file directory structures are up and running at all times, and that all your links are working correctly. Since HTML documents and their related graphics components are linked in specific ways, any changes or additions that you make to existing documents or directories could affect or alter their relationship to one another. The most common result is that links are broken, images get mixed up, or pages don't load properly. User feedback, usually via e-mail, can play a big part in flagging these types of problems so they can be resolved in a timely manner.

Maintenance for a small site may take as little as one or two hours a month. On a large site, maintenance may be a full-time job. Be sure to incorporate the costs of maintenance into your budget during the planning phase so it doesn't take you by surprise. If you're planning a large, ambitious site or want to gradually add more content and functionality to it, working with an experienced designer and programmer from the outset will save you a lot of time and hassle later on. Starting with a well-designed site is the most effective way to prevent resource-intensive updates and maintenance. Experienced web developers average about $75 per hour and up. This may sound steep, but it is well worth the cost if you want to incorporate advanced features like forms or search tools.

Keeping Your Site Up-To-Date

Updating a site entails keeping the content fresh, interesting and timely. It can include simply checking links to other sites to make sure they are current, or it can also entail complex new programming involving online forms. The resources and cost of keeping a website current and operational depend on the size and complexity of the site and how often it needs to be updated. Adding new content doesn't necessarily mean scrapping the old. Some kinds of dated material like press releases, software updates, articles or transcripts of speeches can be useful and should be archived. Make sure that archived information is organized in a way that is easy to access.

Maintenance Strategies

How do you come up with an effective maintenance strategy? Start by deciding how often your Chapter needs or wants to update the site and how extensive those updates will be. For example, a news publisher such as CNN or MSNBC will likely update information on a daily basis, in some cases, even hourly. A retailer may update its site whenever there is new or discontinued merchandise and for special sales and promotions. Chapters should consider updates that relate to important meeting dates, elections details, job posting information and other items which change on a regular basis.

Provide a way for users to give feedback. The most common method is via e-mail. Use that information to identify and resolve technical problems in a timely manner. Use qualitative comments about the site along with usage tracking data to guide your decisions about what content to keep, replace, or improve.

If you're pressed for time or resources, maintaining a simple database of all your pages, including a brief description of each page's content, related links and graphics files, can be very helpful. As your site grows, or if you hand over maintenance to someone else, the database will come in handy. Software that uses this type of database to automate a lot of the updating is available.

Finally, make an effort to watch what your users are doing and saying. How many people are visiting your site and which page are they viewing? There are ways of tracking which areas of your site are being frequented. If your site is hosted by a web hosting service, it may have available a series of reports on hits and visitors.

Photos, Colors and Graphics

The best designed websites use graphics sparingly. Because high-resolution images are complex and large, when you convert them into an appropriate format for the Web, they look much less compelling. This is one of the current limitations of the Web. Whether you are using existing artwork or creating new graphics, keep in mind that the demands and requirements of online design differ from those of other media. Even the best graphic designers may not be aware of the specific design issues involved with Web graphics.

File Size is Critical

The key to creating suitable graphics is to keep the file sizes small so they will download quickly. Large graphic files will take a long time to download, especially at slower modem speeds. You don't want impatient people leaving your site before they've had a chance to see your brilliant creation.

Keeping the file size small does not necessarily mean that the graphic itself must be small. The file size is determined by the amount of information in the image. A large image with only a few colors can actually have a smaller file size than a tiny graphic with many colors. Ideally, file sizes should be between 25K and 50K each. At this size, they will load almost instantly. Larger images, such as a masthead or banner you place at the top of a page, can be as large as 100K. But at this size, the image alone can take 20 seconds to download with a typical 56K modem. A good rule of thumb is to keep the total sum of all the images on a page at 150K or less.

Web graphics are usually in one of two formats: JPEG (a compression method developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group, used for photographic images) and GIF (Graphics Interchange Format--a compression scheme developed by CompuServe for graphics).

To create or convert your graphics to a Web format, you need image-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or others. If you are working on a large site, you will benefit greatly from programs designed to catalog and manage graphics and graphic elements, such as Graphic Workshop Professional. Sometimes this can be done with a single program, but usually it's better to use separate ones.

Guidelines for Designing and Converting Graphics

Whether you use GIF or JPEG format, here are some guidelines for working with graphic files:

Always design in RGB (red, green, blue) mode at 72 dpi (dots per inch) with an 8-bit maximum size. Many older computer monitors display a maximum of 256 colors, and this is the Web standard. The fewer colors you use, the smaller the file size will be. For example, 8 bits gives you 256 colors to play with, while 3 bits gives you only eight colors. You'll be surprised at what you can do with only eight to 16 colors. Your readers will be pleased with the relatively quick downloading time of your pages.

Converting existing high-resolution graphics usually means reducing the image from 300 pixels or more per inch to 72 pixels per inch. This can make a big difference in the appearance of an image, creating jagged edges, or gaps where colors have been removed. Use techniques like indexing and dithering to fix these problems. Dithering or diffusion fills in missing colors in a uniform way to make the transitions between colors smoother. You should only dither an image once, because the more you dither, the blurrier the separations get between colors. In some cases, to get a clean result you may have to open the lower resolution GIF and touch it up, pixel by pixel. Also, when working with palettes, stick to either the Adaptive Palette or the System Palette.

For sharper looking graphics, make your images transparent. This entails changing the background color to match that of the page (which more often than not is white) so your image appears to float on the page.

HTML - The Basics

Most websites today are built with HTML editing software that allows users to simply drag and drop text, tables, photos and other design elements right onto the web page, without knowing the “exact” HTML code behind the scenes. Programs like Microsoft FrontPage and Macromedia Dreamweaver are good examples of these. However, for a basic introduction like this, it might be helpful for you to understand at least a little bit about the HTML code. (Online Tutorials are referenced at the end of this appendix for additional details on HTML code).

