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Your Website:
A Care & Feeding Guide


Before we start, about your responsibility...
Properly designed and cared for, your website can bring you and millions of other people endless years of joy. Unfortunately, many web pages and sites are abandoned every year due to their masters either losing interest, or losing control of them. These poor sites continue to draw visitors, but instead of being greeted by a happy and enthusiastic page, the visitors only hear the sad, lonely cries of a site begging for attention.

Please be a responsible webmaster. Enjoy and care for your site, but when the time comes, as it does for all sites eventually, be sure to do the right thing. Advances in medical science have made the process of ending a website both pain-free and humane.


Why is having an organized site so important?
An organized site means a happy site, and a happy site means a happy webmaster. Happy webmasters tend to be much more motivated and inclined to keep their pages well groomed and up to date. Websites left to their own tend to be unruly and messy, but they really do crave your attention and grooming. This is just their way of trying to get your attention, and your positive discipline.

Using proper organization techniques is important. Depsite the emotional urges that strike us all from time to time, resist the urge to use a rolled up newspaper. This only results in a more aggressive and harder to manage site.

With a little planning and effort now, you can prevent more serious problems later on. If you already have a mature site that is causing you problems, there is still a lot you can do to undo the damage. Many times, webmasters will adopt a site from its former master. Again, with love and firm guidance, even the most recalcitrant site can be made into a happy camper.

By properly organizing your site, you will find that it will perform faster, be simpler to maintain, and ultimately prove to be a better experience for your readers.


Preparing your site's living quarters.
The best way to visualize your website's home is as space on a hard drive. The reason for this is that your website is actually residing on a hard drive someplace! Just as you would not keep all of your stuff in a single directory on your hard drive, you should not attempt to keep your entire site in one directory. Websites are happiest when they can move from room to room, this way they feel like they have more space. Besides, there are certain things they like to do that require a little privacy.

Setting up directories is a simple process. If you use telnet to access your site, you can use the mkdir command (UNIX). Via FTP, just select Create Directory and give it a name. Below is a minimal, but effective starting floorplan to begin with.

                       public_html
    ________________________|______________________________
     |               |              |             |
     index.shtml   /images         /test       /trashcan
     page1.shtml      logo.gif       new.html    oldpic.gif
     page2.shtml      pic2.jpg       new.gif     oldstory.html
     robots.txt       banner.gif     
     menu.txt
The example above assumes that your main web directory is public_html. There are many other names it may have depending on how your server was set up. We are concerning ourselves with what is contained in the web root directory. Here is what sort of toys should be kept in each room.
  • public_html: This is your main directory. It should only contain those files that make up the main part of your website. My test for a page being on this level is whether or not it is called directly by the index.shtml file, and if it stands on its own. It should also contain a robots.txt file to tell spiders and search engines where not to look on your site. This directory contains all of the directories mentioned below.

  • images: This directory should contain all of your files such as JPG and GIF. If you also have a couple of MID (midi music) files, this is a great place to stick them.

  • test: Use this directory while working on a new page or editing an existing one. This way you do not affect your real pages until you are ready. By including .htaccess, you can also keep spiders and readers out of it. Your site is entitled to try on different outfits in private!

  • trashcan: Whenever you think you no longer need a file, stick it in here instead of deleting it right away. If it turns out that the file is in fact a long unused but needed toy, you will know where to find it. If the directory gets too big, download the files to your hard drive before deleting them.
As your site grows and develops, you will find a need to add rooms. Our general strategy for this is to create directories to keep related information in. The tutorials are in docs, example pages are in kits, and midi files are in midi.

An extra benefit! The server can locate files more quickly if you use this method. If you have in total one-thousand files on your site, the computer can find things faster if it only has to search a sub-directory containing only two-hundred files. Oh, the same applies to you when you are looking for something.


How long should I let my site's pages get?
This is a concern of every webmaster raising a site. Fashion must be balanced with practicality and your reader's needs. Once in a while, a more conservative webmaster will write asking why we don't split up some of the longer pages.

BigNoseBird.Com is primarily in the business of providing information to people. Extensive, well okay, fan mail based research shows that people love to print out our content. Therefore, to us, a page is one piece of material that would be meaningless if not kept intact.

Keep in mind that pages seem longer than they are on the big screen, and not so big hot off the printer. We also feel people prefer to scroll up and down instead of constantly clicking on links. The other benefit of course is that there is less chance of ending up with links to no-where.


Files, files, everywhere I look there are files!
As your site grows up, you will find it hard to get it to look after itself. No matter how many times we tell our site to clean its room, it just won't listen. Most of the time, you don't even know where these files came from, well here's an idea on the subject.

   
This fine specimen is "Giffy" the Virtual Dustbunny. Just in case you don't know what a dustbunny is, have no fear, of course I'll tell you.

Did you ever move a couch or look under a bed to find strange clumps of dust hanging around? You know you never brought one home, they don't exactly look like one of the kid's toys, and to make matters worse, they seem to travel in large herds.

There are various theories explaining how they come into being. One such theory widely promoted, is that dust particles become charged with electricity, with half developing positive charges and half gaining negative charges. If you follow the logic that opposites attract, you should end up with a dustbunny about five feet deep covering the face of the Earth. Since we are not up to our noses in dustbunny blanket, there must be another answer.

It is possible that they are in fact intelligent life forms. Think about it. You only find them in places we seldom go. If we remove them, they are back by the next time we look in the same place. Look, the odds are they are friendly. As you get ready to fall asleep tonight, think of those little dustbunnies under the bed, and you decide which explanation makes sense to you. Pleasant dreams...
 

 

The point is this. Websites tend to accumulate files. Moving unused files to your trashcan directory keeps them out of the way. This will make it easier for you to find your real information, and also make your site faster. The speed impact is especially great if you have a search engine on your site.


The easy way to a consistent site.
Yes, there is an easy way to keep your site from ending up with sixteen personalities like Sybil. If your server allows the use of Server Side Includes, then you should use them. Typically this involves naming your files so that that end with .shtml instead of .html.

My favorite reason for using the SSI is that I can change the entire top or bottom of my files by just editing two files! If I add or remove a link, or have a message I want to appear, I edit my header and footer files and all of my pages are instantly up to date.


Is my site getting too fat?
Over time, well we all can get a bit rounder in the middle. You have several options available to you. Diet and excercise are a good start. Stop and think before adding new material. Ask yourself a few questions:
  • Will this information really add to my site's content?

  • Is this meaty graphic going to feel as good on my readers hips as it did on my graphic editor?

  • Is it time to start adding new rooms to bring better structure to my site?

  • Can I accept the fact that my site is just big boned and learn to live with a lot of material?
Never, ever resort to unhealthy measures such as binge-purging or using questionable dietary supplements. Only prudent judgement and a balanced diet of quality content can solve this problem.


What other information do you have that might be useful?
A great deal of the information on this site is dedicated to helping you create and maintain a great website. Pages of particular interest to you at this point are:



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