SUMMARY: "Good" Web Pages question

Subject: SUMMARY: "Good" Web Pages question
From: mmarkley -at- MICRON -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 6 Feb 1997 11:37:35 MST

Greetings,

As promised, here's a summary of the comments from the "'Good'
Web Page" question that I posed several days ago. It's pretty
long, so if you're *not* interested, you'd better press [delete]
now.

Thank you to those who responded, I received valuable information
from everyone. I have attached the individual comments below
(I inadvertently erased a few comments, so I am unable to share
them all with you--my apologies).

If you're interested in learning more about this topic, be sure to
check out the suggested books, articles and Web sites at the bottom
of the post.

I've decided not to write a personal summary of these comments
because I really don't want to impose yet another opinion on you
when it comes to Web page design (I will let you browse through the
comments and form your own opinion); however, I found the Lone Star
STC's criteria for their WWW page competition to be an excellent,
comprehensive resource if you're interested in evaluating Web page
effectiveness. You can find their judging criteria at:

http://stc.org/region5/lsc/www/ipic/webeval.htm


Enjoy! And thanks again.

Mike Markley
mmarkley -at- micron -dot- com
Micron Technology, Inc.
208-368-1389



ATTACHED:
-Original Post
-Responses from 17 people
-Suggested books, articles, and Web sites
-List of contributors


My original post on "Good" Web Pages:

What is "good" when it comes to Web pages/documentation?

In other words, if you were to list some specific criteria
for judging the quality of Web pages/documentation, what
would some of those criteria be? Or what peeves you when
you use the Web?

Just to get you started, here are a few criteria of my
own: Good Web pages (1) are easy to navigate, (2) contain
timely and useful information, (3) contain mechanisms to
measure their effectiveness (i.e., tracking features).
What have I missed?

Reply #1:

"Good" Web pages all contain some common attributes (These
are just the points that come to my mind as I sit here?I am
sure others will add more!)

-They load quickly
-They do not require any horizontal scrolling (even for
640x480 displays)
-They have limited vertical scrolling
-Are written and formatted for quick scanning and location
of [information]
-Are written concisely so online reading is minimized
-Have current, accurate content
-Are interesting and hold your interest
-Meet the visitor's needs (not the corporation's)
-Are free from typos, spelling and grammatical errors, etc.
-Have a focus and are aimed at a clear target audience

Reply #2:

Speed of loading. I access the net via a 14.4 modem. I
despise sites that take forever to load. I'm much less apt
to revisit, or I'll turn the graphics off completely which
sometimes screws up navigating.

Reply #3:

Probably divide into two levels - pages with a good group of
links about a particular subject and then pages with useful
information displayed in a manner that makes it easy to read
the information on screen and are also quick to load.

Reply #4:

-Good typographical control (yes, it *IS* possible, even
with HTML 2)

-Web pages that *are* Web pages, and not just ported-over
written [documents].

Regarding the last item above, here's a different idea that
I'm getting ready to try on a new Web site. Instead of
conventional footnotes and endnotes (or in addition to same),
how about using popup screens tied either to clickable tags
or scripted mouseover commands. That would allow the online
viewer to preserve the flow of the document to the greatest
degree possible while still seeing whatever references he
deems necessary. Goes along with Sally's point about
reducing scrolling as much as possible.


In response to: "Or what peeves you when you use the Web?"

-Links that tell me to go "Back" to something that I never
came from.
-Scrolling marquees in the status line
-Five shades of purple on the same page
-85kb inline photos that I don't even want to see (ever
heard of thumbnails?)
-The inclusion of every Java applet created in the last
three months on *one* page
-Pages which include every Java applet created in the last
three months hosted on a server with a 64kb connection to
the Internet
-Graphics created by the same people who brought us "mole
art" in the 60s

Reply #5:

No or few flashing "things."

Reply #6:

-Keep frames to an absolute minimum, if you use them at all.
The only legitimate use for frames that I see would be a
table of contents along the left side of the screen
containing links/anchors to the important parts of your
document. Too many people get carried away with frames.

-Keep the page clean - this goes for technical sites as well
as others. Remember, the object is to get people to read
what you've written. Don't make it hard on them by
cluttering up your page. Give it a neat, crisp layout;
always use a background color (white is usually best); lay
off the snazzy Java applets.

?I think you'll find that any effective website has to
conform to certain principles of graphic design.


Reply #7:

For the Web, I would put general appearance high on the list.
This includes colors, font size, and background graphics.
Some pages are really gaudy. Some have backgrounds that make
your eyes hurt when you try to read the text.

