Web Page 101
So You Wanna Be a WebPimp...
[Author's note-- I originally wrote this article a few months ago,
but the topic seems as timely as ever and I'm glad we're taking this opportunity
to re-run it. It's been a while since I ran Fargo's Frontpage, but the
lessons I learned are still valuable. I hope this essay helps future webmasters
out there to keep the Quake community strong. Enjoy!]
|Web Page 101 - By Dave "Fargo" Kosak
"HTML is easy. I want to write a Quake Webpage! It'll rawk!"
Well, okay, I can't tell you otherwise: HTML is easy. If you're computer
literate, have a book and a spare evening, you'll be coding pages in no
time. Hell, you might not even need the book ... a little patience can
dig up a wealth of page-creation materials online. The good thing about
the World-Wide Web is that anyone can make their mark if they've got a
few extra hours and an ISP. So we have hundreds of pages about any particular
special interest... as I write this, I see that 1000 Quake-related links
are listed at SlipGate
Central. That's great! The only problem is that for every great page
there's ten that don't go anywhere and represent the best of intentions
but a lot of wasted time and energy. Since I've seen many pages come and
go and since I've managed to create a somewhat successful page or two,
I thought I'd present some advice for all the would-be webmasters out there.
I'm not trying to preach, just trying to pass on a few experiences in order
to help out. Running a web page is a lot of work but it can also be a lot
of fun... Hopefully this essay will help you get onto the right track.
Before You Begin
Before you begin, you should first take a good look at what your goals
are. It's important to make some decisions before typing a single character.
For one thing, how often will you update your content? It's possible to
create a great page that's never updated, but warrants at least one visit
from anyone interested in your subject matter. This is a good solution
if you don't expect to have a lot of free time in the future (for instance,
you're on Winter Break). Of course, don't expect to generate more than
a few thousand hits, and that's only if your content is really good. The
other extreme is a page that's updated multiple times a day. I like pages
like these because they really leverage what's great about the web: it's
now, it's current, it's practically live. Pages that update several times
a day and have good strong content (IE genuine news) will generate many
hits a day (from hundreds to thousands, possibly more) and stand to gain
a following over time. That can be very satisfying, but think about the
time commitment. You're looking at possibly one or two hours each day,
even more as the site grows in popularity. Can you afford to stick with
it? Of course, another option is more middle-of-the-road. A site that's
updated once or twice a week can still be a very useful part of the community.
More importantly, another question to ask is why you're coding the site.
Would you like a job in the gaming or web industry? (If so, this is an
ideal opportunity!) Do you just want attention? (Don't be ashamed. That's
half the reason I do it!) Are you doing it to meet people online? To dwell
on your favorite hobby? To show off your artistic talent? To make people
laugh? To learn HTML? To contribute something to a group who've helped
you get the most out of your $50 game? Or are you doing it for a combination
of these reasons? Figuring this out will help you decide what kind of page
to create. For instance, if you just want to learn HTML, you probably don't
want to create a page that's going to require daily maintenence. Here's
some helpful advice: if you only want to make a page "because it would
be cool," you probably won't follow through with it. That alone isn't
much of a motivation. But if you understand why you really want to do this,
then chances are you'll finish the project ... even through the tougher
Okay, so you've made a couple of decisions, and I'll assume you already
have an understanding of HTML and an Internet Service Provider who allows
you to put your own page on a server. Now you're ready to get into the
nuts and bolts of starting your very own site. Here's some help, nut for
nut and bolt for bolt:
Tips for Creating a Useful, Popular Web Page
Provide a Service. Even if you're
in this just to learn HTML and to have a fancy page to file in your portfolio,
I still recommend that you provide something for your audience. After all,
you may be putting in anywhere from a couple hours to a couple weeks of
work just to launch a site, and in my opinion, all that effort will be
more satisfying if you offer something of value to people. It's fun to
get mail thanking you for your hard work. Also, if you want to generate
hits and be popular, you won't do so by creating another "Quake is
c00l!" page. Try and provide content that people are going to want.
(A popular saying in the Interactive industry is "Content is King.")
What content will work? That's a nice lead-in to my next point...
