WWW Style Committee Report

May 15, 1995

SLAC
To:
WWW Technical Committee
From:
WWW Style Committee -- P.A. Moore, Chair
Re:
Recommendations for style of SLAC Web pages
This report was endorsed by the SLAC WWW Technical Committee, May 31, 1995.

Background and Introduction

The WWW Style Committee was created as an ad hoc committee by WWW Technical Committee to explore a number of stylistic issues raised about SLAC's institutional presence on the Web, and to recommend some general guidelines regarding present and future page design at SLAC. The original charge to the group solicited recommendations for (a) required elements (including some kind of institutional identification) for Web pages at SLAC, and (b) the structure of SLAC's home page and related pages.

Members of the committee are chair, P.A. Moore (xanadu@slac.stanford.edu), Karen Heidenreich (karen@slac.stanford.edu), Kathryn Henniss (henniss@slac.stanford.edu), Judy Nowag (jbn@slac.stanford.edu), and Joan Winters (winters@slac.stanford.edu).

The committee met over a four-month period (February through May, 1995), during which time the members reviewed numerous Web documents. The Committee also received input from other members of the SLAC community involved with the Web, which was taken into consideration in drafting this report.

This report outlines the recommendations of the WWW Style Committee, as follows:

Part 1:
Overview and Operational Definitions
Part 2:
Recommended Page Elements
Part 3:
A Model for the SLAC Laboratory Core Pages
Part 4:
Further Issues
This document's URL is http://www.slac.stanford.edu/slac/www/wwwtech/wwwstyle/report.html.

Part 1: Overview

It is recognized that the Web has been a part of communications technology and publishing for the past two years and that much has changed in that short a time. Much more is likely to change in the next few years as well. The recommendations listed below form a snapshot of current opinion, and are subject to review in the future to test their validity and may be modified based on new developments.

The Committee recognized from the outset an implicit tension between:

  1. Creating an attractive and consistent look-and-feel as well as promoting informational consistency for the site's Web pages, and
  2. Giving page authors wide latitude in organizing their pages in a way that best suits the needs and tastes of their groups.

The Committee's recommendations have been made with the intention of promoting some degree of informational consistency for Web pages at SLAC, while avoiding extensive recommendations regarding consistency of format. While the absence of strong format requirements will undoubtedly result in a less uniform look to SLAC's Web space, the Committee felt strongly that the need for informational consistency outweighed the need for format consistency, which in any event would involve the imposition of stylistic requirements that many groups would resist, as input from several people the Committee consulted has indicated. Furthermore, we are sensitive to the fact that a number of page authors volunteer their time.

The following recommendations are therefore intended to promote a basic level of informational consistency across all SLAC Web pages, while allowing for considerable departmental and individual differences in page layout.

Operational Definitions

The following definitions are used in this document:
Web page
An HTML file viewable on the World Wide Web (WWW).
SLAC Web page
A Web page that lives on a SLAC computer. While broadly construed this term would include "personal" pages served from SLAC computers, the Committee's recommendations do not extend to such pages. In fact, the issue of personal pages is one that the Committee determined to be important, but beyond the scope of the WWW Style Committee's charge.
home page
A page which constitutes an intentional entry point into a group/department/institution/collaboration's page space on the Web.
institutional page
A brochure-like page containing high-level descriptive information about an organization.
core pages
A primary group of pages, including home and institutional pages which provide intentional entry points into the Web space of an organization (= group, department, institution, or collaboration). The SLAC laboratory core pages reflect the three-page model described below. Other organizational schemes do exist for core pages, e.g., SLD's two-page model.
owner
The individual(s) responsible for providing and maintaining information on a page. This will usually be the person or people who implement(s) the page, but in some cases the owner and the person who generates the HTML file may be distinct. Multiple owners as well as primary/secondary owners may be appropriate.

Part 2: Recommended Page Elements

The following elements are recommended for SLAC Web pages: The scope of each recommended element is addressed in the discussion of each element, followed by a brief summary of the recommended elements and their applicability.