The size and number of graphics are important for download
time. I don't like pages that take forever to download and
then not have the information I need.

It's often a good idea to segment the content in small pieces
that download quickly, and so the user can go straight to the
part needed without wading through a lot of other stuff. But
be careful about having too many [introductory] pages that
don't provide any benefit (either in content or navigation).

Reply #8:

Compatibility suited to the target audience. If you want
your pages to show off your talents to those not-so-easily
impressed who have the latest bleeding-edge systems and
high-speed connections, go nuts on the graphics and
quasi-proprietary, quasi-HTML tags.

However, if the pages are actually intended for people in
the real world (i.e., reference source, company information,
technical support, those with 14.4k connections, etc.) then
try to stick to HTML 3, or better yet, HTML 2.0 spec... or
at the very least, include such pages as options. Keep
graphics to a relative minimum, and keep them small (8-bit
rather than 24-bit color, for example). In short, show a
little more consideration for the average user than for your
own ego :-)

Reply #9:

CONTENT. I am sick of pages that offer nothing. And if
the content is a collection of links, label it that way.

Correct grammar and spelling. Doesn't have to be perfect,
but there are some web sites for hobbyist organizations that
are so badly written as to be near unusable.

If you are going to change defaults for fonts, font sizes,
or link colors, make sure you check it on many different
platforms. One site whose content I like insists on
presenting in a font that is near unreadable -- I use lynx
when I want to read their pages!

Which brings up a last point -- graphics. First, please,
no animated gifs. I've only seen one site do it well
(Copyright Clearance Center). Second, make them small and
meaningful -- if a page takes forever to load, I'll just
turn the images off. Third, please provide alternate tags
(ALT IMAGE = "") for those of us who do surf with the
graphics off.


: Or what peeves you when you use the Web?

People who didn't check their pages. One site for
information on X omitted a table tag, so some of the cells
are squeezed into weird shapes. Others seem to think we
all have Java -- sorry, but my employer has mandated we
can't use Java or JavaScript because it is too easy to
steal information with those.

Another peeve is frequently updated pages that don't have
a "What's New" indicator. (Ironically, one of our usability
people is the worst offender for this.) I'll carefully
re-read those pages in a cloud of perplexity, because my
browser tells me something has changed but for the life of
me I can't figure out what! I suspect sometimes it is just
that typos were corrected, but still...

In response to:
>Just to get you started, here are a few criteria of my
>own: Good Web pages (1) are easy to navigate, (2) contain
>timely and useful information, (3) contain mechanisms to
>measure their effectiveness (i.e., tracking features).
>What have I missed?

I agree with (1) and (2) (In fact, so much so that it didn't
even occur to me to list them.) If you want to see a very
good example of those in action, check out the American
Society of Indexers [http://www.well.com/user/asi/index.html]
site. I keep it bookmarked for when people ask me for good
examples. :-)

Point 3 I would quibble with. I maintain a personal site that
is primarily intended for entertainment, and I really don't
care how often it is accessed. I can tell it is because I
occasionally get notes asking to link to it. Also, for our
internal information sites, I suspect the tracking information
isn't that important: those sites are intended mainly as a
means of keeping the people on a project informed. Now if the
site were intended for advertising or seeing what kinds of
information most interested people, that would be something
different.

Reply #10:

I'd like to add that effective graphical (Visual) design is
a must for a "good web page." I work in an engineering
environment where I often hear the engineers sneer at attempt
to make a page look "pretty." "Content is king," they say!

I have to agree that content is king. There is no substitute
for good content. A "pretty" page full of fluff will not
attract more than a passing glance.

But in agreeing with my engineering counterparts, I must add
that the effective use of type, color, buttons, graphics, etc.
can not only add visual appeal but also contribute
significantly to the "legibility" of the page. This is
perhaps part of what you meant by "easy to navigate." Though,
I believe it reaches much further.

An example would be the numerous sites hosted by C/NET. The
C/NET sites (see, www.cnet.com, www.news.com) are densely
packed with information, easy to navigate, easy to read, easy
to scan, etc. To support this, simply notice the number of
sites that have copied C/NET's approach.

I would temper this with the realization that graphics can
slow loading. Obviously you have to be aware of your target
audience. On a high speed intranet, there is little reason
to worry. But, even for pages meant for 14.4 or 28.8 access,
visual components need to be considered.

Reply #11:

In response to
>An example would be the numerous sites hosted by C/NET. The
>C/NET sites (see, www.cnet.com, www.news.com) are densely
>packed with information, easy to navigate, easy to read,
>easy to scan, etc.

