Internet citizenship

Information networks straddle the world. Nothing remains concealed. But the sheer volume of information dissolves the information. We are unable to take it all in.

Gunther Grass, 22 June 1990, New Statesman & Society, London.

Reading the Web

Think about how you react to the Web. What frustrates you? What do you like and use? Here are some of the things that most people find frustrating.

Delivery speed

The Web is far too slow. Most studies show that computers should react within less than a second. That is, there should be no discernible pause between clicking on something and getting a response. No Web page works that fast.

But it does give you the major rule for evaluating your own Web site: Speed is everything!

To make your pages appear on people's screens as quickly as possible, make them as small as possible. Keep your writing tight and your pictures small. Only use pictures when they mean something.

Speed reading

Write your Web pages in the same way that a journalist writes. That is, put the most important thing first, then the next important thing, then the next, etc. That way, people can look at the first line or two and decide if they want to keep reading.

Error 404: File not found

Don't you hate that? Most of the time, I suspect that the file is still there, but the author has moved it. They have given it another name, or moved it to a slightly different place.

Don't do that. People return to Web pages at unpredictable times for unpredictable reasons. If you move the page, you will just annoy them. They probably won't go looking for it. They will just give up.

Imagine a Web page is like your cat's food bowl. You refill it regularly and sometimes you put different food in it. But if you keep moving it around so that you cat can't find it, you will just end up with a hungry, angry cat.

Web pages work the same way. Keep a list of all the pages that you write and where they are stored. Then, never change the names of your pages, or their addresses. That way, whenever people come back to them, they will find a page there.

Error 666: The Devil made me do it

The other type of reliability is the reliability of your message. Who are you, and on what authority do you speak?

Is the person behind some kid doing a school project, or the Australian Duck Shooters Association. Are they Victorian Poultry Producers or the Frankston Waterfowl Fanciers Club? It makes a difference to how you read the Web page, and what weight you put on the information that you find there.

Always provide some background information on who you are. And remember, being famous in Frankston doesn't mean that the whole world knows who you are. For example, someone looked around the RMIT Web site for almost an hour the other day trying to work out what RMIT stood for. They were from overseas, and had never heard of RMIT before.

Always provide ways that people can contact you, like an e-mail address and a phone number. That way, if the message is unclear, they can send you a message, asking for clarification or more information. Often, they will point out errors or just thank you for a good site. Instant feedback! And more information about who your audience is.