Find a Niche. It's true that people
want to read general Quake News. But, if you coded another news site, would
they come and read yours? Probably not. Because it's already been done,
many times over, by several good sites. There's a need for general news,
but it's already been filled. It's no use to re-tread old dirt ... you've
got to figure out what kinds of things people are going to want to see,
but you've also got to make sure that the material isn't already taken,
unless you think you can do a significantly better job. Usually it's easiest
to find a niche that hasn't been covered yet--believe me, they're out there.
For instance, when I first started writing for PlanetQuake, I wanted to
create a useful page for them ... I noticed that the Quake Clan scene was
very exciting, with a ton of activity, but nobody was covering the action.
My idea was to create a sort of "sports pages" for the clan scene,
and this idea eventually became "Fargo's FrontPage." It was the
first page of its kind, to my knowledge, and it definately fulfilled a
need. As a result it started to become a focal point of clan news and activity
(it took a while, but it eventually caught on.) Finding a niche is the
key to success. Look around, read the Quake newsgroups, read the Quake
pages, get a feel for the pulse of the community, and then ask yourself,
"What's missing?" or "What hasn't been done good enough
yet?" Finding the right idea is very important if you want your page
to be popular. "Me-too" sites rarely gain a following.
Use Your Talents. Another way to
state this is "Don't try and be something you're not." For instance,
I know that my strongest talents lie in my writing. That's why my original
design for Fargo's Frontpage focused on the text, with no fancy stuff and
no graphical buttons. One time I decided to do a big page redesign, because
I looked with envy to all the fancy-schmancy pages out there. What a mistake.
I threw this big ugly animated graphic on there and coded frames and everything,
and this went over about as well as New Coke or Crystal Pepsi. I was getting
letters that used words like "hideous!" or subjects like "Nooo!"
I'm not a terrible artist, nor am I a terrible coder. But I should never
try to do an "artsy" page, because my art can't live up to the
writing. After learning that lesson, I've stuck to straightforward layouts
and pages of mostly prose.... it's what I do best, and my pages can still
be popular even without the flashy graphics. In a nutshell, create a page
that will leverage the skills you're the best at.
There's a footnote to this last tip ... A great way to meet people and
create a stronger overall page is to find people whose talents compliment
yours. Maybe someday I'll find an artist who wants to donate time to spruce
up my pages--that would be great. It's satisfying to accomplish something
as a group. (One of the great things about PlanetQuake is the pool of talent
we have here all contributing different things to make great webpages.)
Pay Attention to Design. A site
with a good design is organized. For instance, it has the vital information
up at the top, so you won't have to scroll through a huge logo or other
nonsense to get the good stuff. It's easy to navigate, the buttons are
clear and it's easy to find what you need. It's clean and reads well. A
site with bad design features red text on an orange background beneath
a huge baffling high-res image of a screaming emu and an unlabeled list
of buttons, some of which lead to sites containing nothing but spaghetti
recipies. Do us a favor and chuck the emu. After all, sites with good design
keep people coming back. What's good design? I can't pretend to give you
a design tutorial in the context of this page (people spend years in art
school learning design principals), but a good rule of thumb is to keep
things as simple as possible. And along those lines...
Have a Consistant Theme. If you
have a lot of art on your page, make sure it matches. Have a concept for
how the site should look and follow through ... make sure all your buttons
look similar (unless there's a reason to make some of them stick out) and
that all the art you include is relevant. For instance, my "Quake
University" theme is a pretty good concept (See How
to Quake in College and School
of Total Conversions as examples of a theme carried through) ... It's
not neccessarily that compelling, but at least it ties all of these related
pages together. Coming up with a good theme can inspire a lot of your art
and text, so it's a worthwhile step.
Go Easy on the Browser. Not everyone
has a fast connection and a lot of patience. Include only neccessary graphics,
and use the HEIGHT and WIDTH tags to make sure the browser can wrap text
around your images while they load. Remember that Quake will be coming
out for the Macintosh soon, and despite what they say about the web being
a multi-platform medium, I've seen pages that don't work on all browsers
or all computers because they try and use some fancy (and unstable) new
features. So if you want a large audience, try and stick to the basics
as much as possible. I often surf the web from my T1 in the office, but
I'll admit that I have a 14.4K modem at home. I consider a good web page
to be one that I'll check just as often from home as I do when I'm in the
office. Next time you're coding away at a page with giant animations and
lengthy Java applets, remember Fargo's 14.4. It's a good rule of thumb.