I avoid C/NET sites like the plague because they take too
long to download. I don't know why--maybe it's all the
densely-packed graphics? I also don't like the teeny tiny
type they use on the left side. I've forgotten if they used
graphical buttons or linked text on the left, but whichever,
the type was uncomfortable to read so I never read it, and
as a consequence I don't know what all their pages had to
offer.

However, Microsoft's sites are user-hostile. Some of the
text is literally too small to read at all, let alone read
comfortably. I went there just the other day to see if there
was an Internet Assistant for Word that would work on
WindowsNT (there wasn't, not surprisingly) but in trying to
find out if there was--I discovered I couldn't. I couldn't
read the text so I just clicked on "download" and hoped for
the best. Then I noticed that there was actually fine print
on some of the pages which I would imagine contained
copyright stuff--at least I hope. I hope it wasn't a warning
not to install IA for Word on my platform. Maybe it was a
notice about a WindowsNT version? Heck--I'll never know
either way.

My eyesight isn't below normal. I can read and do detailed
work like anyone else. I don't have any troubles reading
other pages?just Microsoft's in particular. And, I used
Microsoft's own web browser on Microsoft's own operating
system to view Microsoft's own web page and I don't have my
monitor set to an unusually high resolution--shouldn't
everything have been kosher?

In response to
>To support this, simply notice the number of sites that
>have copied C/NET's approach.

The idea of having a wide rule running down the left margin
of a page is a common (I might argue _tired_) design element
that predates the web itself, let alone C/NET's web pages.
It's most often found in letterheads and the like. It's not
innovative by any means so I wouldn't suggest people are
copying C/NET but copying their own company's letterhead,
someone else's letterhead or promotional material, or just
using the design they might've seen any number of other
places before.

Reply #12:

You listed three of the criteria that I would agree with,
however I would add two more to the list:

1)They should be clean in appearance. Nothing I hate more
than a cluttered web page in which I have to search to find
the right link, or stop to make sense of the confused
jumble of images and text.

2)The page should provide answers. For example, lately I've
been surfing, trying to find some link testing software for
web pages. I've hit a number of sites that talk about their
product, but don't tell me which platforms their product is
available for. Necessary information that should be
prominently displayed, I think, but nonetheless missing.

Other than that, artistic flair is always nice, but not
always possible.

Reply #13:

Have the name and contact address/phone/email readily
available up front so as to distinguish between the bogus
companies and the real ones.

It's important in the long run believe me.

Reply #14:

I'd include something about not using garish colors and awful
graphics. What I always say is that web pages are simply
writing, editing and designing in an online format instead of
on paper.

So, rules of readability, layout, typography, design, etc.,
still apply.

A big pet peeve of mine is misspelled words in web pages.

Reply #15:

Good Web pages:

1) Provide useful information quickly
2) Provide links to other useful information.

Good Web pages also turn control over to the user and/or
allow the user to interact with the program. However,
this isn't always possible or appropriate for every page.

Reply #16:

Having read the other posts responding to this message, I
have a different view than those expressed thus far:

A web page should meet its purpose. Private web pages (like
individual home pages) don't matter - do what you like, as
it is a representation of your personality. Commercial web
pages should be created with a purpose and with a goal in mind
(like helping sell a product). The page's success should be
measured by how well it meets its goal. If it was created to
help sell a product, does it help sell the product?

Issues like page width, graphics, HTML compatibility, and all
the rest should take second place to ensuring that a page
suits its purpose and meets its goal. Web designers also
need to concern themselves with real-world measures of
effectiveness. Page hits and click-throughs matter very
little, really; concerning ourselves with achieving positive
goals yields far better results.

I am, however, inclined to think that web pages should be
designed to reach the widest possible audience. Another
person said he no longer designs pages for 14" monitors
using 640x480 displays. Given that at least some portion
of the population is near-sighted and that a large portion
of the population sees the web via a 14" monitor, that
policy seems like a mistake to me. Perhaps that person can
count on a better-equipped audience, but those of us who
design publicly accessible web sites would do well to provide
a site that all users can appreciate. A little extra effort
in the design can create a site that appeals no matter the
audience's particular viewing situation.

Reply #17:

Every document must have a purpose. And, a web site is a
collection of documents, or a document set. I look for the
business case behind the web page. If your company has no
strategic purpose for their web pages, then it doesn't
matter what you do. All will be lost.

The next time I do a web page, it will require a visitor
registration, and it will tie into an integrated marketing communications (IMC)
database. I know that webheads hate
registrations, but it is the only way for the business to
capture suspects. And, mailto just doesn't cut it. An IMC
database lets us track contacts. Those contacts are defined
in the document set.

