|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 46||January 26, 1999|
In cyberspace, it's a given that you "point-and-click" to get from one web site to another. So why do so many web sites instruct visitors to "click here" to get from one site to another? In many cases, it simply reflects a lack of experience with web design.
NetAction recently asked an experienced web designer to list some of the more common design errors found on activist web sites. In addition to avoiding the "click here" redundancy, NetAction offers the following tips to help activists make the most of their web sites.
A splash page is similar to the cover on a book. It's a graphic -- often bandwidth-hogging -- that precedes the home page on a web site. Splash pages can be pretty to look at, but they serve no useful purpose and can actually drive away potential visitors who don't want to wait while the page is being downloaded.
Splash pages serve no useful navigational or informational purpose, so if you want visitors to get to your site, skip the splash page. If you *must* include a complex graphic, put it on an inside page and include a notice alerting visitors to the fact that the link may take a while to download. Or cut it up into smaller pieces that fit together forming a larger picture. And don't forget to use ALT tags for those of us who would rather not wait.
Even with small graphics, a splash page may serve as a barrier to entry. See http://www.20-20.org/, for example. It's a little more informative than some splash screens, but it has lots of other design problems, including prominently featured legal disclaimers, random use of technologies, a black background with dark print and no alt tags, and uncomfortably small print.
Good content is wasted if visitors can't find it, so the way in which a web site is organized is just as important as what the web site contains. Site navigation should be created with the visitor's needs in mind, not an organization's administrative structure.
The most effective web sites are organized by issue or product category, rather than by an organizational chart. The best home pages are those that offer visitors a simple-to-follow table of contents, not a hierarchy of titles.
While it's a bad idea to base a web site's navigation on an organizational chart, it is important to provide visitors with information on who you are. For non-profit organizations, this includes complete contact information for the organization, including a street address, phone and fax numbers, an email address, and the name and title of the person who visitors should contact if they have questions or want to get involved. It's also important to include a mission statement and a list of funders and/or sponsors.
See http://www.craigslist.org for an example of how an organization can disclose its sponsors, mission, staff, address & contact information in a way that's helpful to visitors. This is also a good example of a service-oriented site organized to make it easy for users to find what they need.
Frames make web sites more difficult to navigate, and consequently, more confusing. With some older browsers and/or smaller screens, frames can cut off a portion of the content. In some cases, frames prevent users from moving back to a previous page. Frames are unnecessary. In a word: don't!
Simple, well-placed graphics can make a web site more visually appealing, break up long sections of text content, direct a reader's eyes toward content you want to highlight. Large, complex graphics not only hog bandwidth, they can frustrate and discourage users with older modems and/or browsers. Be selective in your use of graphics. The point is to enhance your message, not obscure it.
See http://www.epic.org for a good example.
Jakob's Alertbox at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/ (check out: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9605.html) has lots of useful information on web design. There is also a helpful discussion about the difference between web and print design, at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990124.html.
Mailing lists are important tools for Internet activists interested in outreach. But not all ISPs offer mailing list services. Some service providers host your domain and forward your email, but limit the number of names in any mail "list" in your forwarding files. How can an activist or organization maintain an advocacy or alert mailing list under these circumstances?
A commercial service called egroups http://www.egroups.com will let you create and easily maintain a mailing list on their servers. This isn't ideal since all your email will go to the egroups.com domain instead of yours, but it's a reasonable alternative if you can't host and run mailing list server software yourself.
The service isn't ideal: email from each list has a brief advertisement appended to the end (you can get around this for a small fee), you have to create an account with them if you want to read your mail or list archives on the web, they use frames, navigation is rather mysterious, and their lists of mailing lists aren't very up to date.
However, they have some nice features including a group calendar, and the ability to poll your list for their votes on an issue, and a nice web-based interface that allows you to manage your group's characteristics:
For an example. see: http://www.egroups.com/list/nukenet/.
For readers in the San Francisco Bay Area, author and attorney Cem Kaner will discuss the status of a proposed software licensing law on Thursday, March 18, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the San Francisco Main Library's Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room.
The talk is sponsored by NetAction. Admission is free but seating is limited; please RSVP by email to or by phone to (415) 775-8674. The Main Library is located at 100 Larkin Street, near the Civic Center BART/Muni station.
If enacted, the proposed changes in the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) could exempt software purchases from traditional consumer protection laws,allow the software industry to dictate in advance the terms of software purchases by validating "shrinkwrap" licenses, and threaten the rights of software developers to make competing programs.
The proposal has been under development for about 10 years and is scheduled to be introduced into state legislatures in the fall of 1999. The complex bill runs well over 200 pages, and is written to cover all contracts involving the development, sale, licensing, maintenance, support, and documentation of software, and most other contracts involving information products.
The proposal is opposed or severely criticized by a wide range of organizations and associations, including the American Library Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology, Consumers Union, the Institute for Electrical & Electronic Engineering, the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable Television Association, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Newspaper Association of America, and the National Writers Union.
Kaner has participated in the drafting of the proposed Article 2B for the past three years as an advocate for the interests of software consumers, developers, and writers. He is the author of "Bad Software" and "Testing Computer Software," teaches software testing, and consults on technical and software development management issues.
Background on the UCC 2B issue can be found on NetAction's web site at: http://www.netaction.org/notes/notes37.html and http://www.netaction.org/notes/notes38.html.
Two sites that served as resource centers for non-profit organizations have recently merged into a single, more comprehensive resource. The Internet Nonprofit Center and the Nonprofit FAQ have created the Internet Nonprofit Center, at http://www.nonprofits.org.
The Nonprofit Zone, at http://www.nonprofitzone.com, is a for-profit service offering a variety of tools and resources to non-profits. Of particular interest is a section featuring links to free online services available to non-profits.
For comprehensive information on Y2K issues, including some visionary approaches to turning this perceived "threat" into an "opportunity," see: http://www.co-intelligence.org/Y2K.html.
The San Francisco-based Economic Security Project has updated its links page, at http://www.igc.apc.org/esp/relative.shtml to create what they describe as a "quasi-Web portal for people with a humanistic, progressive point of view."
The site includes links organized into the following eighteen major categories:
Suggestions for additional links, as well as comments or criticisms of any of the listed sites, are welcome and should be directed to Wade Hudson .
NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.
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