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Seven Slick Strategies
For spiffing up your site

Susan Ives designs web sites and is convinced that you can, too.


My webmastering approach is to keep things simple. This is partially aesthetic, but mostly because I am cheap and lazy: too cheap to buy expensive software and services, and too lazy to learn how to program. 

To compensate for my shortcomings, I have found free resources on the Internet that make it look like Iíve slaved over a hot keyboard for days on end. Fooled you! Here are seven of my slick strategies for adding content and functions to web pages ó at no cost and minimal fuss. 

As I was writing this article I was putting a site together for the San Antonio Million Mom March. I threw in many of these techniques, and whenever I refer to that site you can view it at www.salsa.net/peace/mmm

    1: Add Java Scripts 
      Java Script is a programming language, but you donít have to be a programmer to use it. Thousands of programmers with big hearts and time on their hands have developed Java scripts and placed them in the public domain for you to use. Legally! In most cases, all you do is copy their source code and follow the instructions to cut, paste and edit the script into your HTML document. 

      A practical script is the countdown timer. I used this last year on the Alamo PC page to count down to Y2K and am now using it to count down to the Motherís Day Million Mom March. You can get this script ó and hundreds of others ó from <www.javascripts.com>. 

      A fun script is the trailing hearts cursor. I used this one on the peaceCENTERís coffeehouse page, <www.salsa.net/peace/alters>, and got it from <www.webmoments.com>. The also have starbursts, eyeballs and a few other cursor formats. I tried to add this to the Million Mom March page, but the Java script interfered with the frames. It took me two frustrating hours to figure that out. 

      Java Scripts wonít work on all browsers, but usually a non-Java browser will degrade gracefully and not show an error. It will just ignore the script. There are hundreds of sites offering free scripts; search for "java scripts" at <www.yahoo.com> and youíll get a huge list of starting places. 
       

    2: Add a counter 
      Itís helpful to keep tabs on how many people are visiting your web site. Some ISPs offer free counters that read the server logs. These are based on CGI scripts, which they install at their end. Iíve used the counter CGI scripts at Texas Net, STIC.Net, Flash.Net and Netcom, but check with your web host to see if they provide them. These have the advantage of being ad-free. If your are using FrontPage as your web page editor, and your server provides FrontPage Extensions support, you can also create a counter using that program. Otherwise, consider adding a free third-party counter. I used the Extreme Tracker on the MMM site; click on the planet at the bottom of the navigation frame to see it and learn how you can get one, too, and to view the information it provides. A huge list of free counters is at <www.counterguide.co>. 
       
    3: Add a news ticker 
      I also added a news ticker to the Million Mom Marchís news page. This is a free service offered by <www.7am.com>. All you do is fill out a simple form that selects the type of news you want to display, and they create an applet that you can cut-and-paste into your site. I selected world and U.S. news, but you can also opt for ports, investor, defense or Christian news ó whatever fits your site. 
       
    4: Add a survey 
      I put a live poll on the Million Mom March page. This survey is complements of Perseus Survey Solutions. They give you free survey design software that makes it easy to design a one-question survey. It can use radio buttons (for chose-one polls); check-boxes (for pick several answers) or drop-down menus. You can develop as many polls as you want, and even rotate them on a fixed schedule. They also sell services that allow you to design more complicated and sophisticated polls. 
       
    5: Add a popup window 
      Some people find pop-up windows irritating, but I sometimes use them when I want to provide "side-bar" information without having visitors to the site leave the page they are currently viewing. I use them in several places on the peaceCENTER site. Check our "Blessed are the Peacemakers," an online quiz <www.salsa.net/peace/faces> and click on the link for the Express-News article on "San Antonio Cares about Chiapas". The code for a popup window is: 

      <A href="poll.html" 
      onClick="window.open('','popup', 
           'height=350,width=350,scrollbars=yes')" 
      target="popup">Take Our Handgun Poll</a> 

      You can, of course, change the height and width to whatever you want, and dispense with the scrollbars if you donít need them. Some users have trouble keeping track of multiple open windows and may become confused, so used this technique sparingly and only when it performs a legitimate function. I decided that popups would be over the top for the Million Mom March page since I was already using frames. I was tempted, though. 
       

    6: Add a discussion board 
      The Million Mom March page is getting heftier by the minute. I added a free bulletin board to give people a place to discuss the march. This one came from <www.beseen.com>. It allows you to include some customization, and you can remove messages you donít like. BeSeen also offers a free guest book. Iím not thrilled with the big ugly icon and the massive number of ads on the page, but free is free. If you are using FrontPage as your HTML editor, and your server accepts FrontPage extensions, you can create an ad-free board using that program. For an example, look at <www.3dsa.org>.
    7: Add a response form 
      Itís easy to add forms in HTML; itís hard to process them. Forms are handled on the back end by a CGI script, and most ISPs forbid you, or charge extra, to upload a CGI script to their servers. Some ISPs offer a form handler - a CGI script that they have installed and give their customers access to - but most donít. If you add a form with out the handling script, you will get garbage back in return. I added a form to the Million Mom March page using a free service, Response-o-Matic. Itís easy ó you use a wizard to create a template ó and free. The responses come back to you as neatly formatted e-mails. 
There are hundreds of other slick strategies. MapBlast lets you put up to 25 free maps on your site. The Weather Underground offers a free fast weather forecast. You might end up with someone elseís advertising on your site but in exchange you are getting free content that someone has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop. You have to weigh the trade-off. Keep your eyes peeled for free content and if it grabs you ó grab it!


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San Antonio, TX USA