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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. These include:

Obstacles to success with the Web

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.

Problems of access

The user needs a computer and access to a network.

Excessive expectations

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.

Extra workload

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.
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