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A Statement of My Philosophy of Web Design

I originally created the ancestor of this page on January 18, 1998; I revised it on January 22, 2000, and again on December 2, 2007. A few minor changes were made on February 5, 2015 and May 4, 2017, too.

During that period of well over a decade, my beliefs, opinions, and philosophy on the subject have changed drastically, so I'm not sure it's still relevant, but as long as it's here...

I've been active on the World Wide Web since autumn 1995 -- which seems to be considerably longer than most people. I created the Misenchanted Page in September '95, and have been maintaining and expanding it ever since.

I also created webpages for HWA and Beyond Comics which I later turned over to other people -- the HWA site has gone through at least three other webmasters since and evolved into something fairly impressive, but I started it and compiled much of the basic information. As for the Beyond Comics site, it seems to be perpetually under construction, but no longer contains any of my quick, sloppy page. I mention these just to demonstrate that my experience hasn't been entirely on this one site.

I've watched the web change -- and it has changed, drastically, since 1995 -- and made changes myself as I learned more about it. The Misenchanted Page has gone through several overhauls; it started out as a single crude page, and now contains well over 400 hypertext files, without counting images or including the Ethshar or Misenchanted Press sites. (Previous versions of this page said it was over 500, but I don't remember just how I came up with that.) I used to number each version; I stopped that after about the seventh overhaul.

In the course of events, after working on these pages and seeing what improved the site and what didn't, I've come to some conclusions about Web design. Some came early, as in this excerpt from the original introduction to Version 3.0:

...it's foolish to keep promising things I may never get to. If there's something you want that's not here, e-mail me, and maybe I'll add it, but I'm not going to make any more promises or elaborate plans. I'll add stuff as I find time, and this page has a lower priority than stuff like writing novels and spending time with my family, so I may not find much time.

It took a little longer to settle onto some other ideas, some of which may well change. For now, here's a statement of my positions:

Web pages are not just text, but hypertext.

I started out thinking of my webpage as a page. It isn't. It's a set of interconnected items that can be read in any order, at the user's whim, and I'd better treat it as that if I want it to be functional. I can't assume anyone's read any other part of it, or will read it in a particular order. And I can't assume it'll ever be complete, either. At first, in Versions 1.x and 2.x, I thought in terms of a "home page" that would be the body of the text, with the subpages as footnotes; that was a bad model for the Web. I realized that for Version 3.x and thought instead in terms of subdividing categories, everything sorted neatly into its slot, where you would work your way up and down the tree -- but then I concluded that that's still too rigid. Hypertext should be freeform, letting the user click from one place to another at whim, with no fixed central point or hierarchy. That's what I aimed at in Version 4.x. Versions 5.x and 6.x expanded on this model, adding and cross-connecting clusters of new pages. The current version tries to relate families of pages by using the same CSS to provide some consistency of style, but there's no center or hierarchy. The page referred to as the "main site" is merely the point I think a new arrival might find the most useful place to start exploring.

There is no standard Web browser and never will be.

I started out with the idea that Netscape ruled the web. Even at the time, before the invention of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, this was dumb. MSIE supplanted Netscape, but Firefox, Opera, Safari, Konqueror, Chrome, and others all have their adherents. There are lots of options out there, and there are people using all of them, and forgetting this is going to mean alienating potential users. This Is Bad. Therefore, I will make an effort to use standard HTML code, and to do my best to see that my pages look halfway decent in most major browsers.

I can't satisfy everyone -- when you figure in the eccentricities of different browsers, different monitors, different resolutions, and different users, it's clearly not possible. I will not obsess about this, though. Anyone who insists on using a fifteen-year-old build of Lynx or Mosaic to browse the present-day web is being perverse, and I am under no obligation to pander to that perversity. I use CSS, occasional tables, and a little Javascript to make my pages more attractive and convenient -- but not ActiveX or other browser-specific trappings. I used to use frames a few places, but those are all long gone. Since September 2015 I've tried to make everything compatible with HTML5 and "mobile-friendly," which often meant relying heavily on CSS and using it to replace stuff I'd previously done with tables.

Hypertext is primarily text, not graphics.

Graphics and animations and music are all very well, but not everyone likes them, and some people are still using slow connections. Therefore, I'll keep all content of any significance in the text where possible. Animations will be kept to a minimum, and music, if I ever include any, will only be an optional extra, not built in anywhere.

People are impatient.

Not everyone has broadband access, and it's boring waiting for things to download. I will therefore make some effort to keep file sizes small. I'll also try to provide alternate text for all in-line graphics, so people know what they're waiting for.

Appearances do count.
Even though I'm trying to keep graphics light to save loading time, I still want my page to look good. Its appearance reflects on me, after all -- it is, to some extent, advertising, and it's useless if it makes a bad impression. I've tried to come up with eye-pleasing designs, while keeping things easy to read -- but I've screwed up in the past on that score; if you notice an instance where a page is hard to read, or extraordinarily ugly, please do tell me.

No webpage is ever finished.
Originally I thought that when I had everything I wanted on my website it would be done, and I'd just need to update it occasionally. Wrong. No website should ever be considered complete; there's always more that can be done. It's like a living organism -- once it stops growing and changing it starts to die. One must always have new material to lure people back for repeat visits. I try to make the Misenchanted Page fun to read, and fun to explore -- there are well over 400 files here, not counting graphics, and I'm still adding more. There are little things being tweaked or added or rearranged every so often -- when I'm not on deadline, just about every week. I can always think of more to do -- and I try to do it, to keep it all interesting.

I also update stuff -- not as often or reliably as I should, but I'm working on it. Every single hypertext file on the Misenchanted Page from February 2017 or earlier has been updated at least once, and I intend to keep moving that cut-off date forward; I regularly find the oldest file still on the site and give it a going-over.

That's the basics, but it may lead to some questions about why I've done some things the way I have, so let me answer a couple of those:

Why do you have all these separate pages with essays and comments and recommended reading lists, instead of putting all that stuff in a blog like a normal person?
Because I started doing it before there were blogs. It's just inertia now. I do put some stuff in a blog, and I'm active on social media, but I never saw any point in removing the old material.

So what software do you use to write your pages that lets you do it the way you want, without adding extraneous code?

Usually, I use a now-obsolete shareware program called AceHTML Freeware. I used to use an even more primitive thing called HTML Writer, Version 0.9 beta 4a, but did eventually switch to AceHTML -- and I've tried newer, fancier software and didn't like it, so I've mostly stuck with (or gone back to) this. (WebDesign, for the Mac, is okay, but I've switched back to Windows.) I like getting hands-on with the code. When AceHTML can't do something by itself, I find what I want on the web -- partly just checking out the source code to see how things were done, but also looking things up at sites that explain how to use HTML. There are several good ones out there. The official one at http://www.w3.org is supposed to be the final authority, but there may be others that are better-written and easier to follow. Googling the particular term I want help with usually works.

I've recently been told that that HTML tutorial does not meet current standards on web accessibility, so feel free to google a better one. There are official guidelines about accessibility.

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The Misenchanted Page
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