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Being Nice to Your Visitors


What's all this about being nice to visitors? No, I don't mean that you shouldn't insult them (you wouldn't would you?), I mean that you should be considerate. Firstly, this means thinking about who you want to attract to your site. If your site is a commentary on modern art, your users would expect to find many images and would probably be prepared to wait some time for the images to download. On the other hand, your site may be one where the visitors simply want to get a piece of information and then be on their way.

The worst offenders, to my mind anyway, are those web page authors who put a large image on their home page (often acting as an image map) and nothing else. "If you want to view my site", they seem to be saying, "you'll just have to wait until I've shown you my favourite image." Many users, especially those with slow modems, may not be prepared to wait, so try and keep the size of your initial page reasonably small. Once inside the site, the visitor will be able to make up his/her own mind whether it's worth waiting.

Blind and Partially Sighted Users

Many people find it strange that the internet should be used by the blind, but it's a fact. Many blind and partially-sighted people find the internet at least some compensation for their disability. Equipment is available which can be fitted to a computer and which will read the internet pages to the user. However, there are several things which can make life difficult for someone using this type of equipment. One example is the way that text wraps in a table such as the one shown below:

This is the text in the first column
of the table.
This is the text in the second
column of the table.

A blind person would hear this as "This is the text in the first column this is the text in the second of the table column of the table."

When using images you should always include the ALT=... part of the image tag, e.g. <IMG SRC="bird.gif" ALT="A bird"...>, to provide a text description of the picture. This not only helps blind users but also those who have switched off the display of images in their browser to speed up downloading.

Remember to make your text links meaningful to blind people -- putting a link such as Click here to download my program tells the blind user nothing about the link. A better way would be to reword the link Use this link to download my program.

For more information about designing web pages with blind and partially-sighted users in mind, have a look at the site run by The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST).

Split Up Your Document

If your document is a long one, the download time may be prohibitive. You should consider splitting the document into several parts if possible. Not only will this improve the download time, but users will be able to skip straight to the part which interests them and ignore those parts which they don't need.

Check Your Links and Images

Check that the links on your pages actually work! This may seem obvious, but many site owners seem to overlook it. If you have links to outside sites then you may not be able to avoid occasionally having a broken link, but the internal ones should be carefully checked before the page goes public. If you keep all the webpages for a site in the same folder, you can browse them straight from the hard disk and check that the links all work.

The site should also be checked on-line once you have uploaded it onto the internet. In this way you will catch some errors which would not be seen on your own computer. For example, one of the biggest causes of images not appearing in a document is the issue of upper- and lower-case filenames. On an IBM PC under Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 (I'm not sure about Apple Macs) filenames are not case-sensitive; in other words, the filename MyImage.GIF is the same as myimage.gif. Most servers on the internet, however, use an operating system called Unix, and Unix is case-sensitive, so the two filenames would be treated as referring to two different files. The best rule is the use only lower-case filenames throughout your document and to ensure that all the files you upload to the internet are given lower-case filenames also (some FTP programs will do this automatically).

Once you've planned and written your pages, the next stage is to get them where your public can see them. Go on now to the next section on Uploading Your Pages.


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