November 9th, 1999
Web Development Tools

011/09/99 RMIUG Meeting Minutes - Web Development Tools

Dan Murray started the meeting at 7 p.m. by welcoming the approximately 110 attendees. He thanked sponsors XOR and Interliant (previously know as NDA) and introduced the other members of the executive committee.

Dan opened the meeting up for announcements:

Frank Saab, fsaab@ecrix.com, from Ecrix Corporation, a Boulder- based tape drive company, announced that Ecrix is offering free VXA tape drives to ISPs/ASPs and Internet businesses. The VXA-1 tape drive, which received the '1999 Outstanding Product' award from Performance Computing, offers 33 GB capacity and 3 MB/sec transfer rate and lists for $899. This no-catch offer is intended to collect feedback from this knowledgeable audience and promote interest in VXA tape drives within the Internet industry. Any system managers interested in receiving a free tape drive please contact Frank Saab, Internet Business Manager for Ecrix (303-245- 7275, fsaab@ecrix.com). For more information on the drives please visit http://www.ecrix.com or http://www.vxatape.com.

Ron Scott, a recruiter, announced he was looking for a Java Developer. See http://www.rscott.com for details.

Daniel Berkness (daniel@interliant.com) announced that RMIUG sponsor NDA is now know as Interliant ( http://www.interliant.com ), focusing on network administration.

As is traditional, Dan queried the audience. About 40% were from Boulder, 40% from Denver and the rest elsewhere. Most were subscribers to at least one RMIUG mailing list. 10% said they were "web masters", and 15% said they had "web" in their job titles. Almost everyone said they worked some on a web site. 50% had an upcoming web project. 10% said they focused on graphics. 1/3 said their web sites were "small", 1/3 said they were "medium" and a few said their sites were "large". 40% used unix servers, slightly less said NT and a few didn't know. 30% developed "in-house", 20% developed "out-of-house". 1/3 were using in-house hosting, 1/3 used co-hosting and some didn't know.

Dan then introduced the first speaker, Alex Wilsdon, of Leopard Communications, awilsdon@leopard.com. He has over 11 years of experience in systems engineering and integration, working with Internet technologies since 1994 when he built his first commercial Web site. Alex focused on "Web strategic planning and information architecture" and started with the project phases of Discovery, Analysis, Architecture, Development and Evaluation. He noted that clients are becoming increasingly sophisticated with complex requirements and demanding expectations and that 70% use the Internet for getting information critical to purchasing and would rather use the Internet that the phone or TV. Alex noted that the Internet strategy needs to be related to both the overall business strategy and marketing strategy. The Internet strategy needs to involve intranets, extranets and the public sites, but Alex noted that the lines between intranets and extranets are blurring.

In the Discovery phase Alex suggested having a client input meeting; identifying the "real" stakeholders and getting their buy-in; sending preparatory questions; staying focused on the business objectives; and pressing for all available data. Alex suggested not asking the stakeholders what sites they like.

During Analysis, Alex said you need to validate assumptions; survey existing users; verifying the tasks with the users; back checking with the business and marketing strategy (during which some changes may go back to them); and reviewing available research. Alex noted that much of this is iterative, so you must say in touch with customers, not work in a vacuum, and agree on the format for information delivery. He suggested you might use some collaborative software to communicate ideas and comments.

Alex stated that Architecture involves determining the navigation; analyzing the task and prototyping the site usability. He suggested that the prototype be bare, emphasizing the functionality. In wrapping up Alex said you need to work in "web time"; be prepared to be flexible; to look to the future; and to be ready to use the "next new thing".

In response to questions, Alex noted they use NetObjectsFusion. During prototyping they set layout and interconnections first before look and feel. He noted that "The CEO of the customer doesn't come to your site.", so survey real customers. They use SurveySelect-type tools. He noted that in doing a major site redesign, let some users do the "beta" testing. Alex stated that Leopard Communications clients tend to hi-tech and telcom, ranging from big to startups.

Dan next introduced Jeremy Verne, jeremy@indra.com, Creative Director for Indra's Net. He joined them in June of 1997, after working for Indra's Net as a Web site designer through DarkBlue Design.

Jeremy started by saying he would comment on web design by focusing on what not to do graphically. He stated that information should be designed for normal business clients and should have a good structure, logically and interactively. He noted that when he starts designing a site he draws it out with pencil and paper, not HTML.

Jeremy noted that he was pointing out sites with bad design that were not little personal sites, but rather large corporate sites which should know better. He started out with two, Interstate Batteries and Phillip Morris. In both cases the navigation buttons were not on the screen but had to be scrolled to use. Jeremy showed the Nabisco site with its "horrible, frightening graphics", along with bad patterned backgrounds. Jeremy noted that "just because you can do it doesn't mean you should!". He used the 9news.com site as an example of navigational problems. He stated that you should always avoid scrolling on your base home page. Going through several site home pages he showed examples of bad navigation, too much scrolling, inconsistent colors, and incomprehensible icons. He showed VW.com as an example of non-sensical navigation using unknown icons with mouse-overs. He emphasized that site design should work without javascript, pointing out that with javascript off or unavailable a user would not know how to navigate the site.

