"This document is under construction." Of course
it is. The World Wide Web is changing; new
browsers appear; the language HTML changes; people change jobs and
homepages; and writers learn more about their subject.
The World Wide Web's ability to adapt to all this is one
of its true advantages over written text.
Maintain your links.
If you link somewhere, be prepared to revisit the link's target
regularly, checking for changes and updating or
augmenting your link if necessary. If you don't do that,
you'll miss it if the document moves, vanishes, or becomes
and end up with a sugar-coated heap of junk instead of a subtree.
can automate the verification and notification to a certain degree,
but they can't read the page for you.)
Keep old URLs valid.
Even if you reorganize your document structure,
keep the old URL valid. A good organization is
nice, but the overwhelming interest of people accessing your
site is with content, not with file names.
If your document can be accessed through multiple pathways, use
the <base> header element to explicitly tell browsers
about the preferred URL of your document.
Some browsers will display the <base> URL in place of
the one actually used to fetch the document; and all will
interpret links from within the text relative to the base.
Invite your readers to criticize you.
To get feedback about your documents from its readers,
you need to make an effort.
In your own interest, announce that you appreciate comments
on stylistic as well as on technical issues,
and make sure that readers know where to send them.
(However, if you provide as much as a single mailto: link that
readers can click on to send you mail from their browsers, be prepared
for a daily onslaught of automated business solicitations from
scum who gather such links from web pages.)
If you can, get your web-literate friends to read and
criticize your pages; they are far more likely to complain than
I'm a fairly vocal critic and nitpicker, particularly of
sites I like; but some things have stopped even me in
- Having to fill out
a "customer-response" type questionnaire before
being able to voice my complaint.
When I'm about to behave like a competent human,
I dislike being treated as cattle.
- Encountering a very high number of errors that I couldn't
explain to myself by a script gone awry or a tolerant
browser; that is, when pages seemed to be deliberately
- Fields that ask for my email address other than as
voluntary (and optional) information to aid in
- Being addressed as a kid,
a surfer, one of the boyz,
or a geek.
Separate evaluation from information.
Do not use built-in forms if you want to receive honest
opinions about your work; let the readers use
their own email front-end.
People are polite to the software they are using.
If they perceive a program as "asking about itself,"
they judge it less harshly than if "another program"
asks them about the first program.
Read the logfile.
Most HTTP servers log every access to every document
on that server with the time, the hostname of the client machine
that requested the document, and the name of the
document. This information is written to
a logfile. From it, you can see
If you understand
HTTP response codes,
and if these response
codes are logged, the logfile also tells you if your documents
contain links to nonexistent other documents on your system -
to fetch these documents will show up as errors in the logfile.
- which of your documents are popular, and which
are being ignored;
- whether people just pass through, or whether
they stay to read;
- whether the same people visit your site over and over
again, or whether different visitors stumble upon
it, see it, and leave to never return.
Some server-maintainers make tools available that count
logfile entries for a given page, and list them with number
of accesses and hostnames. If you can, ignore
them. They're almost worthless. You
don't just want to know how many people came by; you want
to know their route and timing, too.
In a more fundamental way, the trace in the logfile,
but for very few emails, is all the feedback you will
get for a non-interactive site; it is your applause
(or your "boo"s), and listening to it will almost certainly
change how you feel about your documents.
Give something back.
To a certain degree, the World Wide Web is a public place
where everybody maintains everybody else's documents.
If you enjoyed reading a paper, and you see
a typo, a link that points nowhere, a mark-up
error - don't be polite and silent; tell
the maintainer about it. In almost
all cases, they will be happy to receive feedback, and
grateful for the work you've saved them.