The Worry And Wonder Of Websites

By Bill Kirk

If you have a website, you probably struggled through its birthing process from concept to reality. You can take comfort that you aren't alone. Your pain is felt by many, myself included, agonizing over such questions as: What design should I use? Should I use a template or should I go with code (.html, that is) and carve out my own layout? After all, there's something to be said about being the master of my own destiny even if it is with baling wire and bubble gum. Then again, maybe I should just hire it all out. How much could it cost anyway for the basics about who I am and what I'm peddling? And what's all this fuss I hear about content anyway?

These are just a few of the questions facing those pursuing an identity on the worldwide web. Consider for a moment what drove your website decisions about both the design and content? Did you hire a website designer to help chart your course in cyber space? Whether "designed" or home grown, to what extent was the cost a factor in your website decisions? Either way, are you satisfied with the outcome? And if you had it to do over again, would you follow the same path? What would you do differently? I'll start out. Feel free to chime in about your own experience.

Relatively soon after I got into the writing game (meaning at the point when my mom told everyone from her beautician to the pharmacist that I was writing poetry), I began to feel the push toward having a website. Actually, it was more like standing on the edge of Niagra Falls with a cheering crowd behind me yelling, "you don't need no stinking barrel!" Way back in those days (meaning about four years ago), I knew nothing about websites or how to design them; or, truthfully, what to put on them.

I began with a very basic (we're talking two tin cans and a string here) "website" offered by AOL using their "AOL hometown" template. My content was minimal--mostly a little background information about me (the poet, remember?) plus what I was working on currently and a list of two poems I had published so far. The AOL template offered four or five colors, a few "header" themes and about three text boxes to key free-form text into.

Needless to say, it was a modest website. But when I finished, I thought I had indeed arrived in the cyber world. The only problem, no one knew I was there which, in retrospect, was probably a good thing. But at least if someone asked me, I could beam with pride (OK and maybe a little smugness) and give them my URL. Hey, I was nothing if not pure coolness. I mean, I could totally imagine myself in a TV ad: "Got URL?" "Well, duh! Yeah, I got URL!"

Oh, and did I mention my URL was 43 characters long and included most of the letters in the English alphabet, three carefully placed Chinese characters, half the symbols across the top of the keyboard and six forward (not backward) slashes. Come to think of it, the URL actually looked a lot like the inside of those cartoon bubbles when the speaker is really, really mad.

And I'm sure it was for security reasons that whatever was keyed into the URL line could not be copied and pasted in the event of a keying error. That is, it had to be totally rekeyed from the beginning. Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of visitors to my website.

Yet, imagine my panic when about two years later, AOL announced via message that they would be eliminating their "website" feature in 30 days. Assuming ALL CAPS meant they were serious, I immediately followed their suggestion to save off my content, which I dutifully did in a Word file (with a hardcopy backup of course). Then, I sat site-less for nearly a month until I mentioned my dilemma to a cyber-savvy friend.

With great patience and forebearing (both biblical concepts), he showed me the basics of website design using .html code. I must say, after mastering my AOL URL, I actually found .html fairly easy. He also talked me through the drafting, editing, saving and uploading steps required to take my "design" from an idea sketched out on my local computer to an actual website on the worldwide web. And the rest, as they say, is history.

My website is still pretty basic but it is evolving, much as roads and highways evolved from horse trails and wagon paths. I figure I'm basically at the two-lane, gravel road stage, including the occasional one-lane bridge. I've heard there is something called "css" (cascading style sheets) out there. But I'm still a long way from taking my site from two-lanes to Interstate.

Feel free to check it out if you wish at http://www.billkirkwrites.com ---which is, by the way, a URL I can actually remember. Any and all critical comments and suggestions are appreciated.

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