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How The Site Is Built

The Wise-Women web site was designed and constructed in between June and August, 2000. Our site is optimized for the latest, standards-compliant browsers. We try to avoid nonvalid markup as much as possible. From the start, it was built with these objectives in mind:

  • The ability to add new content quickly, but with a uniform look.
  • To be aesthetically pleasing and professional in appearance.
  • To be reasonably fast loading on slower connections.
  • To be accessible to text browser users and screen reader users.
  • To be as standards compliant as possible

Easy Updatability

For a community site such as ours, the ability to easily add fresh content is crucial. To this end, we built a site that is build on set templates. 99% of the pages are assembled dynamically on the server: the contents themselves are created with simple markup. This has made it possible to achieve our goal of adding at least one article a week on a steady basis. We are steadily building up a valuable collection of contributed works.

Relying on CSS

A crucial part of the building strategy was to use global stylesheets combined with clean-as-possible HTML markup. We don't use <font> tags at all. This makes it possible to update a large number of pages all at once.

Valid (as possible) markup

Valid (as possible) markup in this case means: we close our tags. Closing tags is crucial for CSS to "work properly". We also stick to simple, HTML 3.2 - compatible tags for the main part.

Avoiding unnecessary backwards-compatible compromises

In some cases (such as for text around form elements) version 4 browsers necessitate the use of the deprecated <font> tag, or kludgy solutions using tags. Instead of going through these hoops, we let the form areas look a bit funny in version 4 browsers. They are still perfectly legible and usable, and look as intended in 5.x and later browsers.

We got rid of the "four horsemen" in the <body> tag. (leftmargin=0 topmargin=0 marginheight=0 marginwidth=0). Why be afraid of a little white margin?

We use a minimal amount of JavaScript, most of which is JavaScript 1.1; however, one function (the search box popup) only works in version 5.0 and above browsers. This is because making this work (a dynamically positioned element) in version 4 browsers reliably crashes the browser under certain circumstances. Version 4.x and older browser users can still use the Search function simply by clicking on the tab to go to a Search page.


We still use a table-based layout, rather then going all out with CSS-P, to avoid our pages breaking up totally in version 4 and earlier browsers. We may re-think this in the future, but as of mid-February 2001, we aren't that brave yet.

We're still using HTML 4.01 Transitional.

Being accessible

It was a pretty simple procedure to make our pages relatively accessible; just adding meaningful <alt> tags makes a big difference, as does a logical layout (such as navigation links on top and bottom) which make it easy to move around our site in a text only browser.

Where we are falling down mainly on the accessibility front is with font size. Currently, we are using a style sheet wit absolute (pixel) units. This is after months of experimenting with using relative (em) units, combined with server-side user agent detection. We abandoned this approach a couple of months ago, due to the difficulty of maintaining three separate style sheets. However, our goal is to go back to relative units in the near future.

Making the transition to standards compliancy

Our site is somewhere in between going all-out by relying on CSS only for representation, and using lots of heavy handed backwards-compatible workarounds. We support the efforts of the Web Standards Organization and eagerly wait for the day when all browsers in use comply with World Wide Web Consortium standards. In the meantime, while our site looks best in MSIE 5.x, Opera 5.x, Mozilla 0.7 and Netscape 6, it degrades acceptably in version 4 and earlier browsers.

by Makiko Itoh, Web Site Producer



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