Update Frequently or At Least Regularly.
Unless you intend your page to be a one hit wonder, you should try and
stick to a regular schedule of updates. If you do, and the content is worth
it, people will fit it into their schedule to stop by. Also, in a medium
as dynamic as the Internet, nothing is worse than logging into a page and
seeing that the last update was a couple of weeks ago. People like it when
a page is "fresh."
Don't Provide What You Can't Support.
If you can't fit it into your schedule to update daily, then don't start
a page that requires daily attention. Similarly, if you can't support a
lengthy database, don't code a CGI program that solicits info for the database.
Don't provide a chat room unless you can be sure that it's online when
people need it. Promises alone won't win favor. I learned this lesson myself
... I had something I called "The Fargo Forum" where I was going
to post interesting commentaries that people had mailed to me about a particular
topic. One time I hit on a hot one ... "The Need for Order,"
I called it, and it was a discussion about how the Clans needed a league
or some sort of organizational scheme, and how such a scheme could be organized.
This was right when ClanRing's League was just getting off the ground,
and it was a pretty controversial topic. I had decided to create this forum
without backing it up with software ... that is to say, I had to personally
cut and paste comments from peoples' letters into the HTML. It started
off great, I was posting all the commentary I could, but eventually I couldn't
keep up. People were sending me these very articulate essays but I was
swamped, I didn't have time to paste it all up and edit out the irrelevant
stuff in order to keep the discussion flowing. So the page stopped being
updated. I didn't hear much about it, but I imagine I upset a lot of people
who had clearly taken the time to spell out their views only to have them
seemingly ignored. It's a mistake I'll try never to make again. Don't ever
provide a service you can't support.
Stick With It! Yep, a web page
is 5% inspiration, 5% persperation, and 90% persitance. Even if you update
every day, don't expect your page to take off instantly. It will take a
couple of months for all but the best sites to "catch on." What'll
happen, though, if you're consistant, is that people will start to bookmark
your page, and then they'll tell their friends about it on IRC, and then
their friends will bookmark it, and go on IRC, and so on and so forth ...
but it takes time. So be patient, and stick with it. This is especially
true if you find youself in competition with other sites--you'll find that
it's really a war of attrition. And here again I have a real-life experience
to share. As I said, Fargo's FrontPage was covering clan news, and I was
doing a good job for a few weeks and gaining a following. Then a few similar
pages cropped up. One was named the "official" ClanRing news
source and basically covered my beat. Meanwhile, another site also started
calling itself a "Sports Pages" of the clan scene, and it had
a nicer layout than I did. They even one-upped me ... they offered a "Fight
Board" that allowed clans to challenge one another right on the web
page, a feature that required coding that I didn't have the saavy or time
to implement. This site would send observers to watch clan matches and
then write up a report, complete with screenshot. I thought I was in trouble.
Especially when one of my competitors was ranked above me in the Quake
But patience pays off. One site closed because its maintainer needed
to concentrate on graduating from college. And the site that offered the
"Fight Board" required almost contstant vigilance, and its webmasters
couldn't keep up ... remember, don't offer a service you can't support!
After a few weeks my site continued to grow and the others stopped alltogether.
It's a good thing I didn't give up back then. (Since then I've stopped
covering Clan news in favor of other things, which rewarded the patience
of any sites that were holding out and waiting for me to disappear.) This
is a dynamic medium, and commitment is key. The Quake sites that are popular
today are popular because they've stuck with it all along.
Hopefully this advice has been of some use to all the would-be webmasters
out there. As I said, I don't mean to preach, I only wanted to relate some
practical experiences that taught me a good deal. Oh, and you'll find that
the advice above doesn't just relate to Quake sites ... yup, no matter
what site you decide to create, these tips will probably come in handy.
Having said all of that, I encourage you to embrace the Internet and go
for it! After all, if you do craft a successful page, you'll have accomplished
quite a bit and I'm sure you'll have met a lot of great people in the process.
Yes, it's a lot of work. But it can be awfully rewarding if you stick with
it and avoid a few of the pitfalls I've outlined above. The web is a wonderful
thing. Where else can you publish material viewable by millions of people
and only pay twenty bucks a month? If the net were any hipper we'd all
have addresses at pelvis.com.
Web Page 101 - Part 2
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