Separating the Content from its Presentation

The main idea behind the concept of separating the content from its presentation is to allow website developers a useful framework to develop their website giving them the ability to change the website’s appearance whenever they like without needing to redo the content structure. This article will explain the rationale behind separating content from presentation.

Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t just one method for implementing this concept. More than that, since the introduction of technologies such as CGI, ASP, and PHP that allow web developers to generate dynamic web pages, a lot of companies have found creative ways to develop their website applications using this concept as their foundation.

Over the past few years, the internet community has been trying to create a set of standards for creating web sites. A new technology called CSS or Cascading Style Sheets has been introduced. There is nothing actually new in the way CSS handles a web page’s presentation. CSS allows the developer to define a style for each html tag element. This is similar to the method developers (programmers) used in the old days when they attached a variable to each html tag defining its style. The major difference is that CSS style definitions can be interpreted by most of the existing browsers available while in the older method the dynamic web page engine performs the interpretation.

The internet standards organization W3C has encouraged the use of CSS by enhancing its ability to control the web page’s look and feel. New style options have been added to the CSS specifications that have not been added to the HTML description language. There’s no doubt that this was a smart move. It’s forced web developers to use CSS to achieve an attractive web page that also supports the principle of content separation. Unfortunately CSS did not find its way into the internet mainstream easily because of compatibility issues with most web browsers. These days CSS is widely supported by most of the major web browsers, while CSS2, an enhanced version of CSS still has serious compatibility issues.

Obviously, the separation of content from its presentation deals not only with the styling aspects, but also with browser compatibility issues. The styling aspects were the first to be handled by web developers and web designers. As the complexity of information technology (IT) systems become increasingly more difficult to maintain, the internet community is looking for a solution that will become a standard so that content can be easily be managed. One goal for this standard is to define a “language” that IT systems can “talk” with each other and exchange information. Large corporations have historically used many different software platforms in their networks to conduct business. Internet based applications can provide a single platform that can act as an intermediary between all of these different systems and allow communication between them.

XML (Extensible Markup Language) has been adopted as a standard to present the content itself. OFX (Open Financial Exchange) is a close relative of XML that has been widely used by financial institutions who have been using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) systems to transmit orders and invoices over private networks, intranets and the internet for several years.

The need to present the content in a standard way that separates it from any design elements was so urgent that for the first time in software development history all the three major players (SUN, IBM, and Microsoft) actually agreed with each other and XML become a standard almost overnight and was adopted by many content providers and news agencies.

Yet the concept was not fully implemented. CSS handles the styling aspects while XML handles the document content. What about the webpage layout? New websites are been published each day by thousands. Every day millions of new web pages are being added to the internet’s global database. Webmasters have found that changing the page background color or the font color might not be enough to keep their website fresh and polished to compete with other new websites. However, changing the website layout can sometimes involve a lot of effort because it involves modifying the web page source code. XSL was introduced to solve that issue. Consider XSL a set of rules that can describe a web page layout. Combine it with XML (and optionally with CSS) you will get a valid html file.

XSL is very similar in its mechanics as any other dynamic web page generator. Beside the fact that XSL is platform independent, its biggest advantage is that it can be processed on the client side. The web server sends the client the content using XML format and the layout definition using XSL format. By doing that, the load on the web server’s CPU is reduced allowing it to perform other tasks more quickly. However, XSL was not adopted by all the major web browsers. So unlike XML, XSL has not found its way to the market easily.

Before you run back to your desk and start redesigning your website according to these magnificent standards, you should be aware that those technologies are really not needed most of the time. In fact, using them unnecessarily can cause performance problems. CSS usually will not cause your system to slow down. Just try to keep your CSS file as small as possible. Many web developers maintain large CSS files with lots of unused style definitions. Deciding to work with XML is a serious decision. If your website generates dynamic web pages supported by databases like MySQL, adding additional XML functionality will definitely reduce your website performance. Sometimes you won’t have a choice and will need to upgrade your hardware to maintain your website’s performance. There is no rule of thumb for this issue. The decision should be based on each system and its engineering demands. My advice to you is to think two steps ahead. Try to predict what kind of future services your website will be providing. Plan your website properly at stage one and save yourself lots of effort later.

Learn to Negotiate

People negotiate everyday. The art of negotiating is part of life. People start negotiating since they are small. Every decision taken as long as some else is involved is a negotiation. People negotiate because they need something, so it is important to learn how to negotiate properly and how not to get the other person upset. In the business world the difference between winning and losing has to do with the way business people negotiate.

