RIC BARRICK of the Missoulian A beginner's how-to

Hello again, fellow Netizens. For the last few weeks, I've talked about destinations on the Web for you folks to go and check out. Great sites, but what if you want to build your own little shack on the Net? Over the next few weeks, I'm going to tell how to build and post your own little site, and how to get folks to come and visit it.

First off, building a Web site is not hard. Anyone can do it, as attested to by the fact that there are over 4 billion Web pages on the Internet today, with about 100,000 being added each and every day. All sorts of people have Web sites these days, and most of them are really good.

What you have to determine in building your own Web presence is what your message is going to be. I recommend that, like writing, you stick to what you know.

The best Web sites being created today are by hobbyists who are passionate about one specific topic or activity. If you're mad about golf, do a golf-related site. If you really enjoy painting, think about doing a painting-related site. Whatever your pastime, plan your site around that. You'll find that it is much easier to do a site about what you love than to do one about a random topic.

Next, even before touching a keyboard, sit down with a pad and pencil and map out what your site should look like. Are you going to have a gallery of your latest watercolors? Going to tell the world what a great fly fisherman you are? Have a place for others to add their comments about your hobby? Will you open up an area for real-time discussion on your topic? All these questions need to be answered before you begin designing any site. Put simply, you wouldn't go out and grab a hammer, some nails and lumber, and start building a house without some planning, would you? The same holds true for any Web project you begin.

After you have got all the respective pages down, start to draw lines between them, representing the links to each page. Don't worry if things begin to look messy; the interactive nature of the Web does that to paper diagrams. You need to know how people are going to navigate your site. The easier it is for folks to find the information that they are looking for, the more likely they are to come back again and again.

Now it's time to round up all the content that you want to put on your site. I can't begin to tell you how important this step is.

Before I learned this trick, building a site was an almost painful experience. You'll want to paper-clip all the relevant content to each respective page of your site plan. Put all photos, text and anything else you are interested in together, and make sure that it all stays together. That way, when you are ready to build, you'll have everything right at your fingertips.

OK, now we're ready to hit the keyboard.

There are two schools of thought with regard to Web design. Some folks believe that you should start out with learning HTML, the language that the Internet uses to display pages, before you start building pages. That's OK; I believe that everyone who builds a Web site should learn HTML, but I don't think it's necessary. There are many Web authoring programs available, and many of them are relatively inexpensive. One that I recommend for beginners is Adobe's Pagemill. It's easy to use, allows for great design from a very simple interface, is available for both Windows variants and Macintosh, and costs under $80.

How do you start building sites? That's easy, if you just think of a Web site as a bunch of interconnected pages. Tackle each page as you go along, and then connect them all through linking.

The problem that most beginners have in building Web sites is that they don't know about graphics, and how they work with the Web. Most browsers can handle both the GIF or JPEG file format. The rule generally goes like this: If it's a photo, use the JPEG format; if it's anything else, use GIF.

Also, one thing to remember about images and the Web: They don't need to be high-resolution to work. 72 dpi, or dots per inch, is all that monitors can display, so never have any graphic at a resolution higher than this. Also, the larger your graphic, and the more that you have on any one page, will drastically affect your visitors' wait time for your page to display correctly.

Now that we have you starting to build your pages, next week we'll start to tackle the problem of linking them all together and posting them up to your site. Until then, take care and happy surfing.

Ric Barrick has been building Web sites for almost five years, but only in the last two has he felt that he's finally getting the hang of it. You can reach him at webmaster@missoulian.com.

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