Web pages are constructed in HTML code, and usually are saved with the .htm or .html extension, similar to how most MS Word files are saved with the .DOC extension, and MS Excel files are saved with the .XLS extension. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) can be described as a set of special codes referred to as "tags," which instruct a web browser how to display a hypertext document. Think of it is as a collection of styles (indicated by markup tags) that define the various components of a web page.

All HTML documents are written in plain text (ASCII) format, making them universally readable by different web browsers running on different computer platforms. HTML tags consist of a left angle bracket (< or "less than" symbol) followed by the name of the tag and closed by a right angle bracket (> or "greater than" symbol). Some HTML tags, like the ones used to indicate a new paragraph <P> or a line break <BR>, stand alone. Most tags however, are paired, with a beginning (or open) and an ending (or close) tag. The ending tags are the same as the beginning tags except that they are preceded by a forward slash (/). A typical pair of tags look like this:
<p>Chapter XYZ</p>

Each tag in a pair is placed around the text or section that you want to define ("mark up") with that tag. Every HTML document needs a title. The <TITLE> tag goes inside the document header and should describe the contents of the page. This is especially important if you are going to register your site with search engines. You can have only one title per document and it should be in plain text. In other words, there shouldn't be any tags or strange characters inside the title.

All you need is a text editor like Notepad, or an HTML editor, and a web browser. Compose your HTML pages with your text editor and save it as a text-only file with a .htm extension. Then open the file in your browser to see what it looks like. (Keep in mind that an HTML document may look different when viewed with different browsers.) Numerous HTML editors and file conversion programs are available to download for free by doing a simple search at Download.com, Yahoo, Google or other websites.

Uploading your Web Pages: What is FTP?

When you upload your newly created web pages to a server, you will use FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, along with the proper FTP software. Some popular FTP software programs include Bulletproof FTP, Cute FTP, and Voyager FTP, among many others. FTP is one of the oldest protocols still in use today, and was first developed in 1971. It was designed to move files from one computer to another and to handle the translation problems that can occur when different types of computers try to communicate.

In order to access an FTP server (your web server), you must provide a user name and a password. This information is used to determine what level of access you will be granted. Password and user names are usually given out by either your ISP or your Hosting company, and can be modified or changed as you see fit (usually).

FTP Commands and Responses

To understand a protocol, it is best to think of a series of commands and responses like you might see during a DOS session. For instance, in DOS, if you type a CD command followed by a path name, the computer processes your request and either returns an error or returns a command prompt. FTP works along these lines.

If you send a command to an FTP server, you will receive a three-digit response code describing how the server processed your command:

  • Codes that begin with 1 mean the command was successful, but you need to wait for another response code before issuing your next command.

  • Codes that begin with 2 describe the successful completion of a command.

  • Codes that begin with 3 mean that the server needs more information before it can complete the request.

  • Codes that begin with 4 mean that the system was too busy to process the command and that you should try again later.

  • Codes that begin with 5 represent some kind of error; you should resolve the error before trying the command again.

FTP commands are grouped together as a session. You first must log on to the server. Then you can execute multiple commands to upload and download files, create and delete directories, and perform other tasks. When you are finished, you close the connection to the server. This will log you off the server. Note that you log on to the server only once, and the server remembers things like the current directory you are accessing.

FTP and URLs

A typical FTP URL might look like this:

ftp://wfreeze:mypass@ftp.justpc.com/vb/inet/project1.exe

This would download the file project1.exe in the /vb/inet directory on the ftp.justpc.com server. It would use wfreeze as the user name with a corresponding password of mypass. Typically, when you use a URL with an FTP server, you will log on, execute a command, and log off again. This process will be repeated for each URL you execute. In some cases, such as when you want the user to download a single file, it’s okay to log off after executing the command. However, if you want a user to be able to create a directory and then upload multiple files, it is more efficient to use a regular FTP program rather than go through the logon and logoff process for each command executed.

Important Note on FTP:

MOST of the time you work with your files and upload them through FTP, you will more than likely be using a simple windows-based program (such as the BulletProof FTP, or CuteFTP, referenced above) that looks much like the “File Manager” or “My Computer” program found on Windows 98, 2000, XP, etc. So, while the language and special codes, commands and responses referenced in this section are important, they are not crucial to the actual uploading of your web pages. Depending on which FTP software you use, the vast majority of the uploading you will perform will involve simply dragging and dropping files from your hard drive directory to the webserver directory, very similar to copying or transferring files on your hard drive to another drive, folder, directory or floppy disk.

Helpful Links: HTML Reference Links
  • Bare Bones HTML - A guide that lists HTML code tags and other info in a concise, organized format.

  • Beginner's Guide To HTML - This guide is used by many to start to understand the hypertext markup language (HTML) used on the World Wide Web.

  • So, You Want to Make a Web Page! - PageTutor is an excellent website with an easy to use web page authoring tutorial written especially for Newbies.

  • WebMonkey - Beginner’s guide link to their HTML “cheatsheet” with quick and easy code references.

  • Web Teacher - Another online tutorial.

  • Microsoft FrontPage Tutorial - Helpful for anyone who decide to use MS FrontPage software to build their Chapter website.

  • HTML Bad Style Page - Collection of dont's for HTML.

  • HTML Quick Reference Guide - From NCSA.

  • HTML Tutorial - This tutorial has a sequel titled Intermediate HTML, which covers forms, among other things.

  • Putting Information on the Web - (*Archived information from 1995, but still relevant) - If you would like to create information and place it on the World Wide Web, you can approach this in several different ways. Find out some basics here.