When the Internet and World Wide Web were first created, they were designed a research tools and for the distribution of information through information systems networks. But as the use of the Web has become increasingly more complex, the focus on Web pages and their design has initiated a number of major changes. Initially, static Web pages were common, but the focus in recent years has been on the development of dynamic Web pages which are linked to databases and allow for the integration of information on a number of different levels.
Web sites have progressed to a new level of sophistication, especially in terms of their capacity to track and store usage patterns and allow for the utilization of this information in the development of target advertising and focusing for both the Web page and subsequent connected databases (Tebbe N23). The development of dynamic Web sites requires strong tools and correlated databases that can retain the information that is gathered through this tracking process, and in order to become truly dynamic, Web sites must also be able to provide a company with the most up-to-date information or data that is both clear and graphically appealing (Tebbe N23).
It is not surprising that many of the major industry developers have focused on ways to develop better and more interactive Web pages, and Microsoft and Netscape, for example, have focused on the development of enhanced version of HTML as a means of supporting the development of dynamic Web sites without requiring that developers have significant expertise in composing ActiveX and Java applets (Dobson 23). These forms of dynamic HTML, also known as DHTML, have been recognized as a means of maintaining standard uniformity through out the development process (Dobson 23). Over the past 3 years, the World Wide Web Consortium has been working on the preliminary specifications for critical aspects of the Document Object Model that would provide a standard for how scripts and programs are dynamically updated and how access to documents can be achieved (Dobson 23).
These underpinnings of the development of dynamic Web pages underscore some of the industry issues, but do not reflect the impetus from which these Web pages came into focus. In order to understand the foundations for their development and their current significance, it is necessary to consider the progression from static Web pages to dynamic Web pages and then evaluate both the program elements and the implementation in order to gain a complete picture of the primary components of this industry directive.
The Progression from Static Web Pages
Less than a decade ago, when interest in the World Wide Web began to develop, Web sites were primarily static, and individuals had access through a direct choice of that site in order to view the information the site contained. Some developers recall the days when individuals would spend hours on what has been described as a “mental treasure hunt” searching for the best Web sites and then trading the information with others (Tebbe N23). Web sites, though active, were rarely interactive, and without an external “linked” capacity, they failed to provide support for further searches and limited the movement on the Web.
The impetus for changing the static Web site came as a result of pressure to pay for site management, the pursuit of a justification for advertising costs that are Web-based, and the desire to build some profits into the nature of Web interactions, elements that could not inherently stem from the once-passive pages (Tebbe N23). The need for Web pages that could “reach out and touch us” was a fundamental component of the changing face of the World Wide Web, and developers have recognized the benefits of the more aggressive Web-based elements that have redefined the way that businesses, developers and individuals perceive the Web (Tebbe N23).
At the onset of the pursuit of dynamic Web pages, developers recognized the problems in getting “brochureware” up and running, but this issue was before the development of site management tools, HTML editors and the clear differentiation between the static Web site or HTML and the emerging dynamic site information (Tebbe N23). Early in the process, developers recognized that sites needed to generate targeted material to remind the person accessing he site about their use of the Web and a level of reasoning for its application, an element necessary to inspire individuals to come back and revisit the site (Tebbe N23). Essential to the success of the dynamic Web site is that people will not only return to the site and access new ads and changed information, but will also visit the referenced Web sites (Tebbe N23).
It was evident that the early static Web sites provided little support for either complex information transferal or for the use of the Web page by a business to access customer data, including access trends. But the emerging dynamic Web pages were developed not only for this premise, but also to correlate database information that is separate from customer data, but still constantly changes, including Web sites designed to promote up-to-date information about stock performance or about weather conditions. Both of these examples demonstrates how a Web sites might be used in a variety of active and interactive functions.
Dynamic Web Pages
Though the Internet’s roots are clearly based in plain text-based documents, the components of this foundation are clearly moving out of view. Initially, the development of a Web page always required the use of a program that created a plain text version and obscure Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) codes, rather than the creation of a graphics and formatted text, and so the pages could be viewed as they would appear in a Web browser like Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer (Mendelson 100). Over the last few years, the development of a number of advanced programs to support the creation of more complex Web sites has enhanced the process of dynamic site development (Mendelson 100).
Today’s more advanced programs…show your pages almost exactly as they appear in your browser. In the same vein, the HTML editor you used a year ago created separate pages. But today’s best HTML editors build complete, interlinked Web sites and can upload them to remote Web servers when users are ready to present their pages to the world (Mendelson 100).
Over just a few years, the development of HTML editing software, for example, evolved in much the same way that word processing software evolved a decade ago, as code-based HTML editors have fallen by the wayside to more complex graphics-based editors and developers recognized that users prefer to use the more modern, visual and didactic edits, even though the text-only product is still utilized by individuals pursuing Webmasters who have a desire for control in every aspect of their files (Mendelson 100). At the same time, the new graphics-based editors have also come into focus as a significant element of this transformation, but “users may have to enter obscure filenames and other strings to use advanced features like Java applets, ActiveX controls, and scripting” (Mendelson 100).
Generally speaking, most of the new HTML editors make it easy for individuals to create pages that have complex formatting and imported graphics, though recognizable benefits can be gained from converting graphics files from formats not supported by most browsers, like TIFF and .BMP, into Web-standard formats like .GIF and JPEG (Mendelson 101). “Any HTML editor can create hyperlinks between a current page and other pages on the same site or a remote server, but only some programs…will verify that your link points to a page that actually exists” (Mendelson 101). In addition, a number of these programs also create and manage Web sites in addition to creating individual pages, and packages have been designed by manufacturers to support the capacity to build interconnected pages that use the same graphics and design elements on a number of different pages (Mendelson 101).
