Webmastering the Worldcon, Part 3

Chaz Boston Baden, smofsweb@bostonbaden.com
Rev. 04-Apr-1997

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Files by E-mail

I mentioned (in part 2) the importance of making the web site indexed by topic, so that someone looking for, say, Filking, doesn't have to wade through every single on-line Progress Report to see if anything has been printed on the subject. (And then find that nothing has been mentioned...)

I took that one step further.

Not only were there individual web pages - for the example given, http://lacon3.worldcon.org/www/Programming/filking.html but there were also individual files in the file download area. Remember, the file download area came first. You can see that text file, if you like - it's at http://lacon3.worldcon.org/filk.music

If you compare the two files, you'll discover that the plain text is a fairly close representation of what the web page looks like on a text-based browser. That's because I generated most of the text files from the 'print' option on Lynx. And nearly all of the other ones, I generated the web page by converting the text file to HTML! Either way, I committed myself to having "parallel versions" of the same text. This is fairly easy to generate on Unix, if you using Lynx's -source option.

Things I Would Do Differently: make the relationship even closer. I'd make a script - a 'makefile' - to create the text file from what the web page looks like, and automate it so it was updated every time the corresponding web page was updated. A command-line option on 'Lynx' would do most of the work; making those filenames match would take care of the bookkeeping.

More Things To Do Differently: use shorter directory names like Prog and Masq instead of Programming and Masquerade.

Keeping the two sets of files concurrently updated was labor-intensive, because I hadn't taken the necessary steps of implementing the labor-saving devices to make it easy.

I felt it was important, however, to make sure that there was a plain ascii text file on each subject in addition to the web page with the same information.

And that's because Not Everyone Is On The Web. (Not everyone is on-line, either; the number is growing, but how many of you can send e-mail to your mom and your friends' moms?)

If you want to distill one lesson from this installment, it would be this.

Don't Disenfranchise the Low-End Users.
This means more than just make sure your web page makes sense on a text-browser at 1200 baud. It also means there are people who CAN'T browse the web. The WWW is not the 'killer app' of the Internet - E-mail is.

"I believe that there are still ill-connected systems which can be best served by email. Further, email is much more congestion-resistant than the other direct connection methods, and so makes long distance copies, or copies in slow environments (like for students during finals week) much more possible. Therefore, I believe that email access is worth supporting. It will probably become less so as access becomes more pervasive... but still worth doing for the next dozen years anyway." (Dick Smith)

In the month before the convention, the announcement mailing list (more of which later) that I'd set up had just over a thousand subscribers. I'm confident that most of them were members of the convention... that's one in five, folks, 20% of the people who had joined L.A.con III were also getting the weekly e-mail message I sent out.

(Just to keep things in perspective, it also means that 80% of the membership WEREN'T on the list... which goes back to "not everyone is on-line.")

So using e-mail, and using it effectively, is important. In my next installment I'll talk nuts and bolts, and how you can do this for your convention. All you need is an Internet Service Provider that can give you a Unix Shell Account, a place to put your files, and is willing to set up a few e-mail aliases. (Most will do this if you ask nicely. If you're running a Worldcon, ask Don and George to do it for you. More on that later, too.)

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