Web Usability and
Before I started to build eFuse, I spent time boiling the concept down to this basic phrase: "the friendly place to learn how to build a better web site." That's an important thing for anyone building a site to do, because it really helps you focus. I also came up with the tag line, "Making the web work for you," because that was the bigger view--not just building web sites, but making those sites really work for you. Together, those two phrases gave me a really strong, clear and focused goal. I know, I know, we're supposed to be "growth-oriented" instead of "goal-oriented" but building a successful web site requires that you do both.
My role with the site is that of creator/producer/editor/writer and designer! I had the original idea and a very strong, clear vision and concept. I've written about communication, design and technology for many years--and written to "normal" people who had to learn these things to communicate more effectively, so I wanted all elements of the site to work together to do this--and for the site to practice what it preached and be a good example of the technology, interface, navigation, look and feel, etc.
NOF (for short) is a program that builds web sites. I first saw it when I was reviewing software for cnet.com. I started building web sites pretty close to the beginning of the web as a public entity, my own site was one of the first 5,000 on the web, so I started by hand-coding.
What I quickly realized was that it wasn't enough to make pages, which is all that most web authoring programs did at the time. I went to a lot of trade shows and asked people, "Don't you have something that manages web SITES?" and they all looked at me like I was from Mars.
Well, finally, some programs started to emerge that managed sites instead of just making pages. But even so, none of them really CREATED sites--they created pages, they managed sites.
Then I saw NOF, and it was revolutionary. It
CREATED sites. Everything was integrated.
NOF helps not just guide you through the process, and insulate you from the technicalities of the web, but it also helps you create a better organized, easier to navigate site. It helps without "outsmarting" you or locking you into anything. You still have complete freedom.
You start by creating graphic org-chart of
your site, so you can see and revise the organization of the site. How logical! Then you
drag pages around this chart to reorganize the site. As you do this, you are actually
creating pages, organizing them and reorganizing them. This instantly helps to make web
sites more organized, more logical, easier to use.
NOF makes navigation so much a part of the process that it's consistent, accurate, reliable. No dead links. No mish-mash of styles. Clear, effective navigation, as an integral part of the process.
Next, it gives you complete page layout freedom. Most other programs act like a word processor, but NOF is like a page-layout program (though it does have a word-processor-like mode if you prefer that).
Put anything you want, anywhere you want on the page. It automatically builds the HTML tables necessary to create "pixel-precise" pages (it can also create pages using CSS). Best of all, pages just look right on both IE and Navigator, Windows, Mac, Unix... you don't have to spend any time changing this or that and ending up with a compromise as you do in so many other programs. The pages work. They look right. That alone is a minor miracle.
It's easy, yet it also changes the way you visualize a web page. It can take a while to "get" this when you're used to other programs that are so word-processor-like, but when you do, your web pages can start to look more like great graphics and less like other web sites.
Finally, and I shouldn't forget this because it's really important, NOF works great with databases. You can quickly and easily turn a database into a website. No server extensions. No funny stuff. I created a 1200 page site (that shows all the Site Styles that come with NOF, sorted by impression) from a simple database and a series of screen shots and NOF built all the pages automatically (read more about it here). This is great for turning your database into a catalog for on-line sales, graphics and all. It really works and you don't have to be a programmer, or database/SQL expert to do it. It's all simple and visual. And it works!
I've not just tried, but actually used virtually every other program on the market, and here is one that works better, more logically, faster, easier and offers more flexibility. You don't have to worry about coding or filenames or tables or links... it all just WORKS. You can concentrate on content--which is what the web is supposed to be about!
I use Fusion for all my new site designs and
it gives me truly unparalleled control, flexibility and ease. That sounds hard to believe,
but it's true. People always hear "powerful and easy to use," but in this case,
it's true! I did all the production work on eFuse myself, and Fusion allowed me to
concentrate on content and design, rather than on the technical aspects of the web. I know
those aspects, I hand-coded my first site and many sites. But real the point of the web is
communication, not technology--and Fusion let me focus on communication.