Beyond the business case you need consistent navigation,
content architecture, and identity.

Since HTML is an SGML DTD, it really makes little sense to
look for book level typography. Instead, I look for good
access tools. I don't want to see text as graphics, or even
Acrobat.

Suggested books, articles, and Web sites:


INCREASING HITS AND SELLING MORE ON YOUR WEB SITE
by Greg Helmstetter
Published by John Wiley & Sons
Publication date: December 1,1996
ISBN: 0471169447


CUSTOMER SERVICE ON THE INTERNET: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS,
INCREASING LOYALTY, STAYING COMPETITIVE
by Jim Sterne
Published by John Wiley & Sons
Publication date: September 1,1996
ISBN: 0471155063


DYNAMICS IN DOCUMENT DESIGN: CREATING TEXTS FOR READERS
by Karen A. Schriver
Copyright: 1997
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
ISBN: 0471306363


DESIGNING AND WRITING ONLINE DOCUMENTATION: HYPERMEDIA FOR SELF-
SUPPORTING PRODUCTS, Second Edition
by William Horton
Published by John Wiley & Sons
Publication date: October 1,1994
ISBN: 0471306355
On-line review of the First Edition available at:
http://www.nmt.edu/~swhitlat/review-horton.html


ILLUSTRATING COMPUTER DOCUMENTATION: THE ART OR PRESENTING
INFORMTATION GRAPHICALLY ON PAPER AND ONLINE
by William Horton
Published by John Wiley & Sons
Publication date: September 1,1991
ISBN: 0471538450

THE WEB PAGE DESIGN COOKBOOK: ALL THE INGREDIENTS YOU NEED
TO CREATE 5-STAR WEB PAGES
by William K. Horton (Editor), Lee Taylor,
Arthur Ignacio, Nancy L. Hoft
Published by John Wiley & Sons
Publication date: November 1,1995
ISBN: 0471130397


"Designing On-line Documentation" (an article) by William
Horton, in his column, "The Wired Word" in _Technical_
Communication_ (Second Quarter, 1992) 260.


--Web Pages That Suck: Learn good design by looking at
bad design: http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/
This page does an analysis of why these pages are bad
and how not to replicate these errors.

--American Society of Indexers homepage:
http://www.well.com/user/asi/index.html

--The Lone Star Chapter of the STC?s evaluation sheet for
its second annual World Wide Web Page Competition:
http://stc.org/region5/lsc/www/ipic/webeval.htm

-Yale Medical School has a style manual, by Patrick J. Lynch:
http://info.med.yale.edu/caim/StyleManual_Top.HTML

-Jakob Nielsen?s opinions on usability, interface design, and
Web design can be found on his Web site: http://www.useit.com

-The new STC Information Design PIC?s web site:
http://stc.org/pics/idsig/

Contributors:

Sally Yeo, sallyyeo -at- execpc -dot- com [1]
Win Day, winday -at- idirect -dot- com [2]
Lucille Lattanzi [r]
Wendy Uren [3]
Shmuel Ben-Artzi, sba -at- netmedia -dot- net -dot- il [4]
Dianne, ddriskel -at- cs -dot- utexas -dot- edu [5]
Spencer Fleury, efleury -at- capecod -dot- net [6]
Earl Morton, WorkgWords -at- aol -dot- com [7]
Your friend and mine, Matt (last name and address unknown)[8]
Chris Thiessen, christopher -dot- e -dot- thiessen -at- cdev -dot- com [r]
Sam Alper, salper -at- col -dot- hp -dot- com [9]
Melanie Futrell, Melanie_Futrell -at- CLR -dot- com [r]
Dick Miller [r]
Tom Obenchain [10]
Anonymous from beautiful Wisconsin: moonlion -at- full-moon -dot- com [11]
Yvonne DeGraw, yvonne -at- silcom -dot- com [r]
Wayne Douglass, wayned -at- verity -dot- com [r]
Steve Shewchuk, sshewchu -at- uwi -dot- com [12]
D.R. [13]
Stephanie Holland, slholland -at- micron -dot- com [14]
Beth Mazur, mazur -at- maya -dot- com [r]
David (The Man) Blyth [15]
Jay, jay -at- express-sys -dot- com [16]
David, locke -at- phoenix -dot- net [17]
Karen A. Schriver [r]
book details from http://www.amazon.com/


NOTE: Bracketed items indicate the response number. The "r"
indicates a book, article, or Web site contribution.

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