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Authoring and Design for the WWW
Why publish in electronic form?
It is useful to separate the basic advantages of screen-based electronic publishing from
those of introducing interactivity. Electronic
documents, even if not interactive, offer advantages over the traditional form.
Most publications about the Web gloss over the difficulties
involved in using it, but it is not the aim of this handbook to sell' the Web: it is
important to acknowledge immediately some of the problems.
- Electronic media allow speedier, more efficient and more frequent updating of information than paper documents.
- The penalty for increasing the size and quantity of documentation is far less for electronic documents than for their paper equivalents because
- no paper or photocopying consumables are used
- there is only one copy of the document, no matter how many readers
- Some aspects of the publishing process may be partly automated, for example through the use of databases.
- There are no arbitrary limits on the size of a document part. Using paper it is impractical to provide many small documents each devoted to a particular topic, but there is effectively no minimum or maximum size for a part of an electronic document. All document parts can be at their optimum size.
- Provided the user has access to a computer, the document is always present. It cannot be mislaid.
- Elements of the documentation can be used for multiple purposes, without actual duplication. This means that an element can appear in more than one place at once, without increasing storage.
- Documents are always accessible for re-purposing. So for example student essays if submitted in electronic form can be easily and cheaply provided to succeeding students in the form of an electronic reader; or information prepared for student use can be reused for promotional purposes.
- An electronic document may potentially be larger, better indexed and more easily searchable than its paper counterpart and can be accessed at any time. Students can make inquiries in the information without the embarrassment associated with asking a person.
Problems of access
The user needs a computer and access to a network.
User's expectations may be higher than in relation to paper
documents. For example, if their expectations of topicality are higher, frequent
updating becomes not only possible but necessary.
The electronic publication may not be able to replace paper
documentation (perhaps for legal reasons), and therefore may require additional
work rather than replacement.
Things that do not work
At present many of the tools for browsing and making
Web documents are less refined than established computer software. New
versions of packages are more inclined than most to fail in some degree.
Things that work too slowly
The growth in demand for the Web has outstripped the
development of the network systems which support it. In the UK, it is frequently
impossible to get reasonable speed of access to the Web after about 11am. As
users create more documents which are not confined to text, the traffic demands
on the system increase still further.
Lack of fixity on a day by day basis
Material which is prepared with one version of HTML in
mind, or hoping to make use of some innovation in the Browser packages, is
overtaken by newer versions.
Users find that material which they confidently expect to
view can only be seen if they download the latest software to their computer.
Difficulty of planning
Some of the changes in the Web will prove to be more
than merely technical and may lead to fundamental changes in how material is
published. It is difficult to make plans on software purchases, file formats,
information policy and so forth, in such a changeable environment.
Difficulties with control and specialist expertise
An academic, student, or other member of an HEI may
have difficulty in getting the information necessary to implement Web
documents. Even once this is achieved, various obstacles may be put in the way
of the intending Web publisher in terms of access to Servers and so forth. The
authors of this handbook are unusually fortunate in having the enthusiastic
support of network and other staff.
Lack of funds
While some of the software such as browser packages is
free to Education, there are financial constraints on the scope and speed of the
networks which an HEI is willing to provide. Most HEIs have adopted the
policy that a department must buy its computers from its own budget, including
any interfacing to the network, while the network itself is paid for by central
computing funds. There are therefore two separate financial battles to be won in
getting suitable access to the Web.
Need for skills
Additional skills may be required for the design,
implementation and maintenance of electronic publications. The skills might or
might not be those which an academic is keen to acquire. Deciding on the
amount of extra work which is appropriate needs careful consideration. It is
clearly important to consider staff-development needs.
Virtual Environments Visualisation