I haven't done any "formal" testing, but I do a lot of work with a lot of people, as an editor, designer, consultant (and friend). And I've seen people use NOF and get excellent results immediately. They can use the over 200 professionally- designed styles that are built-in, or they can create their own. A friend of mine runs a costume company in LA. She'd never built a web site before. But she got Fusion and she built a big, complex site from scratch in just a few days; she wrote about it on eFuse. She even used advanced features like frames. But she didn't have to worry, the navigation was generated automatically and worked, and people could get around the site and found what they were looking for.
The comparisons I've done were all when I wrote for c|net and other publications. I compared NOF head to head with programs like Front Page, SiteMill, and later, DreamWeaver. Those are all good programs, and DreamWeaver, which is great for creating extremely complex DHTML pages, even works really well with NOF.
But none of them have the same level of integration between pages and site that NOF has. None of them have such simple and effective automatic navigation generation. Only DreamWeaver offers a similar level of page precision, but even with its improved site management in Version2, it's site management features aren't as integrated or robust.
I personally find FrontPage frustratingly technical. Naming pages, managing links, even just page editing (which is only word-processor-like and limited) can be error-prone. I had occasions where it would link to local graphics instead of using relative links so they wouldn't show up when the page was on the server. And I had problems with it's filenaming, too. It names its home page "default.htm" whereas most Unix servers want it called index.html, then it renames it and links to it while uploading... I'm always running into sites where the links to the home page don't work because of this naming thing, and, well, people shouldn't have to deal with stuff like that. Software should be smarter than that.
Yes--NOF is great for virtually all users except one small, but very focused group: people who love to hand-code. You can add your own HTML anywhere inside of NOF, you can import HTML or existing sites, you can even "reference" HTML pages so that NOF doesn't touch their HTML code, but integrates them into a site and manages their assets. NOF can work generate ASP pages and work with Cold Fusion and Lotus Domino and really automate so many processes.
But if you must hand code, all over, all the time, then NOF isn't for you.
What I've learned, though, is that a lot of people who think they need to hand code see NOF, see what it does, and then realize they really don't have to do all that hand-coding to get the results they want.
I love the web. I honestly believe it's revolutionary because it's not just a new medium, but a new distribution method. There hasn't really been something this radical since the invention of the wheel, and I don't think I'm overstating the case here.
What is that old adage, something like "The power of the press is restricted to those who own one," and since most people didn't own a printing press, they didn't get this power. Now everyone can have this power (even those who don't own a computer, since most libraries offer access). That's truly revolutionary.
But since this is all so new, a lot of people are caught up in the technology, rather than on the message. They think "the medium is the message." But it's not. The message is the message. So a lot of people are still spending a lot of time to create sites that look good, but say nothing. That's fine. That's their right and their form of expression.
But a lot of people DO have something to say, share, convey, warn, teach, decry, explain, applaud, condemn, report... they want to make others more aware, or more entertained. And that's content. That's the part that's truly important.
Whether your a beginner, a designer, or tech-savvy, NOF allows you a lot more freedom to get the results you want without having to wrestle with the technology. It's quite amazing what HTML can do now, given how basic the language really is, but getting it to do those things can be a nightmare and require a programmer's skills, which most people don't have.
Yet if you use NOF, you don't have to worry about HTML, because NOF knows how to write it for you. You just create what you want to create, and it makes it work. Isn't that what computers and software are supposed to do?
So one of the great things about NOF is that it handles so much for you, that you have more time to concentrate on what you want to say, and it gives you the freedom to say it in just the way you think it should be said.
I'm a firm believer that people are
creative, and computers and software
That said, if you have little or no experience and you use NOF, the way it guides you through the process, the professional designers it offers, and its ease of use will allow allow you to create a professional-looking site, literally with no experience required. These sites come complete with well-designed, consistent navigation, so site visitors don't get "lost in cyberspace" and encounter "no exit" pages that won't let them move around a site freely.
So, to answer your question, I'd say NOF can make your sites better, because you can concentrate on content and design, rather than technology. Because it offers logical steps to organizing a site, logical and automatic ways to have consistent, integrated navigation, and because it makes it easier for your site to change and grow, it makes you more likely to add new material to your site to keep it fresh and up to date for your visitors.
