Jesse Berst on Web Development
Friday, May 30, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Jesse Berst, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the anchor man of Anchor Desk. I've been a fan of his website on ZDNet since its inception, and have quoted his pieces many times in DaveNet.
Aside from the editorial content, the thing that intrigues me most about AnchorDesk is that it's clear that they're using some very powerful site tools. A production process implemented in software, and as a result, a more consistent and useful website. Every time a new piece goes on their site, they're evangelizing the same idea that we are.
This morning he told the story of their style of web development, and on reading it, I said Right on! Many times... It was an instant link on our home page, then I sent a request to run it in DaveNet. I received permission, with the condition that the following text appear with it.
"This article is Copyright (c) 1997 by Ziff-Davis Inc. and reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without the express written permission of Ziff-Davis Inc. is prohibited."
With that out of the way, heeeere's Jesse!
When I talk to most Web site designers, I can't help but think about salmon. The way they swim upstream. Defiantly fighting the current. Over and over again. The difference? Salmon don't have a choice.
You do. Your database could be doing the hard work instead.
If you're like most people, you still build Web pages one... at... a... time. What many of you should be doing instead is separating content from format. You create the content in a database (type in text, specify which graphics you want, etc.). Then the database pours that content into preformatted templates to create HTML pages. Since content and format are separate, you can change them independently. If you want to give all your pages a new look, you simply change one template. (Compare that to changing each page manually one at a time.)
Database-driven Web pages come in two flavors. "Snapshot" pages are created when the database outputs HTML pages that are then placed on the Web server. At that point, they're like any other page (a Web server doesn't care what tool you use). "Dynamic" pages are built "on-the-fly." They don't exist until a browser makes the request, at which time the database pours the right content into the right template instantaneously.
Either way, the database does most of the tedious work.
A database-driven Web site has other advantages, too:
* Consistent look and feel. Pages are poured into uniform templates.
* Easy to update and maintain. No more waiting on Webmasters to update information by hand.
* Simple to administer. Ensuring site integrity is much easier because the database keeps track of all the linked pages (even if there are thousands of them).
Why am I so bullish on building Web pages with a database? Because I have personal experience with its benefits. The pages you see on AnchorDesk are all built automatically by our custom authoring database, created by Technical Director Jon DeKeles.
Slowly but surely, Web publishers are discovering the database difference. For instance, when RCA took a hard look at its site last year, it was stunned to discover the costs—and the limitations—of its manual approach. So it hired a Chicago-based firm to conduct an overhaul. And it was delighted by the results.
Slowly but surely, a few vendors are catching on too. Like Vignette, which sells the database-driven StoryServer product. But most don't. Not even Microsoft, which could modify Access to create a killer Web site development tool.
Two reasons why companies are hesitant to switch to the database approach. First, it requires an upfront investment of time and effort. It's a lot slower to get your first pages out but hey—you have to spend time to save time. Second, it requires a change in thinking. Most vendors are still treating Web publishing as if it were closely related to desktop publishing.
In the future, I think all Web sites larger than 50 pages should be database-driven. So don't swim upstream if you don't have to. Go with the flow. Make life easier for yourself by investigating database publishing for Web pages.
Thanks for the guest DaveNet, Jesse.
PS: AnchorDesk is at http://www.anchordesk.com/.