Looking for a niche on the Net? Cooper James explains how to set up your own homepage
While the World Wide Web appears endlessly complex, the process of setting up a "homepage" - your very own Web site - is quite straightforward. I heard recently that setting up a class homepage is now a common school project for American eight-year-olds, so it should not be too much of a problem for the average Independent reader.

The homepage consists of the text you want to display bracketed with various instructions that tell the browser how it is to look. The whole thing can be done using any simple wordprocessing program: the simpler the better, because Web pages have to be saved in ASCII (text only) format. The fancy functions of powerful wordprocessing packages only get in the way.

If you want to see what the instructions look like, have a look at a World Wide Web page on a Netscape browser while it is up on a computer screen. Activate "View" then "Source". You will see the underlying code being used to create the page. It is possible, if a little tedious, to learn all the codes you need just by studying the document sources of a number of pages.

These instruction brackets take the form: ... text ... . The slash signifies that the previous instruction is no longer to be applied. Thus the command ...

surrounds the entire document, while the command ... surrounds the header element.

...brackets the body of the text. Each paragraph of the text is placed inside by the


command, and various weights of emphasis and sizes of typeface can be specified, too.

You cannot separate paragraphs in the normal manner, as html protocol does not recognise spaces or line breaks other than those used to space individual words, so you have to use the

command and the
tag (which forces a line break) to create spatial layout. You can draw a horizontal rule between paragraphs with the


To create a hyperlink to another file or homepage, you surround the text naming the link with: ... text ... where URL (Universal Resource Locater) is the full address of the file you want to jump to. On the screen the link text will appear highlighted with a single underline; and when the mouse cursor is passed over it, the customary arrow will change to a pointing finger. Click on it, and you will be transported by your browser to that address.

Importing a graphic or scanned picture into your homepage involves a similar procedure: you just place a tag containing the correct instruction and the location of the graphics file at the relevant point in the document, and the browser automatically loads it up and positions it.

I recently helped to set up a text-only homepage at: http://doric.bart.ucl.ac.uk/ web/sheep/art/jimf.html, which you might like to have a look at. Although there are a few others, these are the basic procedures, and fairly complex documents can be built up with them. There are plenty of html books on the market, but all of them are expensive, so I would advise that you search first in the WWW homepages at http://info.cern.ch/, where information on html construction can be found for free.

Once you have mastered the basic techniques, it is a good idea to download any homepage that takes your fancy as a source file. You can either view the source directly, using Netscape, or save a Web page to your disk then look at it using a a wordprocessing program. You can then study the page along with all its html codes, which you can then steal.

Various bits of software are also available to help you to produce Web pages more easily. Go to Yahoo (the indexing system), choose Computers, then WWW, then HTML editors, then the type of computer you are using. You can download these tools directly. Netscape is about to launch a browser- cum-editor called Navigator Gold 2.0. It seems that it will charge for this (see the Netscape Web page at http://www.mcom.com).

Once you have your homepage written, you get it on to the Web by renting time on a server, a computer that is permanently linked to the Internet. Any Internet service provider will sell space, but rates differ. Cityscape, for example, charges pounds 60 per annum per megabyte, but if you are a member they offer 500K space free, which is room enough to set up a simple homepage with a couple of small pictures. Demon, the biggest server provider on the Net, charges pounds 25 per month per 10 megabytes, which would be preferable if you had, say, a business catalogue to put online or a very large ego to advertise.

Having signed up with a service provider, you send your homepage document to them as a "file transfer protocol" file (again, standard Net software does this for you), and away you go.

You will be allocated a password to allow you - and no one else - to update it. Your homepage will be held in a folder on the service provider's computer, and if you want to add images it is best to dump them in that folder too, where they are easily and quickly accessible by your homepage.