I’ve been working on my ‘home page’ recently at vispo.com. This is something that anyone who has a site does and thinks about fairly regularly. At least once a year. Possibly more. I’d like to talk about some of the issues that arise to me in that process.
The ‘home page’ is or provides access to both the ‘cover’ and the ‘table of contents’, to make an analogy with books. But it can also provide a search box, which is a quick way to the index, as it were, if it was a book, which it isn’t. The bigger the site, the more necessary a search box becomes. Blog-providers such as WordPress provide blog authors with the ability to let readers search their blogs. No programming is required by the blog author. And Google provides site authors with the ability to let readers search their sites (http://www.google.com/cse/?v ). Again, no programming is required of the site author. And it’s free, in both cases. So there really is no excuse, these days, to not make your site or blog searchable. Everyone uses search engines so much now as a means of navigation that you should put one in your site for sure.
The ‘home page’ often provides the interface into the site. In other words, the viewer returns again and again to the home page to navigate the site. Some types of sites, such as blogs, display the site navigation controls on every page of the site. This is OK if the author does not have designs on the entire monitor space. In work where the author wants the whole monitor for the art–as tends to be the case in net art– or at least the whole browser space–there is often site branding which serves not only as branding but as a way to go back to the home page. Such is the case on vispo.com. The viewer/user/wreader can click the VIsPO logo anywhere on the site to return to the home page.
In an earlier version of vispo.com, I used what are called HTML frames. Frames provide a way to divide the page space into rectangles where each rectangle can hold a different file. Which is wonderful except when you want to get back to a particular file. Bookmarking does not work very well when the site uses frames. More generally, other people find it difficult to refer, by URL, to the pages of sites that use frames. And this is definitely a problem for art sites because art sites need other people to refer to them by URL to spread the word.
The frame architecture of vispo.com was sort of blog-like in that wherever you were on vispo.com, the navigational controls for the whole site were present. But the two factors already mentioned made me decide to go to the present format: I wanted the whole monitor space for some of the work, and I wanted to get rid of the addressing problem posed by frames. Each page of vispo.com has the VIsPO logo on it, now, and clicking this returns you to the home page. This serves not only as a navigational strategy for the site but also subtly states ownership. Also, visitors can start on any page of your site. You have no idea where they’re going to first lite. So every page has to provide either navigational controls or a link to navigational controls.
A problem I’ve had with my home page was highlighted by Millie Niss to me some time ago. She commented that although my site has interesting content, the home page didn’t provide much sense of that. Just textual links to it. No visual indicators or textual descriptions. You can see that at http://web.archive.org/web/*/vispo.com (which doesn’t go back, by the way, to the frame-based architecture). Millie made what I feel is an important point. On a site like mine, which isn’t solely textual but is also visual (and sonic and programmerly) the home page should give people a sense of the site’s visuals (and audio and code).
I’ve tried to address that problem in a couple of ways. The thumbnail graphics on vispo.com provide a little visual sense of each work. And when you mouseover a thumbnail, a short textual description appears. There are 16 thumbnails on a page and there are 4 pages of thumbnails. This doesn’t cover everything on vispo.com but it covers 64 of them and the system is expandable beyond 4 pages of thumbnails.
I’m getting closer now to a home page that is interesting to horse around on. Hopefully it’s interesting to click the white triangle repeatedly to have a look at a bunch of the background images. And hopefully, at the same time, it’s interesting to mouseover the thumbnails and read the descriptions.
It’s not as much fun to have a look at the “FULL SITE MENU” dropdown or use the search box or click one of the highlighted categories, but those are three other ways to navigate the site. The home page provides basically four ways to navigate the site. I’m trying to make it both fun and useful/functional as a navigational tool. This is the ‘cover’ of my ‘book’.
Another thing that home pages have on them, typically, these days, is an RSS feed. RSS means ‘really simple syndication’ or ‘rich site summary’. People can ‘subscribe’ to an RSS feed. When they read their RSS reader, which they use to see what’s newly published on the sites they subscribe to, your newly published material is available to them, if your RSS feed contains a notice about it. RSS became popular with the rise of blogs because blog software typically supports RSS feeds. I did a little research into the file format for RSS feeds and so came up with my own RSS file for vispo.com, which you can subscribe to. It’s available on the vispo.com homepage by clicking the little orange RSS icon.
So the home page typically provides not only navigation/interface into the site but also interface into the distribution/dissemination mechanisms supported by the site.