Web Site Project

Writing for the Web


The Project

You will build a web site for this course. You will determine the subject matter and content of your site. You will develop, and refine, your ideas for the web site in a proposal. The proposal will not only inform me about your ideas for the site, but also will provide a schedule and set deadlines for the completion of your work. To you on track I will ask you, four times during the session, to upload your site so that we may consult about your progress.

Initial Considerations

The subject, content and design of your site will be based on a combination of your interests and creativity, your professional aspirations, and your desire to learn more about course-related subjects and tools presented in the course.

You will identify the audience and purpose for your web site in your proposal. Put broadly, however, you may consider directing the web site to people who want information (a content site), people who want to act (a transaction site), or people interested in the site's design and presentation (presentation and marketing sites).

The required size (or "length") of the web site is contingent on the course plan you choose and kind of site you wish to build. We will work that out based on the proposals you submit. However, let me give you guidelines to keep in mind in thinking about the site:

    • As all of the course assignments relate to it more or less directly, the web site must demonstrate an appropriate, significant effort;

    • You need to show me that you have learned, and can demonstrate, the principles of writing for the web and reading on the web we cover in class;

    • You need to show me that you can properly design and code working, navigable (e.g., logical, working links) web pages;

    • You need to show me that you can manipulate images and incorporate them into your site;

    • You need to show me that you have learned, and can demonstrate in your site design, the principles of usability we cover in class.

Possibilities

With the rise of Facebook and MySpace and Virginia Tech's embrace of ePortfolios you have readily accessible, Internet-based outlets for social, academic and (to a lesser degree) professional networking. I ask, then, that your web site for this course not be a rehash of Facebook and ePortfolio contents. I ask, then, that you do not propose a personal web site.

In thinking about the kind of web site you will build, I recommend that you possess a deep interest in its subject. Moreover, I recommend that you not start from zero with respect to the site's contents. Developing content takes time. And content is the reason a web site exists. So, in considering the kind of site you will build keep in mind your ability and desire to produce meaningful content quickly.

Surveying recent previous web sites built for this class I find sites about: the local metal music scene, a Methodist church, the Society of Professional Journalists chapter at Tech, a watch and jewelry repair shop, cosmetics review, golf, the Rubix Cube, Circle K, movies and movie reviews, equestrian mounted games, an art gallery, a catering business, and a Christian fellowship organization. Sites have also been developed that act as blogs. The subject matter of blog-based sites varies.

Bottom Line: Find a subject, organization or project about which you have a deep interest and for which you can organize and produce content. I am asking you to stay away from web sites that replicate the function of Facebook and ePortfolios (even though all of you do not have Facebook pages and ePortfolios). Ultimately, the web site needs to be substantive and content rich.

What Next?

Once you have determined what interests you, take a walk with Google. Survey the digital landscape and see the promises and pitfalls of similar sites. Concentrate on content. Consider design. Consider your interests, an audience's interests, what you want to learn in building this site, how you want to learn it, and how much time and energy you can dedicate to the project.

Take a look at the Proposal assignment. Get a sense of the timing of the course. Now, begin to write the proposal. We will work out the web site's specifics and execution as the course unfolds.

Provisional Uploads

You need to stay on track designing, and developing meaningful content for, the web site. Four (4) times during the semester, I will ask you to upload your sites to the web. I will take a look. I am looking for progress. How will I know progress when I see it? Here's a general framework. Let's say your web site, as proposed (and what you propose will certainly change), will have 16 pages (say, a factor of 4 — convenient, no?). I will look to see that you have added pages consistently throughout the session and revised older pages as you go. I will send you a brief e-mail and tell you what I think. If you have any questions as to the judgments I make, do not hesitate to ask.

Wisdom of the (Recent) Ages

I've seen a student web site or two in my day — I mean, hey, I've been teaching a version of this course since 1999.

Let me share my advice on a few common "issues" that arise time and again.

    "Borrowing" brings both pleasure and pain. Go to your favorite web page. Then, in your browser, go to View >> Page Source. There it is! The source code of that oh so cool web site ... there for both the cutting and the pasting. Or, go to your favorite search engine (at least one of you doesn't use Google, right?). Type, say, 'css examples' or 'css layout' or, beware, 'css zen garden.' There it is again! The CSS source code for the coolest layout ever ... there, yet again, for the cutting and the pasting and the using in your web site ... Do I approve of such borrowing? Indeed. That's how I learned web design. But, and I cannot stress this point enough, know what you are taking, why you are taking it, and what you are capable of doing with it. Just because you can borrow code does not mean you should. I've seen many students get bogged down trying to figure other designers' stuff. If you think you will save time by borrowing, think again. Learning to manipulate borrowed code often takes longer than writing it yourself. Be forewarned.

    Looks are deceiving. The provisional uploads exist to head off just this issue, but let's just say you choose to construct your web site on the desktop of your personal computer. You work, you revise, you tinker. Your site looks great. Then, in knick of time for your usability test — or even for the provisional uploads — you load the files to Filebox (or your web host). With great anticipation, you go to view your creation on-line. You go to your URL and ... your site looks horrible! What happened? Why does Filebox hate me? Doesn't Filebox know I have a due date looming? Sorry, I don't know all the answers to these existential questions (that's not true exactly, the errors are almost always in the coding). I do know that you should make a practice of uploading your css and html files to your host on a regular basis and see how things work. In sum, check your work by uploading it regularly to your web site host.

    'Tis a gift to be simple. Been to MySpace? Music. Videos. Wallpaper. Text you can't read. Flying graphics. Sites that look like a kid's collage. Many users and viewers of MySpace think this type of design is cool. It's not. While we all have ideas about web site aesthetics, bad design is simply that — bad, unusable and not cool. In the look, structure and coding of your web site strive for simplicity. Users want content. They don't — or shouldn't — want a web site to sing, dance and make toast for them in the morning.

    Content is king and, for that matter, queen. There are billions of web sites out there and someone has made to choice to visit yours. Repay their kindness by giving them what they want. Give them usable, enlightened, thoughtful content. Cool design comes from content — not bells and whistles (see MySpace, above). If you must make a choice between spending time making that perfect graphic or developing content, choose content every time.

    Try, ask, repeat. Good web site design takes time and frustration tolerance. Ask questions. Ask me. Ask your classmates. Ask friends. Ask Google. Create an information network that works for you. Give yourself time for trial and error. Once you try and contend with error, ask again. And try again. Making something demands time and yields satisfaction. Give yourself the opportunity to make a web site of which you are proud.

Due: The final version of the web site is due no later than 4:05 on December 15.

Web Writing