Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Web Writing

I am currently rewriting my web site for Writing Assessment Services, and though it is not a good time in the school year to be doing this, it is necessitated by AOL's wrongheaded determination to evaporate all member web sites by the end of this week. The only notice I got was a banner on the top of my site that I saw when I happened to go there a couple of weeks ago! Boo, AOL!

Anyway, I first created my site back in 1995-96, using a bit of html code from Fritz Hinrichs, bless his heart, after he encouraged me to take my services on to the infant Internet. I was at that time expert at signing on and off of AOL quickly so as not to use up my precious monthly minutes, but soon came unlimited time online and a whole new world was born--cyberspace! I laboriously typed in all that "href" and the letter "A" within pointy brackets and so forth (and learned how to use copy/paste efficiently), and my web site was born. Thanks, Fritz!

Over the years since, I have incorporated tables and a few graphics and shopping cart buttons and several things like that, but usually kept everything streamlined, using old pages as templates for new ones. But suddenly I've been dumped from AOL and it's time to start fresh with some new technology. I spent hours and hours investigating hosting and templates and software and found myself at the bottom of one decision tree with a few scattered apples, including a free limited subscription to Soholaunch. When people have asked the last couple of weeks how I'm doing, I mostly just give a big exasperated sigh.

But I want to try to explain.

Writing is hard, especially when you have a Purpose for it, and an Audience, and Money is involved . . . so many expectations!

Html is interesting but dizzying, and it has come far, including through translations like Java and php and things like that, and I can't do it from the keyboard anymore. But templates are limited, and Soholaunch's templates are not as flexible as I want to be, and my aspirations for flexibility go beyond my capacity to make use of the flexibility. I can override the templates, but I haven't figured out quite where and how to do so.

So here is what this kind of writing is like:

You know how to play chess? Not the basic way I play it, one move at a time, but with foresight into the possibility of each move, the potential future moves of the other guy? Each move I make with this new writing task has many future implications--will a site viewer be frustrated at the lack of information, overwhelmed with the plethora of it? Do I have too many choices, or too few? Can a visitor find his way to what he wants? Have I made the connections as clean and clear and intuitive as possible? How can I win? How can I keep from losing in a shameful way?

Well, now, imagine playing chess on the Enterprise, with that multi-level chess board, three-dimensionally? That's what this kind of writing is like. Not only do I have to do all that strategizing and organizing, but I have to do it within the limited compatibility of Word and the Soholaunch template, the "dynamic" but still constraining three cells across the page that Soho allows me, and the mystery of what it will look like once I hit the "preview page" button. If you go visit my site, stand in awe and wonder at the arrangement of icons near the bottom of the home page. No, they're not quite ideally spaced, and you've seen better, but it took me the better part of two hours to make them look that good.

Even something as simple as menu items, and sub-menu items, is dizzying. Soholaunch does not allow for more than one instance of any menu item. So even though a visitor to the "Schools" page might want to know the same things about "Evaluations" as a visitor to the "Home Schools" page wants to know, only one of them can get the sub-menu item "Evaluations" if my main menu has "Schools," "Home Schools," etc. on it. So that's why the main menu that appears on each page has "Evaluations," "Courses," and so forth on it. Then the sub-menu for the home page takes you to special pages for Schools, Home Schools, etc. Trouble is, where do I put a sub-menu for, say, "Client Comments?" Is that a Credentials matter, or a Link, or what?

So I spend a lot of time thinking, and I put links within the text on each page so you can still get to the pages the menu and sub-menu won't reveal while you're on that page.

So I'm playing chess, which I'm not any good at except against pre-pubescent normal kids; and three-dimensionally, with strategies needed both for each level and for the interactions of the levels; and look again at my opponent--the extremely logical Mr. Spock! I am Dr. McCoy, in the background, with the wild look in my eye.

I do it all for you, dear readers. Please feel my pain.

1 comment:

desert mom said...

I do feel your pain, Cindy! This sounds like a very daunting, tedious task and I am very impressed with how much you are able to do on your own. Allah ya'tik il'afia (May God preserve your strength.)