Network: Web Design - Bringing the design community together

We've only just started to see the potential of the Web for new talent

RICHARD HALL is a Brit who has transplanted from London to California, where he is now the producer of Netscape's developer websites DevEdge Online (http://developer. and Open Studio ( openstudio), the two most prominent guides to creating websites on the Internet.

Richard was first exposed to the Web while studying IT Management at London Business School, when some friends introduced him to Mosaic. Since that time he has set up websites for clients of the ad agency Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper as well as the http://the site for the Sci-Fi Channel. Richard started working for Netscape in 1996, producing the Netscape developer site which "fulfilled a dream of wanting to work in the [San Francisco] Bay Area".

Jason Cranford Teague: I've enjoyed Open Studio and DevEdge Online's articles and found them to be useful, regardless of the browser I'm programming for. How does Open Studio deal with the cross-browser issue?

Richard Hall: We understand that deploying sites which work cross-browser is important. Writing two versions of a Web page is not an ideal solution. Some time ago, as a result of this feedback, we geared up to make all our new Dynamic HTML examples on Open Studio cross-browser. When I hear about a new piece of sample code being produced for the site, the first question I ask the coder is whether it's cross-browser and, if not, whether they can take the extra time to ensure that it does work cross-browser. We host nearly as many cross-browser code examples as Navigator-specific examples on Netscape Open Studio.

JCT: "Online Communities" is one of the big buzz-words going around these days. How does Open Studio try to foster a sense of community? Is it working?

RH: Online Communities are still very much in their youth, and they're becoming increasingly valuable resources to obtain expert opinion and help. Open Studio includes newsgroups for members to connect up with their peers and get solutions to their issues.

With Open Studio, we've sought out experts in many aspects of website- building to contribute to the site - it's not just articles from Netscape contributors, but a forum where, for example, you can read Richard Hoy, who moderates the online-advertising mailing list, and explains the critical issues faced by banner advertisers today. We understand that there's a wider audience out there that has more expertise, and Open Studio is there to bring the website design community together.

The potential mass audience of the Web provides an amazing draw for creativity. For those who are truly capable, the Internet provides a mechanism for notoriety to be achieved so much more quickly - take a look at South Park. It emerged from a video clip sent around the Net to TV executives. South Park went on to reach cult status. I think we've only started to see the creative potential the Web has of bringing new talent into the light of day. Working at Netscape on Open Studio is great, because we're helping others to unleash their creativity on a medium that Netscape played a key role in bringing to a wide audience.

JCT:You mention that the Web fosters new talents. Have you discovered any "new talent" while running Open Studio?

RH: Sure. Jeff Rouyer dabbled in Dynamic HTML in his spare time and won a recent Netscape Dynamic HTML competition. His site was totally original and impressed even the Netscape coders who had built the functionality into the browser. His site, HTML Guru (, really shows how you can make a site that stands apart from the crowd. He now writes books on website design. We've also encountered some great games that use DHTML technology, such as Online Frogger ( by Dan Haddix, and a tribute to Spawn (developer.netscape. com/docs/demos/ spawn/index.html) by a Spanish programmer, Paco Gracia.

JCT: It's good to hear that XML will be a part of Navigator 5.0, but I'm a little fuzzy on what XML will mean to Web designers. What potential do you see for XML in Web design?

RH: I think the real value of XML is the ability to separate content from presentation in terms of Web page design. For instance, if a designer wants to change the "look and feel" of a site, they could take advantage of XML tags to change the presentation, without having to recode manually each individual Web page and without affecting pre-existing content. Website- builders frequently need to change the design of their sites and it can be a big undertaking. XML provides an effective way to adapt sites more quickly.

From a website-builder's perspective, support for XML is also important on the back-end, ensuring that Web servers, and/or content databases that serve their Web pages, also support XML.

It will ultimately be the proliferation of XML-enabled clients - like Navigator 5.X that contains an advanced XML parser - that will enable website-builders to begin building not just Web pages, but to architect their entire sites to be viewed through a combination of XML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

To see a list of the links in this column and other related links:

http://www.webbedenvironments .com/examples/34.html

Send e-mail comments and queries to Jason Cranford Teague at: indywebdesign

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