Building a Website

6/14/2005 2:18:46 PM

Building a Website

I am someone who prefers to know everything and retain 100% control, although, in recent years, I have learned to delegate a little more often.

I have always done my taxes myself with the help of Excel, even when I had a complicated 25–page tax return in 1998. Back then, I avoided TurboTax, because it seemed to introduce a layer between me and my tax forms. I missed two extensions before I actually even filed a return—it was okay since I didn’t owe any taxes. Over the next few years as well, I was also late and made a number of errors on my returns. I did ultimately rediscover TurboTax. While it simplified my tax form preparation, it also allowed me access to the underlying forms. Also, changes I made percolated automatically throughout the rest of the form, and I always had a view of the bottom line. After two university courses on tax principles, some courses in accounting, a lot of reading and experience, I am now a tax pro.

The last time that I built a website was for my MBA program. I spent months working on it and it was not very easy to maintain or understand. I felt like I was going through a similar sort of pain as with taxes.

As I set to build new websites, I want to avoid some of these growing pains. I have already been through some of the early experiences.

I am not very interested in hiring a web designer, since I will be heavily modifying this site and have strong requirements, but I wonder how much of my unwillingness is due to my control complex. There are plenty of site templates on the Internet; I payed some dues at www.BoxedArt.com for access to content, but I am not sure if it was worth it yet.

I also don’t want to be a full-time web developer. Ultimately, I want to be spending less than an hour a day on my site. I want the following…

  • …a highly maintainable site
  • …something very professional-looking, but not too fancy
  • …some interactivity in the website to serve an important business functions such as customer support such as forums

A future goal is the creation of an information portal, either a seperate site or one integrated into the main site, to help drive target traffic.

I thought about starting a minimal site like Nick Bradbury given my time demands. Except for some forums powered by InstantAsp, his site have very little interactivity.

I decided to base my site on ASP.NET. ASP.NET 2.0 offers a lot of new features that reduce website programming, but very few hosting companies provide support for the beta yet. In any case, both versions of ASP.NET consist of programming.

I then realized that there has be an easier way to build more sophisticated sites, since many non-developers are building websites. There has to be some infrastructure already in place. How do some nondevelopers managed to build advanced websites?

In my quest to learn how to build a fully functionally, professional-looking website quickly, I came across some web applications like Community Server and DotNetNuke. I don’t know if they make sense for a commercial website designed to sell software. Though I have looked at software like WordPress and MovableType and have actually installed a YaBB forum on a site, I haven’t really grokked web applications before. Right now, I am currently evaluating those and others.

Power of CSS

I originally didn’t think too much of CSS, since Nick Bradbury, who creates TopStyle, the best-selling CSS editor, didn’t have an earth-shattering CSS-based website for his product.

I soon picked up the power of CSS-based design after visiting the website, www.CSSZenGarden.com, which shows off some of the most advanced CSS-based designs on its homepage. I was instantly impressed by some of its capabilities, so much so I spent Monday reading “More Eric Meyer on CSS” and “The Zen of CSS Design” by  Dave Shea and Molly Holzschlag.

In my last website, I found creating tables for layout to be time-consuming and unpleasant, requiring numerous hacks like spacer images. CSS eliminates most of the need for tables; tables are only used when they make sense for grouping content semantically, not for layout. CSS sites tend to look good from the get-go.

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Net Undocumented is a blog about the internals of .NET including Xamarin implementations. Other topics include managed and web languages (C#, C++, Javascript), computer science theory, software engineering and software entrepreneurship.

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