I use Microsoft Word for word processing. There are some things about it that I don't like, some bugs that MS should have fixed a long time ago, but it's very powerful, and since I spend a lot of time writing, it's an excellent tool.
I use CorelXara for creating graphics (this is a GREAT illustration program--incredibly fast, clean interface, "what you see is exactly what you get" right down to the real-time anti-aliasing. It's powerful with an unmatched "transparency" feature, and it's rock solid. I've used all the major graphics programs, and like many of them, such as FireWorks, a great deal. But I've yet to find anything that's faster, more flexible, or produces cleaner graphics than CorelXara.
I use a TON of email. Every day I receive over 100 pieces and probably send about the same. I consider this a "site development tool" because communications are such an important part of the process. That's how I work with writers, clients, readers, friends, family...
Finally (and honestly), I sometimes use notepad, FrontPage Express or Netscape Composer to quickly tweak a single page here or there if it wasn't originally created in NOF.
That's an interesting question, because
NOF's strengths could be considered weaknesses, depending on how you looked at them. The
fact that it generates HTML on the fly is really a strength as far as I see it, because it
always produces perfect code, pages always look right on all browsers. But some people
want to be able to hand-hack code, and that's not practical in NOF, so for them, what's
really a strength might be seen as a weakness!
Hmm. Am I allowed to say eFuse? I say that because I really did create this site because the other sites out there were all too technical. Now, I can be a very technical person, I've been doing this a long time and did it all by hand at first. But I prefer to concentrate on content and design. So eFuse is designed to be friendly and easy to read, and to help you focus on your content--saying what you want to say, the way you want to say it, so you can get the results you want to get.
My new favorite web-based services are ccnow.com, which makes e-commerce really easy, you can take credit cards even without having a merchant account; response-o-matic.com which lets you create complex web forms with NO programming, and thunderstone.com which gives you free full-text searching for your web site. Those are all tremendously useful services that greatly enhance what your web site can do!
It's very basic--if people can't use your site, if they can't find what they're looking for, then they don't get the your message and you don't get your results.
I think the biggest misconception is that web pages and web writing has to be short. Even Jakob Nielsen insists this is true. I insist it isn't. If people are interested they will read long pages--and appreciate the content and depth. If they aren't, they won't, and it won't matter how short your pages are. Yes, frequent headings and bullets help--but they help in print, too!
Amazing--how fast it's grown, how it contains virtually everything I try to look up, how it's simplified things that used to be really time-consuming and hard (like or buying a car, new or used on car.com or as I did through the classifieds on sfgate.com which can be emailed to you; or planning a trip as I did, finding a great hotel room in Paris next door to the Ritz but at 1/10th the price--something I couldn't have done before; or finding rare or unusual items on eBay, or finding a kitchen sink (which I've also done)!
I've also been "waiting" for the web for a long time. I published the first national magazine in electronic format, but it had to be put on disk and mailed. I kept wishing for a way to go directly to readers without printers, without publishers, without distributors--and now there's a way everyone can do this. It's incredible. It's wonderful. It's revolutionary and it is changing the world. It's very exciting.
Just that I hope people are really excited about the web--about the possibilities it offers and the results it delivers. It's the most global and democratic form of communication ever, and I hope everyone uses it to make their life better, and the lives of everyone they contact better. There's a lot of blather about "community" but the entire web is really something that makes the world into a community, and I hope it will bring everyone closer together, more tolerant... well, now I'm sounding like a Miss America contestant :-)
Shameless plugs: well, for eFuse, of course. We're getting tremendous traffic, but more importantly (at least to me), tremendous feedback from readers. Things like,
Also, I'm really happy because we're now
able to offer eFuse readers a very special deal of NetObjects Fusion 3. You can buy a
fully-functional copy for just $99! I'm sincere when I say this is the best web creation
software on the planet, and this is the best possible price. I've wanted more people to be
able to afford this software since the first time I saw it--and now more people can. To get this deal, visit this eFuse
Read another popular interview: No More Broken Links
Recommend this WebWord.com interview to a friend.
© 1999 by John S. Rhodes. All rights
Do not reproduce or redistribute any material from this document,
in whole or in part, without explicit written permission from John S. Rhodes.