Under Revision
Moving into XHTML/CSS:
Full speed ahead!

At parsonsnet.com/BatWorks™ Creative Group
we produce scalable & affordable web design & development...
= from concept to completion =
web standards compliant / forwards compatible / web design, revision, & management for
small businesses • professionals • organizations
[ james parsons is a charter member of TIAI ]
"Not just another web/dev guy, but a late night web/dev guy"

Sunday May 26 2024

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folder gif about us

train coming through 2nd story window

the short rant...

We live & work in Tripoli, IA. We build, maintain, & host cross-platform, interoperable, affordable, user friendly & effective web sites for small businesses, professionals, & organizations. We know, for a number of reasons, that what we do is smarter and works better for our clients than template driven or Frontpage-type proprietary html do-it-yourself solutions. We like to do it, too.

the long rant...

'jp' Okay, okay! So, you might be wondering how a strange little web design/management outfit with a name like BatWorks fetched up out here in a small town in Iowa? How come we're not somewhere like New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, or even Minneapolis?

Well, get over it.

"Wherever you go," a friend of mine used to say, "there you are."

We like it here. We don't sip latte -- we take our java strong, straight, & black. Right from the pot. No decaf. We eat corn on the cob, watermelon, and rhubarb pie. Just 'cause we like the Red Green Show , doesn't mean we're hicks, either. While this may not be one of the "standard glamorous locations for web designers", as a "Sillycon Valley" friend once observed, it works for us. We make up for it with personality. We don't need the urban hustle and over-hype of the Silicon Alleys & Valleys. Living's easy, more relaxed, stuff's cheaper. Closer to home, too. We got a store stocked with Cheez-Whiz and crackers two blocks away and you can walk over there without having to dodge bullets or errant street thugs. As a consequence, we can produce & deliver quality web design & revision for less. It's just that simple. Most any legitimate business or organization can afford us.

The BatWorks™ moniker mostly comes from the fact we do a lot of this stuff in the middle of the night. Early on, we thought about "OwlWorks" but "BatWorks" just has a little more of our kind of attitude. We always thought bats are kind of cool (although they get a bum rap). They play an important environmental role. Around here, they clean up tons of mosquitoes during the summer months. Mosquitoes, far more than bats, are the real disease carriers, and probably every house in this town has a few in the attic. If it weren't so, with Sweet's Marsh Wildlife Refuge so close by, we'd be eaten alive during the warmer months. During the warmer months, while the bats are outside, devouring mosquitoes, we're inside devouring old html; rendering it into clean, accessible, & findable forwards compatible html. During the cooler months, when the bats have all flown south, we're still at it because those pesky code bugs are out there all year round.

Web Architects vs. Web Designers: (A different way of thinking about it). - At BatWorks™ Creative Group/parsonsnet.com (myself plus a small coterie of talented associates), we like to work with quality focused businesses, organizations, & professional clients. Most do not necessarily have hundreds of thousands (or, even, thousands) of dollars to pile into web development. In the process, we take our clients' content, organize it, and then endeavor to design, build, host, & manage an attractive, effective, and usable web standards compliant home/edifice/website for it in the space that is the World Wide Web.

Like their brick & mortar counterparts, web/information architects design places for real people to work & play. These places are no less real for the fact they're in cyberspace. On contemplating a new project or revision of an existing one, we want to first try to arrive at a clear understanding of -- who is going to use the space & how & what they're going to use it for .

Clients often tend to focus on an image, on branding. That may be part of the deliverables, but it isn't necessarily what customers & visitors come to a site for. Not to disparage the more traditional graphic design firms, because there are some that actually do understand the web, but often these kinds of agencies will want to sell clients on graphic/branding focused concepts for the website without clearly delineating the semantical, presentational, and code issues that make it usable and findable. The site ends up being about the client when it should be about the customer ; the people who are going to be using the site and their purpose in coming to the site. Print and web are different beasties; the one is static, the other is inherently interactive.

