Iowa LTAP has moved from CTRE to the Institute for Transportation
Acquiring the tools
Second in a series of articles about web site development.
Part of the planning involved with developing a World Wide Web (web) site for your transportation agency includes gathering the right tools for the job. These days the tools are extremely user friendly. Even if you decide that your agency will be outsourcing its web work, understanding the tools others need to create your web site will help you plan your end of the partnership-the content. No web design firm or hosting service will know your customers the way you do. That's why it's important for someone in your transportation agency to be involved in the development of your web site, especially when it comes to selecting/creating text and images to represent your agency.
Part one: Connecting to the Internet
A computer and a modem are the basic pieces of equipment you'll need to access the Internet, create your web site, and eventually upload your site to a host computer, known as a server. A phone line is the most common way of connecting to the Internet. If this is how your agency connects to the Internet, you may want a phone line dedicated to that purpose. People trying to reach you on that line while you're connected to the Internet will get either a busy signal or a continuous ring.
Many companies in Iowa offer Internet access, which usually includes an e-mail account as well as access to the web; subscribers then access the Internet by dialing up the server via their phone line. Check your local phone company and your local Yellow Pages. Over 100 local telephone companies in rural Iowa can offer Internet access at reasonable rates. With the proliferation of Internet service provider (ISP) businesses, it's likely that you'll be able to find a company that suits your needs and budget.
For many places in Iowa, including rural Iowa, Internet access can be accomplished by dialing a local number rather than a long distance number. Monthly fees for Internet access with local dial-up range from $20-25 and up. This fee usually includes an unlimited number of hours online.
The ISP you choose should be able to give you all the software and instructions you'll need for making your computer ready to contact the outside world. At this stage don't worry about choosing a server for your website. Your ISP may also be your host provider, but it doesn't have to be.
By connecting to the Internet before your web site is ready to go, you will have a chance to see what other sites look like and how they function. You'll probably get lots of good ideas about what you want your own site to do and how it will look.
The web is also a good source for some of the software you may want for developing your site.
Part two: Selecting software
The basic pieces of software you'll need to develop your web site include the following:
- a simple text editor like Notepad or Wordpad to write and edit html code (Microsoft Word is not a simple text editor; it allows you to save as html, but it's difficult to edit the html code itself.)
- a web browser such as Netscape Communicator or Internet Explorer to view your work
- an ftp (file transfer protocol) program (such as WS_FTP for PCs and Fetch for Macs) to upload your files to the web server that will be hosting your site; you can get this from your ISP or download it free from the web
- an image editor, such as the photo editor included with MS Office 97, if you want to create or manipulate images for your site
Many different text editors and image editors are available online as demonstration models (or betas), which expire after 30 days or a set number of uses, or as freeware or shareware, software that can be downloaded from the web for little or no cost and little or no technical support. Check out the link "development tools" at www.download.com for many of these options. There are also tips about downloading.
Two other types of software that may be nice to have but aren't strictly necessary include WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors and web authoring tools. WYSIWYG editors such as Home Site and RoboHELP, beta freeware which can be downloaded from the web, allow you to design your pages without writing html code. You may be thinking you'll skip the text editor, thank you very much, and just use a WYSIWYG editor. Consider this: would you reconstruct a road without knowing the load-bearing capacity of the sub-base, base, and pavement you plan to use? Learning the basics of how html works will help you understand the underlying structure of web pages, the building blocks of the World Wide Web.
Web authoring tools like Adobe PageMill or Microsoft FrontPage 98 help you manage your web site, especially if you anticipate that your site will grow beyond 10 or so pages. They also allow you to create web pages without knowing html code. Keep in mind, however, that all these different programs require time to learn. Research your needs and select software that you'll stick with in the long run so you'll become proficient with it.
The next article in this series will jump into the nuts and bolts of web site creation, including choosing and organizing content and developing a logical structure and navigation scheme.
For more information about developing a web site for your transportation agency, call Michele Regenold, communications specialist and webmaster at CTRE, 515-296-0835, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 1999, Center for Transportation Research and Education, Iowa State University. All rights reserved.