Monday, October 03, 2005

Powerful information technology: The Public Library

There is a nearby free information source I use regularly: the public library.

When visiting Sydney you should drop into the City of Sydney library in the old Customs House building at Circular Quay. This is across the square from the Circular Quay ferry terminal and railway station. As well as magazines, books and comfy chairs, the Internet access was still free when I visited. There are sweeping views of the Opera House to the Sydney Harbor Bridge from the cafe on the top floor.

Speaking of libraries two book I borrowed recently are:

* Free as in Freedom, Sam Williams (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc . 2002). This is about Richard Stallman and his crusade for Free Software. I wish I had read this before I had Mr. Stallman stay at my Smart Apartment in Canberra for his 2004 talk at the ANU.

* Google Hacks, , Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. 2004). The bulk of the book is a collection of clever ways to use the Google search engine. But there is also a useful overview of how Google works and suggestions for designing a web site which Google can index easily. In seven and a half pages Hack number 88 "26 Steps to 15K a Day" gave how to create a successful web site. This would be good advice even if Google did not exist. Some were:

* At least 100 content pages (not counting indexes and the like),
* Non generic domain name,
* Simple HTML markup with a maximum of text and a minimum of JavaScript and the like. Structure the page with headings to make it easy to scan,
* Pages of 5 to 15kbytes with a minimum of images,
* Keywords used consistently in the title, description, heading, URL and in the early text of the page,
* Link to a couple of good web sites using the keyword in the link text,
* Link internally between your pages based on content,
* Put the web site at a fixed IP address and make it friendly to web crawlers,
* Submit the site to search engines and directories.

None of this is really new, but it is good to have someone tell to it while the rest of the web world seems to go mad with hard to read PDF documents and the like. My web site design course was intended for IT professionals but went okay this year with museum staff in Samoa. So I might revise it with some of these tips for a wider audience.

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