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Chapter 1: Designing Quality Web Applications
...Testing, Testing, TestingWhen you finish laying out the pages of your web application, you have to test them to see if they actually work the way you want them to. This process is in two parts: functional testing and usability testing.
Functional TestingFunctional testing determines whether the web application works at the functional level. Do all the links work? Do all the forms work? Do all the images load? FrontPage offers a lot of checks to make sure everything is going to work well, but there is no substitute for clicking all the links and using all the functionality you have designed into the web application in a real-world situation. Surprises always happen. Use the web application under the same conditions the user will experience to see what really is going to happen.
Usability TestingThe hardest testing can be the usability testing. This is where you test the human element. And those pesky humans always seem to do things you didn't expect.
Large corporations organize focus groups to do this testing. All you need to do is invite some friends over and, without telling them anything, watch them use your web application. No coaching! Look at what they click on. Notice how they move through your web application. Watch when they pause. Are they confused? Are they getting the message? Again, no coaching!
They are giving you a lot of valuable information just by how they use your web application. And if they do something wrong, it is probably because your design is unclear and needs more work. Listen to them carefully. Afterwards, ask them for their comments. They may have your solutions for you.
Keep Them Coming BackNo matter what the subject of your web application, you should expect competition. So how do you keep people coming back to your web application? If it is a hobby, such as an application for a favorite pastime, encouraging return visits may not matter to you. However, if you want it to be profitable, you have basically three paths: advertising, subscriptions, or selling merchandise. In each case you need to build and maintain a high volume of users.
Good design for your web pages is only half the battle. You must also make them interesting-there has to be a reason for people to visit them. Keep the following guidelines in mind when creating your web pages: they have to be rich in content, they must stay fresh, and they must make the user feel part of a community.
Rich ContentFirst and foremost, your web application has to be rich in content, not hype. For example, if it was created for marketing your line of kayaks, include the history of the sport, stories (with photos) of trips your users have taken, information for people new to the sport, hyperlinks to related sites (not necessarily your competitors'), and anything else you can think of that might be interesting to kayakers. Don't just put up an online catalog and expect people to come back.
Stay FreshKeep your application fresh. Update as often as you can. People are not going to come back to see the same old stuff. In the kayaking example, consider updating the trips featured every month. In winter (in the Northern Hemisphere), feature trips in New Zealand. Compare your web application to a magazine--no one would subscribe to a magazine that was exactly the same every month; it would be boring. Your web application is no different.
CommunityDesign and content only go so far to keep people coming back. The final element for a successful web application is a sense of community. The Web is not a one-way environment. It allows the user to respond back to the owners of the web application and also to the other users.
There are three tools that can help you achieve this: guest books, message boards, and chat.
- Guest books are the simplest way for the user to interact with the owner of the web application and other users. The user enters their comments *in a form, and these comments are added on top of a page with the other users' comments. These are usually CGI scripts. Check with your Internet Service Provider; they often have scripts available for customer use. Another source is Matt's Script Archive at http://www.worldwidemart.com/scripts/
- Message boards are simply the familiar electronic bulletin boards that have been a mainstay of electronic communication. By creating a place for your users to post their ideas and engage in conversation with other users, you give them an additional reason to come back to your site often. With FrontPage's Discussion Web (see Chapter 3), you can easily create your own message boards.
To do IRC chat, you need an IRC server, which is simply a software application that can run on the same computer as your web server. The user needs a chat client such as Pirch (http://www.pirch.com). The disadvantage of Pirch (from the webmaster's point of view) is that it is a stand-alone application. In other words, the user does not need a web browser, nor does he or she need to log on to your web application to chat.
A better solution (again, from the webmaster's point of view) is a web-based application such as ConferenceRoom (http://www.webmaster.com), a Java-based chat server and client applet that is embedded into a web page. This allows you to make your chat an integral part of your web application. The downside to this is that, since you are downloading a client-side application, the download time is increased and it won't work on many browsers. There are also some server-side web-based chat programs such as the CGI chat script at Extropia.com (http://www.extropia.com).
The proper balance of design, content, and community is the foundation of a successful web application.
Do It!Putting together a useful web application can be a lot of work. There's a lot to know, but the best way to learn it is to just do it. Build your web application, and see what works and what doesn't work. Change it and remember what to do for the next time. Not all web applications need to be high-powered business applications. You could just be putting up pictures of your daughter's wedding, or your child's first birthday, or pictures of your vacation.
You can communicate throughout the world using the Web. This book will show you how to do it with FrontPage...