Advice to Sims Webmasters
Caddy says, "After reviewing more than a hundred Sims web sites, I've noticed some blunders that seem to permeate the whole community. So here is my best advice for simsmasters and simsmaster wannabes.
"I used to have some references to hosting Sims sites here on Moon Sims. Our offer to do this has been suspended for a few months while we find out how much bandwidth we are consuming with the sites we are currently hosting. We might know how we're doing by February 2002."
Do These Things
- Identify your web site in your file names. Pick a very short mnemonic and preface your files names with it, especially your archive files and object files. For instance, Killer Sims files start with "ix" and Wage of Sim files usually have Richard R. Ward's initials at the end of the filename. That way your visitors will always be able to tell where all the stuff they downloaded came from.
Check Sandshifter's Identify page before you settle on an identifer to make sure nobody else is using it, and when you've picked something, be sure to tell Sandshifter about it.
- Use unique names for your readme files. And, of course, make sure the filename of your readme file reflects the name of the skin or object the user has installed in the game. While you're copying that same old three-line readme file into yet another zip archive, take the time to rename it to identify the object it goes with. This is another way the user can tell where the stuff came from, since the text of your readme file for sure identifies your web site. If you make the readme files worth saving, users will save them and use them for reference.
- Identify your site in your object descriptions. Are you faced with writer's block when you see that little box that wants a description of an object? Never had any idea what to say? If nothing else, just type your web site's name!
Put in the filename, too. If you include the filename in the description, then the user can tell which files match up with which objects. This is especially important for walls and floors, where often it's difficult to figure out which are the walls the user wants to keep in the game.
- Learn how to use short filenames and fix your existing filenames. You spend hours and hours creating wonderful new meshes for people to enjoy, and I assume you put them on line because you want people to download and enjoy them.
Why, then, would you make it difficult or impossible for half of the Sims community to install your work in their games? It only takes a few seconds of your time to make all your files compatible across all platforms. Unless Microsoft is paying you huge sums of money to be malicious, you definitely want to take a couple minutes to learn to do this, and then a few seconds to get the filenames right when you assemble your archive. Here's how.
- Close your tables. Many of the web sites I've visited have a common blunder -- a missing </table> tag at the end of the page. This is easy to overlook because a bug in the latest version of MSIE causes it to display tables even if it doesn't know where they end, but your web page will come up completely blank in any non-buggy web browser!
- Use an HTML checker. I recommend checking your web pages with Weblint. There's a
WebLint gateway on the CyberTeams
web site that you're welcome to use. The only tricky thing about WebLint is that it doesn't seem
to handle virtual domains correctly, so you have to find out a URL that will navigate from the top
level of the mother domain. For instance, moonsims.asi.org is actually stored under the Artemis
Society International's web server at www.asi.org/moonsims/.
(For a fun time, run the Moon Sims web pages through WebLint. I'm sure you will be as horrified
as I am!)
Another great resource is the HTML checker from Dr. HTML.
- Include a picture in your skins and objects archives. You had to make one of these anyway, to show folks what it looks like. So when you make that zip archive, just drag that same picture along with all the texture maps and meshes and the readme files. Consider the plight of the poor user who, after a lengthy session of downloading while suffering from serious Sims withdrawal, is asking, "Now why the heck did I download this? What is it?"
- Read some web design guides. Don't just copy others' mistakes. People have put in a lot of effort into figuring out how to create an effective web site. The list of web design guides in the Artemis Data Book might provide quite an eye-opener for you.
Even if you don't want to go through a bunch of web design guides, you definitely want to read Jeff Glover's Sucky to Savvy. I guarantee you will enjoy it!
There's only one point in Jeff's essays that I disagree with -- frames suck. Always. Everywhere they are used. No exceptions. There is no site anywhere on the web that uses them effectively; not even one. Jeff gave frames a Suck-o-Meter rating of 4, but on the Caddy scale, frames are a big, fatal 10.
Don't Do These Things
- Don't aplogize for not updating. More than half of the sites I've visited have an apology for not updating as the first thing the visitor sees. If you have some great stuff and want to put it on line, that's terrific! Just do it; and leave the constant updates and additions for those who enjoy doing this. For us, it's enough that you have shared your beautiful work with us. You need not feel obligated to keep adding to it just for the sake of "updating".
- Don't make your site more complex than it needs to be. We have seen a trend in the Sims sites that have closed when the webmaster lost interest. The more complex and difficult to maintain, the more likely it is that the site will close soon afer it opens. Keep it simple, easy to maintain, and just have fun with it!
- Don't even think of putting a link to www.topsites.thesimsresource.com on your pages. The Sims Resource offers a lot of wonderful stuff and great services, but their server is painfully slow to respond. You can have your site on a very fast server and put a lot of work into making your web pages fast to load, only to have that one link stop your web site dead in its tracks.
- Don't make promises you can't keep. Have you noticed that on Moon Sims we tell you right off that the site isn't officially opened yet? And that some of the links in the nav bar a grayed out, with a clear warning that they don't lead anywhere? I've run across dozens of sites where the webmaster invested a lot of time in laying out an extensive site with lots of categories, only to abandon the project.
It would better to have a one page web site offering one stunning download or stellar bit of advice than dozens of dead links.
See those gray buttons on the Moon Sims navigation menu? That's exactly what I mean. Don't do this. It's better to wait to display the link until you have some stuff in that section. My only excuse at this point is that we are still working out the scripts for Moon Sims, so we don't have much choice. That's why we signaled the dead links by making them gray.
- Don't use frames. Of all the web sites I have ever visited, I haven't seen even one that used frames effectively. Frames were an interesting idea, but even the people who invented them don't use them any more. They just mess up the visitor's browser, and mark you as an amateur.
- Don't use .exe files for your archives. Those .exe files that try to put the files into the final folders are a pain in the neck for everybody. Windows users might not want them to put the files directly into their game folders, and everybody else has to wade through your mess. Put this on the list of clever things that you can do, but that you do only to be clever; at considerable cost of frustration to your visitors.
- Don't center text in long paragraphs. It's hard to read.
- Don't use HTML in your readme files. Make it the plainest of plain text. You can't expect your visitors to fire up a web browser just read your same old readme file for the umpteenth time.
- Don't expect to earn money from your web site with banner ads. Banner ads seem to be working
for a few high-traffic professional sites with huge advertising budgets, but for the small sites
they're more trouble than they're worth. The Terrashare fiasco should be enough of an example for
you; the company was hoping for advertising revenues and went bankrupt without paying a cent to
any of their webmasters. Many of the popular Sims web sites have resorted to asking for donations
to help defray the expenses of operating their sites. That's a clue.
- Don't use Microsoft's web authoring programs. There's no way around it; Microsoft's web authoring utilities suck. They create buggy, bloated code that's impossible to maintain. Most of them are written to create web pages that work only for people who are using the latest versions of their own company's software. So again, unless Microsoft is paying you boatloads of money to be an idiot, you don't want to even consider using their software to maintain your web site.
If that's not enough, here's some more advice for webmasters from Lord Richter.