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History of the website

Rules of engagement.
Website standards, coding & features

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Our "Rules of Engagement:"

bullet Promotion of religious belief: Unlike almost all religious WWW sites, we do not advocate any one religion. We also do not advocate secularism as superior to religion. However, we do promote human rights, particularly religious freedom, and equal rights (including marriage rights) for persons of all genders, sexual orientations, and gender identities..
bulletCriticism and Opposition: Our policy is to not criticize any person or organized religion for their theological beliefs. However we do censure individuals and groups for any actions that harm people, limit their personal freedoms, or restrict their spiritual, mental, religious and emotional growth.
bulletRespecting privacy: Many faith groups including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church of Scientology, and some groups within Ceremonial Magick, Wicca, and Satanism attempt to keep some information about their beliefs and rituals secret from the public. They only release knowledge gradually to their members, as they advance in training. Although some of this information has been published (often by violating copyright) we do not contribute to its dissemination.

Web site standards:

Because our expected audience is about 90% American, 5% Canadian and 5% other English speakers, we decided to use "American" rather than "English" spelling. The occasional "colour, favour, centre", etc. does creep through accidentally. We found it useful to have almost all of the writing done by one individual. This gives an overall consistency to our web site.

We express dates in the form: 2000-FEB-28. This decision led one person to accuse us of being members of the Church of Scientology. They noted that we used the same unusual date format as did L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder. Actually this style is fairly common outside of the U.S.; it is clear and unambiguous, and easy for computers to sort. It avoids one of the most serious adverse effects of the millennium. Notations such as 10/11/12 can refer to many dates, such as 2010-NOV-12, 2012-OCT-11. to 2012-NOV-10.

We designed the site using the standard pyramid menu structure: Although the home page allows the visitor to select one of a few important essays, its main purpose is to guide the visitor to one of many menus. Each menu covers a single section, like Christianity, other religions, spirituality, religious laws, religious information, etc. These menus, in turn, are generally linked to individual essays on specific topics.

We use three page layouts: one for the main home page, one for menus and one for individual essays. We expected that this structure would help our visitors navigate our site. We were surprised to find that most of our visitors bypassed the menu structure entirely. They come from an Internet search engine directly into one of the essays on our web site. Generally, they do not visit the home page itself.

As the web site grew to beyond 500 menus and essays, our readers experienced increasing difficulty finding specific essays. We added an internal search engine so that they can more easily find our essays that dealt with a particular topic. This gave us two added benefits. One of the commercial search engine that we link to sends us a list of the most common search strings that our visitors use. This tells us a great deal about their interests. It helps us prioritize essay upgrades and the creation of new essays.

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Creating the HTML coding:

HTML means HyperText Markup Language. (It is pronounced by saying each letter rather than "hitamull"). HTML is a series of codes that the webmaster imbeds in text in order to control the appearance of the resultant web page. HTML coding used to be easily inserted manually. There were relatively few HTML code tags to remember. For example, a paragraph is created by placing <p> at the beginning of some text and </p> at its end. <hl> generated a horizontal line. <br> generates a new line. <h1> and </h1> define a heading in large characters. <i> and </i> bracket italicized text, while <b> and </b> generate bold text. We originally learned HTML by buying an introductory book on the topic, and studying the source code of a few web sites. In those days, one merely fired up a simple text editor, wrote the text, and inserted the HTML1.0 codes as needed.

In late 1994, the Netscape Navigator browser was introduced; it added many new tags that were not recognized by the other browsers. This made web sites visually more exciting and gave the webmaster better control over the site's appearance. However, when we started our web site in 1995, we decided to stick with basic HTML 1.0 and avoid the Netscape enhancements. Otherwise our pages would look really strange on some of our visitors' older browsers. The other browsers later caught up with Netscape, and the latter's extensions became standard HTML. By early 2000, the commonly used browsers could handle just about any reasonable web site coding. However, the same web page will look somewhat different on each browser. It is important for the webmaster to view their final coding on Firefox, Internet Explorer -- and other browsers such as Opera, Chrome, and Safari -- in order to make certain that their pages will look attractive to all visitors.

We eventually purchased the Microsoft FrontPage program. It is a special purpose, advanced WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) word processor that is designed to produce web pages. By 1998, our version of FrontPage became noticeably sluggish on our Intel-based 486 computer, when we reached the 600 essay level. This was initially overcome by dividing our essays alphabetically into three equal-sized, partial web-sites on our office computer. These separate web-sites are combined into a single site on our Internet Hosting Service's computer.

FrontPage has a built-in theme function that simplifies graphic design of a web site. Each theme has a color-coordinated background image, a set of character fonts and colors, a set of small icons for lists, etc. We originally selected the Expedition theme for our menus, and the Nature theme for our individual essays. We upgraded FrontPage with new versions when they became available. FrontPage 2000 has a running spell-checker that prevents most of our spelling errors. Our grammatical constructions, punctuation, etc remain quite awful. We are indebted to some of our visitors who have helped us in this area.

We became frustrated at the policy of Microsoft to carefully preserve annoying bugs in the FrontPage program, and its sucessor Expressions Web. We experienced continual failure of the program, often losing a considerable amount of work. Finally, when we were unable to load a trial version of Expressions Web 3 into our PC, we gave up and switched to Adobe Dreamweaver. It has its own set of problems, but least it only fails a few times a week.

One problem with web page design is that our visitors own a range of monitor sizes. They also use a wide variety of screen area settings on their monitor(s). A web page may be difficult to read on some combinations of area settings and monitor sizes. Some lines may be wider than small monitors can display; this causes horizontal scroll bars to appear. The visitor then has to move the bars back and forth in order to read each line. Alternatively, lines may stretch out on large displays that they are difficult to read. After some experimentation, we decided to contain each essay and menu within a HTML table that is set to have a width equal to 93% of the reader's display width. Each essay and menu then adapts reasonably well to the reader's monitor.

Our home page is of traditional design. It contains a graphic that identifies our group. This was originally the traditional dove symbol carrying an olive branch in its beak -- a universal symbol of peace and toleration. It is interesting that the symbol's meaning relates to a story of the largest genocide in human history -- that at the time of Noah. We later switched our graphic to a starburst, that has many possible interpretations. Under the graphic are some words of introduction to our site.

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Website features:

On the left side of the home page and subsequent menus and essays is a navigation bar with hyperlinks to various menus: e.g. Christianity, other religions, spiritual topics, religious hatred, "hot" topics, etc. We have added some additional features to many of our pages:

  • A message board that acts as a forum for our visitors; it helps to build a community spirit among ourselves and our visitors. They are free to post any thoughts there, and to respond to the postings of others. This is an unmoderated list; there is no person in charge that censors postings before they appear on the message board. Usually religious message boards tend to fill up quickly with a lot of hate-filled postings on "hot" religious topics like homosexuality, hell, salvation, and abortion. Ours has been more successful. We believe that this is because bigots rarely visit our web site and thus do not find our message board.

    We have since followed this up with a Twitter and facebook presence. See links at the upper left corner of this page.

  • A hit counter that counts the number of visitors to our home page from various countries. The number of visitors to our entire site is much larger, as almost all visitors bypass our home page and are directed to a specific essay from a search engine.

  • A provision for translating our pages into other languages. See the flag collection at the lower right corner of each essay.

  • A search engine that can search our website or the entire Internet. It is at the lower left corner of each essay.

Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAR-1
Latest update: 2010-APR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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