Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Web of Darkness (Or: Content? Shmontent!)

One of the items on my very small list of goals is to one day be considered the American Anders Sandberg. (A fact that never fails to cause the real Anders Sandberg to be amused.)

O.K. Let me back up. Back in the days when Internet access didn't grow on trees and your correspondent had yet to own a computer of his own, I often went over to the University of Kentucky's King South library and availed myself to the use of their lovely Macintoshes. It was there that I discovered the wonderfulness of mailing list archives and eventually was able to join such luminaries as Brooks, Sandberg, and Toner in their roundtable discussion of all things Mage and Vampire

While taking my very first baby steps with the brand new Netscape Browser thingy, I bumbled around and found that Anders had a website of his own. It was cool and contained much that has formed the basis of my gaming style in the games to come.

Please note, that the Reverend has just made an understatement of some depth.

It's still up, and can be reached from my Links page although he doesn't add much to it anymore since he got out of school and got a real job in computer research that is so abstruse that it makes me dizzy. It makes me sad that the Magick Swede has gotten respectable but what can you do, right?

One of the other things that I found about Ander's site that I liked was that it was content heavy. It still dwarfs my site in the sheer amount of stuff that he wrote.

This is to my way of thinking a sadly rare thing. Every once in a while I get the itch to go surfing for new and interesting websites containing new and interesting material that I can strip mine for my own games. Call me a vulture, I don't care. I enjoy new ideas and new approaches to old ideas.

But lately I find that those who profess to love game stuff as much as I do, maybe need a bit of help when it comes to the art and science of web design. So here are some basic tips that hopefully can help your site to develop and more importantly keep a decent level of traffic.

I am routinely shocked by the number of sites that I have seen that very little actual material on them. Oh sure, they got neat pictures and automatic MIDI files and flash animation and whatever but they are awful light on actual stuff to read. This impresses nobody.

Have something to say. Attack your favorite game with your own viewpoint to the best of your ability. Say what you NEED to say about things. Find your own niche in the world and the Web. Some have specialized in archives of images and fonts, Others digs game reviews. Still others like creating unique characters for other peoples use. One of my favorite sites to go delving into is B.J. Zanzibar's Web of Darkness. The fella who runs it (Abe Dashiell) posts just about anything that he's sent without respect to quality of content. Going to Abe's site is a lot like clothes shopping at the Salvation Army outlet. You have to sift through a lot of crap but occasionally you can find a true gem. So even if your writing skills aren't up to the task yet, you can at least provide others with a forum.

With this attitude in mind, it behooves you start paying more attention to what you are actually saying. Learn how to use a goddamn spellchecker and learn to proofread as well as possible. (Hell, I still struggle with this.) Also pay close attention to your use of fonts and text and background colors. What you think looks cool can be a real bitch to read. Especially since I don't know of a single web editor that is completely WYSIWYG when you check it out in the browser. Funky fonts can damage legibility and when that happens people either complain (good) or tune out (not good). When in doubt, size UP the text. Or default to something dull but definitely readable, like plain vanilla Helvetica.

Bells and Whistles
While I don't mind Images, and Animation, and Music and other assorted materials on a website it can get a little busy if you overdo it. Remember, not everybody has DSL or Cable. I'm sure that there are still some 14.4 modems in service out there. Mine's only 56k. If a web page 45 seconds to load then it's going to be a real pain in the ass every time you have to jump back to it in order to go someplace else. Here are some things that are considered universally uncool.

blinking text tags
more than one applet on a single page
pop-up adds and banners
over use of Java or Flash
more than one Web ring installation on the homepage (if you cover more than one game, then break your site into sections and place the web rings in the relevant sections.

Some hate them like poison. Other have so much content that they need them. I'm actually thinking of retooling my site so that you can stay on the main page but jump to any page within ,without a lot of hassle. If you use frames however make sure you test and make sure that the pages load correctly and can download correctly. Within a frame you want to keep you pages as printer friendly as possible. Ex Libris Nocturnis always offers a printer friendly version in addition to the page that you are likely viewing. This is good policy if you've got the space.

Sono Finito


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