Our objective, too, does not need to be that we get the whole world to visit the site. Rather, our objective should be to successfully bring the right visitors to the site at the right time; when they're looking for information they can best get only from you, about your product or your service, or when they're ready to buy.

Many small business web designers just deliver a set of templates and graphics and they think their job is done. Only after the objectives, content, and a user profile have been defined, should we begin designing & building. The more successful this is, the less apparent it is. Visitors don't see it, but they easily find what they're looking for. Site navigation should be intuitive and natural with content visitors find relevant. The added bonus is that sites built this way will usually profile a little bit better, a little more logically, on Google ("web standards compliant design for small businesses & professionals") and other semantically driven indexes.

In the actual construction process, by building with web standards (the "building code" of the Web), the cost of producing & maintaining these spaces can be significantly reduced if we agree that it's no longer necessary to produce 3 or 4 different versions of the same website with all kinds of hacks to accomodate different & seemingly incompatible and outmoded browsers that are much used anymore. [see "Why don't you code for Netscape?" ]

Undertaking this task involves clarifying and deciding what information/content will be presented and how it will be organized. We proceed to design the look, the feel, & the navigation based on a more clear, less fuzzy, concept of the semantic ("meaningful & findable organization of information") structure of the site. In the process, we try to impart a little personality to the design as the site comes together. Semantic structure makes your information findable. Personality is difficult to define and difficult to impart, but it can help a website stand out from the fray and give visitors <!--something badly needed on many websites--> more of a sense that there are real people out there.

bat late night drive-up service

"Since January 1998, I've been designing, writing, hosting, maintaining, & revising websites for business & professional clients located throughout Iowa, across the US, and in a few other countries, as well. Hosting is available own own fast, secure Linux/Apache system (see, Zipweb.net ). If you're looking for personalized service, forward compatible/web standards compliant site development & managment or just a robust, secure, scalable, host, , or give us a call; +1-646.494.7932 (noon to midnight, US Central Time or 1800 - 0600 GMT, is usually best)."

Five years ago, we started out with the idea of providing "overnight service," and this is still part of the plan. Whenever possible.

Clients can email or call in the afternoon and, very often, we'll have their site updated by the following morning.

folder gif doing it better

Being on the Web can help anyone in business or professional practice. Small town merchants like the Iowa wine retailer with one of the finer selections of imported & domestic wines in northeast Iowa may not be necessaarily interested in going global, but it can be an effective tool to broaden their customer base beyond the immediate locale.

Another of our clients is one of the major manufacturers of high quality round, oval, and other unusually shaped wooden picture frames in the United States . They, on the other hand, were definitely interested in business with buyers worldwide. Now, their frames are sold to buyers all over the world. Thanks to the Web!" --James <!--the Bat--> Parsons

The Web can work wonders for small town businesses. In fact it can make a deciding difference. And it doesn't take a lot to help a lot. Sometimes just two or three pages can do it. Or, even, just one page. An example; we maintain a little single page site for a small town auto dealer who specializes in buying & selling rebuildable Mustang, Camaro, and Firebird "component donor" cars to professional and hobby auto rebuilders. Thanks to the Internet, his business is gaining a whole new dimension. Personally, we like cars "with attitude." So, we think it's kind of cool when these can be recycled rather than ending up on blocks in somebody's yard. Just recently, our client sold a car to a buyer from El Paso, TX who found him on the Web. Our client had just the right Mustang 5.0 HO he'd been seeking for a Ford Shelby "replicar" project. The guy drove all the way up from Texas with his trailer, loaded it on, and hauled it home.

Having once worked in the area of insurance and financial products, we have a passable familiarity with this highly regulated industry. One of our professional clients who works in this area is an experienced and respected financial planner providing tax, investment, retirement, and estate and welfare benefit planning. Located in Cedar Falls, IA, he's now working with high net worth clients in Indiana, and Florida, as well.

For these clients & others, our objective is to provide an intelligent, and complete website design and hosting solution for companies, professionals, and organizations looking for an affordable 1° of difference that can make their site just a tad bit better & more accessible. Whether you're a small town merchant or manufacturer serviing a worldwide market, your website can be a key asset. Or, it can be a liability. We design, build, and manage assets.

