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Authoring and Design for the WWW
The control of interlinked information
We have emphasised the potential for interlinking
information. For example, in institutional information the pages about
programme, set, school, faculty, and so forth can be unified for the user, but
served from separate, appropriate locations. Likewise alternative perspectives
can be provided, such as an institutional view and a Student Union view.
However, issues of control arise:
These are not questions which can be answered by this
handbook, varying as they will from institution to institution, case to case.
- Is there an overall structure to the web of documents? Who devises it and ensures its continuation?
- Who is in editorial control over the content of the separate parts?
- Who should author documents about what?
- Who should design the documents? Is a house style required, or does that undermine the potentially multivocal nature of the site? What level of consistency is appropriate?
- Which documents are linked to each other, and how?
- Who is responsible for maintaining valid connections between documents?
- How do users know whose document they are reading?
Example internal guidelines
As an indicator of the level of detail involved in some of
these issues, we cite a few informal guidelines which have been used for one
particular departmental server:
- All file-names and hot-spots should clearly indicate the nature of the information to which they lead and where it is held, perhaps using icons, labels, or colour-coding.
- Two hot-spots should not lead to the same place if they have different names (and vice versa).
- Aim to site all documents on the servers where they really belong (for example, we do not need every school to write its own commentary on the HEI's Alumni Association: this is an HEI task).
- All links must seem to make sense to the user in both directions, eg. from School to Faculty information and from Faculty to School.
Technical and editorial control
Even though we have advocated that many voices should
be represented in HEI documentation, we cannot escape the responsibility for
ensuring that correct information is accessible to students. This implies an
If information is stored on servers, those machines are
from a technical point of view often the responsibility of computing services
staff. Some technical expertise is required to maintain the information on
servers incorporating new documents, updating hypertext links when new
documents have been appended, writing scripts to handle user-interaction, and
so forth. As a result there is a risk that editorial decisions about the information
will be made by those who are providing the technical service often
inappropriately. The shortcomings of many HEI Campus Wide Information
Systems are almost certainly the result of their being written, edited and
designed, as well as implemented, by computing support staff. Our indebtedness
to the enthusiasm and expertise of computing staff should not blind us to the fact
that they are not necessarily the best editors of documentation.
It is important therefore that the use of technology does
not cause dependency on technologists. Currently, most academic staff have
insufficient knowledge to be able even to specify what they want, let alone to
attempt to construct it for themselves. Ignorance of the possibilities is preventing
them from having a policy. There are staff-development implications.
A note on the Web and the law
This is not the place to discuss the huge subject of the
relationship between Web activity and the laws concerning intellectual property,
defamation, obscenity and so forth.
Perhaps the most important point is that the Web is not
exempt from any of the laws of publishing or public utterance. The fact that the
law is currently regularly flouted on the Web, for example by people publishing
works which they do not own, does not mean that it can be done with impunity.
As the Web moves from a fringe activity to a mainstream form of publishing,
governments and other bodies take an increasing interest in policing it.
A SIMA project which deals with a wide range of legal
issues is listed under Web Resources.
Virtual Environments Visualisation