The basic blueprint structure of the dynamic Web site includes the following characteristics:
Background colors and patterns help a page stand out, but they can be in the way if they make it hard to load or read. Bear in mind that many readers will be viewing your page at 256 colors, so any higher-resolution colors will be lost and may create undesirable effects.
Navigation links at the bottom of each Web page provide a guide so your readers won’t get lost. Provide text-only links for users who turn off graphics loading in their browsers to improve speed.
Frames can make navigation easier, but more than a few can make your page difficult to read. Also, build a nonframe version to accommodate all browsers.
Applets and plug-ins can enable visual tricks and features beyond the capabilities of basic HTML, but we don’t recommend heavy use of proprietary extensions.
The structural components of the Web page itself are imperative to the dynamic structure, but the database that is utilized to either direct information regarding access and trends or to define the links between the information in the initial site and the pool of information that can be accessed through a search engine or another segment of the site development. Database design, then, is an important element of the development of dynamic sites and their capacity to attract, maintain and create revisits within the target populations.
Data-base driven interactivity is a necessary consideration when creating dynamic Web sites, and there are currently more than 150 Web-server extensions and 30 environmental variables that are utilized by designers who can rapidly create interactive sites for applications like electronic commerce (Heck 58F). Inline Internet System iHTML 2.1, for example, is a program that has numerous tags that allow HTML to support programming constructs and deal with errors in a sophisticated manner (Heck 58F). At the same time, program developers recognized the necessity for security and for creating an underlying database that had effective connections, both important considerations in utilizing a Web site to maintain a company focus on electronic commerce (Heck 58F).
It is not only necessary to devise an appropriate database foundation, but it is also necessary to establish the connections between the Web page and the database, and create effective and usable interfaces based in new database connection within a server database on a network (Lam 267).
Most client/server databases, such as SQL Server 6.5, are sold on the basis of the number of concurrent connections that they allow. But there is no way to enforce licensing restrictions in today’s world of Internet data access, since there are no persistent connections to your database server. To compensate for the potentially large number of hits on your database server, Microsoft charges a flat fee of $2,995 to connect your SQL Server 6.5 database to the Internet. For smaller Web sites, which do not require the full power of this type of client/server database, you can run Microsoft Access or something similar at considerably less expense (Lam 267).
This process demonstrates the complexity of the database management process and also underscores the fact that the database segment of the Web site can vary significantly depending on what factors define the database.
Databases can be defined and directed by a number of different premises, including:
customer trends and cite access information
changing collective information
a set database grouping
Once the foundation of the database is defined, it is then necessary to consider the nature of the database connection and create additional components to query and manipulate the data in the database and program segments have been designed specifically to deal with the issue of the simplification of the query process and devising particular components (Lam 267).
Whether considering the nature of the database or the components of the Web page devised to support the database, the issue of how to put the page on the Web and access information that is held within the scope of the database is imperative to benefiting from this process. The process of putting the dynamic Web page on-line requires an understanding of a few very basic elements of provider structure.
Putting Your Pages Online
The last, though significant, step in publishing an HTML page or a dynamic Web site with database connections is putting it on a Web server that is connected to the Internet. Because individual users often find it easier to obtain access to through an on-line serve, some of the elements of the major types are provided in order to understand this process (Mendelson 103). They include (provided by Mendelson 106):
America Online: Start with the keyword Personal Publisher or go to home.aol.com. You can then choose My Home Page, for novice users, or My Place, aimed at the more experienced. My Place lets you upload multiple pages and offers a wide selection of HTML editors for downloading (including AOLpress), as well as a user-friendly menu of help items. AOL provides up to 2MB of server space for each user or 10MB per account.
Prodigy Internet: Type the keyword “Personal Web Pages” to get to Prodigy’s page creation area, which contains a basic HTML tutorial and support bulletin boards, as well as downloadable shareware HTML editors and Prodigy’s text-based editor, Hippie 4.10. After you create pages off-line, the Personal Web Pages Site Manager allows you to upload up to 1MB of text and images to the Web.
CompuServe: After downloading CompuServe’s Home Page Wizard (type “Go hpwiz”), you can use the wizard’s graphical editor to create text and graphics. You can preview the pages in any selected browser, then use the Publishing Wizard to upload the files you choose. CompuServe allows up to 2MB of text and files.
Considering the elements of each of these servers is a positive step in improving the capacity of the Web site and in demonstrating the link between server and the possible factors that can impact Web site development and implementation.
The development of dynamic Web sites appears to be the wave of the future and fewer and fewer text-only sites are appearing on the Internet. In general, the perception that exists is that Web sites should not only focus on the production of information that is beneficial for the person accessing the site, but should also provide a structural element from which evaluations can be made by companies providing these sites.
Though the structural elements of the Web site itself is imperative to attracting hits to the site, this is clearly not only element that has changed in Web site development in recent years. The focus on databases as a component of Web site interactivity is also a major element that has transformed the focus of Web site developers. It is evident that the continued changes in the industry will focus on increasing the interactivity in Web sites and improving the progression of dynamic Web sites in general.
Dobson, Rick. “Developers like DHTML, but many wait.” Byte, (1997): September, pp. 23(2).
Heck, Mike. “iHTML builds database-driven, dynamic Web sites effortlessly.” InfoWorld, (1998): January, pp. 58F(1).
Lam, John. “Visual InterDev and ASP.” PC Magazine, (1997): December, pp. 265(4).
Mendelson, Edward. “Grand designs.” PC Magazine, (1997): March 4, pp. 100(13).
Tebbe, Mark. “Surf’s over: here comes the big wave.” PC Week, (1996): November 18, pp. N23(1).