A Web Strategy Focused on Meaning: My focus has always been on design driven by writing, & cross-platform compatibility delivered at affordable cost rather than some proprietary technology or out-of-the-box type solution. We can let our tools define the process, or we can use the tools to build sites that are meaningful. Eschewing proprietary HTML, WYSIWYG editors and a tools focused approach, this is what I've sought to do. It turns out, this has been the right way to go.

For our websites to work the way they're supposed to, we have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that it's about "presentation" (therein lies the route to graphic bloat). Presentation, now, can best be achieved via CSS.

What the Internet is really about is finding the right information when you need it. Whether your business is rebuildable muscle cars, sophisticated financial products, manufacturing processes, or safety training, the only way anybody will find your page out of 5,000,000 others is if, A) you give them your address/URL, or, B) they find you in one of the web indexes ("search engines"). They won't find you looking for eye candy unless you're in the eye candy business. In which case, your site still needs to be indexed somewhere, somehow.

Search engines (we hear this misnomer constantly) really are not "engines" at all. What search engines mostly are is a database of information about a bunch of web pages (millions and millions) that are periodically examined and categorized by sophisticated programs that methodically browse the web called. Sometimes, these programs are called "web bots" or "spiders."

folder gif cautionary notes

Google ("forwards compatible web design") , is our favorite example of a web index. Google catalogs pages, then re-examines them monthly... or so. But, once you've been indexed, resubmitting without having made changes should probably be viewed as a no-no . It's really not necessary and site owners who do not believe this and have persisted in frequent and redundant re-submissions might just cause themselves to be excluded from indexes that tend to regard this as "spamming." Which it is.

The frequency at which pages get re-indexed or re-spidered can, in some cases, be influenced by regular updates. Most of the current index technologies in use begin will notice changes occuring more frequently and will "mark" a site for re-indexing on a more frequent basis. When long intervals go between changes (or, worse, there are no changes over a long period of time), re-indexing intervals will drop off. We find it ironic that some site owners will pay hundreds of dollars to spamhaus search engine submission services to periodically re-submit their URL to "every search engine on the Internet" when making updates is far more effective. Excessive or overly frequent re-submissions may even result in being excluded from legitimate indexes like Google, AlltheWeb.com, or MSN.com. That's assuming the supposed search engine submission service actually does what they say they'll do. Site owners who subscribe to these things may, in fact, be better off if the search engine submission service just takes their money and does nothing. Which, of course, is what most of them actually do. Curiously, we've seen more than one or two site owners pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for redundant search engine submissions before they'll pay their web designer/developer a couple of hundred to add fresh content, revise html, tweak stylesheets, or do any number of other things that can actually help them stand out from the fray. Some people, it seems, just can't accept that there are no tricks that will substitute for meaning & substance. Today's crop of search engines look for information, not tricks, and you either got it, or you don't.

folder gif directories
& things that go bump in the night

Directories, on the other hand, are compiled by human editors. DMOZ-Open Directory Project is a directory. You submit your URL (linking to a definition because we still have people ask us, "What's an URL?") and eventually a human editor will look at your page/site/whatever and then decide, "Yeh... This goes here," and they'll either index it under the category you submitted it, or they may also put it somewhere else they think it more properly belongs. Directories are useful. People like them for some things. They can seem less overwhelming. But, by their very nature they are not going to be too useful for individuals seeking current or business critical information.

folder gif cheaper, yet better
...web standards save the day

We've discussed how indexes, like Google, Hotbot, MSN.com, and others (unlike directories) rank and categorize pages based on the information on the page. The indexes far outnumber the directories and the are used much more often by people looking for current information. Everybody knows how the web indexes are driven by complex & proprietary algorithms, the details of which are the subject of much conjecture and discussion, but are disclosed by their developers. We know that to be findable in the web indexes, we must have information on our pages that can be successfully indexed and profiled. The basic tool we use for this is HTML markup. But markup can be a tool that helps us accomplish our purposes, or it can be a thing that just gets in the way.

