Website Technical Details

 Created 17-05-2003   Last update 30-11-2012


 

Initial Design

The following principles were used for the initial design of this website:

  • Navigation around the site must be easy and fast

  • Download times must be kept to an absolute minimum

  • There was no budget available 

  • Easy to maintain with flexibility for expansion

 

Website Navigation

It was decided right from the start that frames were to be used for navigation meaning that a menu of website topics would always be available to the user on the left of the screen. At first this menu was written using HTML, but JavaScript (JS) was later used to enable the use of cascading menus and improve flexibility. Some users, for reasons I have never understood, choose to turn JS off whilst others may have JS blocked by a corporate firewall. To overcome this a 'Site Index' giving access to all pages is available from the home page. 97% of users hitting this website use a browser supporting JS.

Entry to the website via a search engine may or may not start at the home page. If entry is via a page other than the home page then the frames container will not have loaded, so a link to the home page is provided on every web page to overcome this orphan page effect. Clicking on this link will not only load the home page but the frames container as well.

A free search facility was added to the home page so that readers could search the entire website for a specific topic. About 5% of enquiries are made this way. 

A table is available on the home page showing the 'Latest Major Updates' to the website which assists returning viewers in what to read. There is also a link to a 'Minor Updates' page which lists updates of lesser significance. The important thing here is that the update tables contain  hypertext links to the updates and are not just text indicating that updates exist somewhere. 

Download times

Nothing puts a user off more that slow page loading, and variety of methods were used to keep page loading times down. The entire website is of minimalist design, meaning that no un-necessary graphics or backgrounds are used. In fact the only graphic used is the website logo, everything else uses HTML tables. Hypertext links are just plain text not graphics.

Each page of the website is limited to 6 photographs and a maximum download time of 50 seconds on a 56Kb dial-up connection. This equates to about 120KB per page. The text is placed at the top of the page and the photographs at the bottom. As the text loads first it means that the user can read this while the photos are still loading. No graphics or photos at all on the home page means fast initial entry enticing the user to look further.

All photos are compressed as hard as possible in JPEG format. This usually means that artefacts (distortion) start to appear, but I don't think this really matters. Typically a 1 MB bitmap image can be compressed to a 15KB JPEG. Photo sizes are limited to around 470 x 345 pixels except in exceptional circumstances. Thumbnails are not used - if a picture is worth showing then show it. I would quite like to use PNG graphics, but tests have shown that the storage they require is excessive when compared to the advantages.

Finally, plug-ins and add-ons such as Macromedia Flash, Java Applets and Active-X are right out. 

Budget

There was no money available to build or maintain this website, or to provide research expenses, and consequently everything is done on the 'make do' principle. Microsoft FrontPage 2000 was already available to me as was FTP and Graphics software. 

The biggest problem was that I did not possess a digital camera nor could I afford a decent one. However I did have an analogue video camera and I use this for all the stills, utilising the ATI video capture card already installed in my PC.


Update - 05-12-2004

The problem with the digital camera was solved in September 2004 when Mr. Jan West, a semi-professional photographer, donated an Olympus C2500L to PORTSDOWN TUNNELS. This piece of equipment cost 670 in 2000 and has revolutionised the research for this website. Thanks Jan.


The one luxury I did allow myself was a 20 a year fee for the website's own address and web hosting. Originally this was free through my ISP Freeserve, but when I changed to NTL broadband the website had to be moved and the expense incurred. Besides I was beginning to run out of host web space, and a professional looking address was better. 

Maintenance and Flexibility

Having been a computer programmer for many years I firmly understood the need to make any computerised project easy to maintain. Again there are many separate elements needed to achieve this.

Every page on the website has been constructed using HTML tables often using nested tables. This makes text and graphic positioning easy in both construction and subsequent maintenance.

The site seems to work well across many browser platforms without any special effort. 30% of people hitting this site do so with MS Explorer, 41% with Safari and 20% with Firefox. I did have an e-mail from one irate chap who couldn't view my site properly using some obscure browser. My reply was that if he insisted on paying for a browser that didn't work properly when Firefox was free then it was up to him. Do I really need to complicate the code on my website for a tiny fraction of the user base? My answer is no. This could be unsound for an e-commerce operation, but not for an historical website.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) have been used on this website to aid any future changes of colour, style etc. and so that I can create my own style objects such at the title at the top of this section. Currently 100% of browsers accessing this website support CSS.