News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus picture Defining The Problem
By Preston Holmes, pholmes@ucsd.edu.

The evolution of creating for the web

HTML was a great idea - simple and powerful.

You take simple low tech text, and mark it up to be something more, perhaps bold, perhaps a link to a resource on the network.

First it was only the geeks and their text editors, people still sometimes call writing HTML coding. Soon the focus was on HTML editors, tools to help people write HTML documents. First they were semi wysiwyg, then boasting complete graphic control. Then there came all sorts of add ons to help with animated GIFs inlined ImageMaps, prefabricated Java applets that add silly animations. At the same time HTML continued to evolve adding new page layout control, tables, Frames. You can now find large indexes of HTML editors on the web. But somethings missing.

A website is not an HTML document

A website is a collection of HTML documents and the various other resources that they include (images, audio etc). The process of managing a website has largely been left up to the labor of love of the webmaster. Man what a circus that can be, where are the tools to help with that?

Take One: Site Management

The first generation site management tools came out and were there to help you "fix broken links". They exist you to help clean up after the slop of human error, they help you comprehend the immensity of the problem before you but often don't help you do anything to control it. Tools like SiteMill, WebMapper are there to help deal with the problems that building and managing a complex website entail, but they don't help you avoid those problems in the first place.

Take Two: Web Authoring

Finally someone realized why deal with the chicken when you can work with the egg. If you author the website in a framework that deals with the site management issues, then there should be fewer errors afterwards. This generation of tools include things like FrontPage, Fusion, GlobeTrotter, and GoLive Cyberstudio they take a site oriented approach to managing your pages. They each include a fancy HTML editor, and are billed as all you need. They will read and write the HTML links for you. You may not author directly in HTML, your work may be stored in some other format and only published into HTML when output from the application. When you are building a site instead of just writing HTML you also begin to realize that you can abstract the design of the site from the content. Fusion's site styles do this well, but without much flexability. However you are locked into using a particular editor, and much of the design at the site level is not very flexible.

Take Three: Web Publishing.

Producing a website is in fact a type of publishing. Publishing requires keeping the content fresh, and automating the flow of content onto the website. Userland's Frontier has been a pioneer at bringing web publishing and web authoring together. There are an infinite number of content design issues that come up with a website and Frontier addresses the fact that what is needed is a framework. Frontier is extensible and customizable, and since it is a scripting system is perfect for automation. The HTML suite in Frontier has not only gone the next level of isolating content from design, but also in factoring variable content out of static content through dynamic glossaries and macros. In this sense pages in the site are compiled into HTML all the bits being pulled together and linked in the rendering process. Frontier has added tools for common tasks such as a news page or site outline. It doesn't tie you in to using a particular HTML editor. Frontier is the state of the art.

The Sequel: A website is not always a one person task.

While Frontier is moving quickly in the direction of multiple author support, there are currently no really good tools out there for dealing with multple authors and editors for large complex websites. Such a tool needs to no only allow authors to plug content into the overal site framework (including the adoption of the site look and feel), but needs to manage the production of that content. Content would be staged and approved by editors before being moved to the production site. Content would expire at a certain date and be removed automatically from a website. Collaborators could keep virtual post it notes on shared pages. No two people could make a change to a page at the same time. The website content is backed up every night. The closest tool out there is something developed in house at C:Net. It is a complete production environment. I'm sure Wired has developed something similar. But the C:Net tool (called StoryBuilder) is not yet released, and when it is will be around $10,000 (no typo). Clearly this isn't going to be a mainstream site publishing tool.

Evolution never stops.

This page was last built on Fri, Mar 28, 1997 at 3:50:21 PM, with Frontier. Internet service provided by Conxion. Mail to: webmaster@content.scripting.com.