Unless you have the budget and resources to promote your site with tv commercials during the Super Bowl, radio spots on the Rush Limbaugh Show or Bob Brinker's Money Talk, or take out ads in The New York Times, the way most people are probably going to have to find you will be through one of the web indexes. Clean, cross platform web standards (visit The Web Standards Project ) compliant HTML with logically structured content can make a difference by making your information available... WITHOUT getting in the way of your information.

All Parsonsnet.com / BatWorks™ projects, updates, maintenance & revision work (unless it's strictly for use on a proprietary intranet application) is currently executed in XHTML 1.0 (Transitional or Strict). We use CSS to control styles and page layout. This helps your content index and it helps assure cross platform compatibility over a wider variety of devices. This means greater accessibility for a wider base of users. The result is site design and development with an emphasis on what's coming to be known as web standards and "forward compatibility." Another practical benefit of the web standards & forward compatibility approach is that as time goes by, your costs for management, revision, and expansion will be much less, although initial cost may be a bit higher. When budgets for website development & management are in hundreds or thousands; when once they might have been in hundreds of thousands , this is important.

The most common argument we hear against web standards is probably; "But, my site won't look the same in the older browsers like Netscape 4." The fact is, less than 3.4% of website visitors worldwide are still using the previous generation non-standards compliant browsers like Netscape 4 [ see Nua Internet Surveys August 2002 report ].

Where your visitors are might make some difference; According to NUA, "...while Netscape's global usage share has declined sharply in recent years, the browser still remains popular in some countries. In Germany, Canada and the US, Netscape's usage is slightly above the global average, while in Switzerland, the browser's usage share is double the global average." So, if your site is primarily for users in Switzerland, you would be more concerned about how it works in Netscape 4. Otherwise, the world has pretty much moved on.

Looking to the future, we think we're at the point where we're better off if we design and build our sites consistent with web standards and worry less about supporting relics of The Browser Wars . If we can accept that it is no longer necessary to maintain different versions of a site for a motly assortment of different browsers, we can produce html that will not need to be re-done, at some future time, just to work in the next generation of web browsers or Operating Systems. This should be a boon to a lot of site owner's budgets. In the current situation, where non-standards browsers are concerned, the worse that can happen is your layout and design will gracefully display what the browser can handle. Our hunch is that folks who voluntarily continue to use old browsers (may not be an option for some institutional users) are less interested in display/presentation issues than they are the information. Which gets us back to our core argument about the importance of uncluttered semantical structure. By designing and producing content consistent with web standards, our websites will index better, hence be more findable .

And... writing is important!: We think viewers are more annoyed by grammatical errors and common misspellings than we might realize. For example, misuse of words like "accept" for "except". Or "it's" vs. "its"; "it's" is always the contraction form of "it is" where "its" is the possessive. If you doubt this, it's such a common error that it's explained right there on page one of Strunk & White's, The Elements of Style .

Text equals content and continues to be King on the Web. It should be clear, lucid, and inform. Don't scrimp on text. Business & professional sites are different from entertainment sites. We think the best client/customer prospects for most of the companies, individuals, and organizations are people who read. They're seeking information and when they find it (hopefully free of misspellings and gross grammatical errors), your credibility gets hitched up a notch.

Of course, in spite of our best efforts, errors in spelling and usage can happen. But, when they do we fix them. We have never charged a client for going back and fixing mistakes in spelling or grammar. At BatWorks™ Creative Group, we know how to use a dictionary. Strunk & White's The Elements of Style is still one of the best guides for grammatical usage and we refer to it constantly. We sweat bullets when it comes to writing, and if we're uncertain as to correct spelling or grammatical usage, we look it up. We don't just play with fonts, colors, and graphics; we write!

folder gif oh, my aching head!

BROWSER RIGOR MORTIS: Brief guide to browsers that support CSS .

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