Negotiating is placing a request not a demand. When business people demand something they might get it at that moment, but it will certainly come back with an unreasonable demand from the other party. Learn to request and you will notice how your negotiating skills improve.

Negotiating is learning to listen. Businessmen have to attempt to understand the other party and find out what they need and what their expectations are. When negotiating listen and do not interrupt, and most important understand what is being said. Telling people what to do will eventually have a payback: people will do what ever they want and not listen to you as well.

Before negotiating it is very important that you understand what you need. If you do not understand your needs you cannot request others to do something. When you understand what you need and not what you want, you will certainly have an advantage for you in the negotiating process.

Do start negotiating if you are angry. When you are angry you loose. When you are angry you might not even know what you need, so it is very unlikely that your needs will be met. Anger reduces your ability to think clearly and your reasoning skills.

As mentioned before it is important to listen. When you listen properly you will understand the needs of the other party. When you understand your needs and the needs of the other party then you have a huge advantage in the negotiating process.

During the negotiation it is important to be calm, show interest and show empathy. Be prepare to ask question, when you do you will in turn receive answers and will better understand the issues involved.

Place yourself in the chair of the other person. When you do so you will better understand what is going on, you will ask the right questions and most important you will get their cooperation.

Be interested in the person and in their concerns. When you are really interested it is easier to listen, you will understand them better and in turn will come out with an effective negotiation.

It is very easy and simple to negotiate, as long as you make a conscious effort and follow the points mentioned above you will be able to fulfill your needs and come ahead in the process.

The Importance of an Effective Homepage – How to Present Dynamic Website Content

Looking for a way to attract more attention to your website? Offer a fresh face and new content on a regular basis and you’ll find people will check back to see what’s new and you’ll have a tool to measure what attracts and what doesn’t. Here’s how to do it.

Your website homepage is your front door through which online browsers come to visit your business. Static, never-changing content is no more interesting to a returning visitor than a book they have already read. To keep your audience captivated and coming back you need to make your home on the web inviting and interesting.

Present a Dynamic Home Page

One way that you can present changing home page content is to design ten to twelve unique pages with different content and then rotate them every month. Take a couple of weeks to design different ideas and images. Create page promotions that include a message that is timeless or that has a seasonal or timely announcement such as “Holiday Specials.” When you consider different features for your home page and when it should be placed you’re forced to look closely at at your marketing strategy over a one year period. This will save you a lot of time since you then won’t have to think about your content through the year. It also allows you to plan your offers and gather the necessary content.

A web developer can put your home pages on a rotating script or use an automatic timer. You can then rotate your home pages to highlight a new tip every month or to promote a featured product. The home page of your website is much like the front cover of a magazine. People want to see a home page that has different photos and content at least every month, preferably every week. You won’t want all of the content of your website to be featured on the page as this will overwhelm your website visitors. So choose one or two features to highlight each month. The rest of your website content should be well organized within the rest of the pages of your site. When you’re ready to update your home page you simply grab content from your internal pages. This way you’re not having to create new content. You’re just reorganizing your existing content so that it feels new to your visitors.

Don’t Change Your Home Page Too Often:

Even though you want your website to be new and dynamic you also don’t want to change it too often. People take comfort from their favorite websites and want them to be familiar. If you change your home page too often or too much you may create confusion or give people the feel that someone else has taken over your site. You could also compromise your positioning in search engines. So maintain some consistency.

When you make changes to graphics or content it shouldn’t make a major change to the way your website looks and feels. Regular visitors should be able to find the same information that they’ve always found on your home page and in the same place. As a rule, the headers and navigation tools on your page shouldn’t ever change without a complete redesign and announcing that to your visitors. Change content and images with other content and images while maintaining the sites original functionality. Home pages that are consistent lend a feeling of comfort to users. If your customers learn to expect consistency they’ll also learn to rely on your quality customer service. If you’re a small online business, gaining your customer’s trust is your most important step to success.

The Benefits of a Flexible Home Page

A flexible home page lets you test your off line marketing efforts. Before you spend money on a magazine or newspaper ad you can test it out on your website. You’ll be able to see how people react to the ad. It will let you determine which featured products attract the most interest. You can also determine which graphics generate the most attraction. Web analytics software (Google Analytics is great and free to use) can provide you with this type of information. It will help you obtain marketing data that is detailed and precise. You can see which graphics people have clicked on as well as what web page they were on just before they left your website.

Once you’ve mastered the technique of updating your home page, while at the same time keeping the core content the same, you’ll be well on your way to recognizing the benefits of a flexible home page.