Jeremy showed some examples of good site design, with elegant, simple and clean looks, consistent design and navigation. KellyBlueBook, Honda2000 and Weyerhouser were some examples he used.

Answering questions Jeremy stated that he designs a site first in Illustrator, then moves to HTML. He mentioned that he always checks a site for incompatibilities between the browsers, and checks it out over a slow modem. He cautioned about using navigation bars on the right because of logic and screen limitations. When asked about plug-ins, he cautioned against their use noting that some employers do not allow the employees to have them. On the subject of "splash pages" he stated they might be okay for music and movie sites, but might not be good for businesses. He did note that the business should focus on it's clients, and though younger people might like the "flash", the buyers might not.

Next, Dan introduced Bryan Buus (buus@xor.com), the director of XOR Network Engineering's Internet Technologies group. Before coming to XOR, Bryan kickstarted O'Reilly's & Associate's online efforts in 1992. He has been designing, implementing, and managing Web services since their introduction. Bryan is a co-author of Managing Internet Information Services from O'Reilly & Associates.

Bryan began by strongly recommending Apache as the web server. He said it is very fast and offers better compliance with existing HTTP specs. It has special modules for particular performance on web requirements ( http://modules.apache.org ). He also recommended http://www.apacheweek.com as a subscription on Apache information. Bryan gave an illustration of the Apache status page to show how one can monitor a server in real-time. On the subject of logs, Bryan recommend a good free log analyzers, wwwstat, which can be found at http://www.ics.uci.edu/WebSoft/wwwstat/. He noted there are lots and lots of utilities available out there, and referenced http://www.uu.se/Software/Analyzers/Access-analyzers.html. Two decent commercial products are WebTrends ( http://www.webtrends.com/ ) and HitList at http://www.marketwave.com/products.htm.

Bryan mentioned Web robots (also known as "spiders") which are programs that catalog information on sites, mostly for major search engines. He pointed out that as a web master you might not find this desirable and explained that to block robots from visiting a site, or a portion of a site, create a file called robots.txt in the root document directory. He then gave a brief overview of the syntax of the file. He talked about server monitoring, and suggested things to watch out for like the server not responding; high system load and no disk space available. Bryan reference some monitoring packages, Big Brother ( http://maclawran.ca/bb-dnld/ ) and Mon ( http://www.kernel.org/software/mon/ ). He mentioned using PGP for securing data on your server once it has arrived, and talked briefly about using cookies to maintain state data by CGI programs.

Coming back to various unix tools, Bryan mentioned the a variety of tools, particularly the following: Perl: http://www.perl.com Perl CPAN Web modules: http://www.perl.com/CPAN-local/modules/by-category/ DBI: http://www.perl.com/CPAN-local/modules/by-category/07_Database_Interfaces/ php: http://www.php.net/ mod_perl: http://perl.apache.org/ fastcgi: http://www.fastcgi.com/ htdig: http://www.htdig.org CVS: http://www.loria.fr/~molli/cvs-index.html MySQL: http://www.mysql.com

Responding to some questions, Bryan said MySQL now has better support than the older mSQL and that Linux was fine for operational servers.

The three speakers then went to the front and were asked general questions. What's a recommendation on total page load size? Jeremy said 65-70K, and to use the Netscape color cube. Bryan suggested reducing graphics and the number of graphics, while Alex said it depends on the client and whether is an intra or extranet. On a question of internationalization of web sites, a suggestion of XML and using "content engines" to hold different languages was suggested. A comment from the floor noted that the Internet is exporting English, while another suggested there are still legal and cultural issues that are important and need to be addressed.

Asked about populating search engines, Jeremy suggested doing some submissions by hand while using some automatic placement tools. It was noted that there is no guarantee and Bryan suggested that if you want to be "high", buy advertising on the search engine itself. On a question of using Front Page, Jeremy felt it was not not ready yet, though might be in a year or so. He suggested it is currently generating poorly maintainable HTML. Others in the audience suggested DreamWeaver and HomeSite for HTML editing.

Dan thanked the three speakers and called the meeting to a close at 9 p.m. Respectfully submitted, Art Smoot

Tentative schedule of upcoming Y2K RMIUG meetings:

Jan 2000 - Authors' Panel (Christopher Locke and Rick Levine) Previews Upcoming Gonzo Net Book, "The Cluetrain Manifesto" (Perseus, 2000)

Mar 2000 - Serving Customers in the next Millenium -- How the Internet is Changing (almost) Everything

May 2000 - Is Net Security Possible in a World of Stealthy Hackers and Destructive Viruses?

Jul 2000 - Nonprofits on the Net and How the Web May Change Charitable Giving

Sep 2000 - "SPAMfest 2000" - Unsolicited email: Who, What, Why, How, and Guerilla Methods to Fight it.

To suggest a topic or speaker, send your idea to rmiug-comm@rmiug.org

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