Owner

The Committee most strongly recommends that SLAC Web pages indicate the pages' owners (see Operational Definitions above). Including this information provides a point of contact for readers who may have feedback about the page. As well, it ensure a mechanism for professional accountability regarding the pages' currency and/or appropriateness. The page owners are also the people who should be contacted for fixing broken links.

According to emerging Web style conventions, the owner information usually appears at the bottom of the page, often in an <address> tag.

At SLAC, we recommend that page owners use the /owner script (or some functional equivalent) for displaying this information. The SLAC /owner script, the syntax of which may be found by viewing the source for the SLAC Template Page, displays information about the individual (phone number, email address, office location, and mail stop) drawn from a centrally maintained database, currently binlist.

Use of the SLAC /owner script also provides a mechanism for identifying all page owners at SLAC for the purposes of disseminating information relating to page ownership, responsibility, and broken links.

Titles/Headers

As part of good HTML practice, every Web page should have a <title>. A page's <title> and the titling text in its header material should be consistent. The titling information on the page may appear in a prominent graphic element like a banner or in the first <h1> tag.

Date

The WWW Style Committee recommends that all pages bear a date. Having a date on a page provides readers with an idea of the currency of the information. For this reason, many Web page authors prefer to put the date at or near the top of the page, as a way of informing the reader right away whether the information has been changed recently. In other cases (as with some search forms), page authors may prefer to put the date at the bottom of the page, to minimize the amount of "header" information preceding the page's content.

In cases of pages which display information drawn from a dynamic database, it may be useful for page authors to distinguish between:

The Style Committee makes no recommendation about the location of the date, or whether the date on a page is a modification date (e.g., "Last updated 8 May 1995") or a creation date (e.g., "Created 1 January 1995"), but encourages all page authors to include some kind of date information somewhere on their pages.

Institutional Identifier(s)

Institutional identifiers, which may be graphical or textual, provide readers with context for the information on the page. When the institutional identifier is also a hypertext link, it provides an additional navigational tool for the reader.

The Committee recommends that an icon or the word "SLAC" be used on every SLAC home page as a link to the SLAC Institutional Page. In addition, the Committee recommends that the word "SLAC" appear in the title of each home page at SLAC (e.g., "SLAC Technical Publications Department" or "SLAC Environment, Safety, and Health Division"). Including "SLAC" in a home page's title not only provides institutional context for the page's information, but it also aids in information retrieval when automated indexing tools are used.

While for the home pages of most groups within SLAC (like the Technical Publications Department or the ES&H Division) it makes sense to have "SLAC" in the title, for larger collaborations involving many institutions like BaBar or SLD, the appropriateness of "SLAC" in providing context for the page's information is less clear. The Committee's recommendation is correspondingly relaxed in these cases. However, when such home pages reside on servers owned and maintained by SLAC, the Committee considers it appropriate for there to be a link to one of the SLAC core pages (see discussion of SLAC core pages below) somewhere on the page. An icon or text element pointing to one of the SLAC core pages is sufficient. This link back into SLAC Web space ensures access to the SLAC disclaimer (see next section).

Legal Information

Legal information such as disclaimers, privacy statements, and/or copyright are a part of doing business as a DOE facility, consequently, a link to the standard SLAC disclaimer shall appear on each of the two SLAC home pages (see discussion of the model for SLAC core pages below) only. See the preceding paragraph for discussion of how accessibility to this information is obtained.

Recommended Elements: Summary

In summary, all SLAC Web pages should have owner, date, and an institutional identifier. Title and header information should be consistent. For all SLAC home pages (except for those of large groups/collaborations), the institutional identifier should be "SLAC" (or some graphic equivalent), and the title of the page should contain the word "SLAC". For the home pages of large groups/collaborations, the page's title need not include the word "SLAC" but a link back to one of the SLAC core pages is strongly recommended. Both SLAC home pages (see discussion below) should in addition have a link to the standard disclaimer.

Regarding page style, we do recommend that page authors consult other page owners and Web experts at SLAC. Many HTML style guides exist, both online and in print, and the Committee further encourages page authors to consult such documents. (An annotated bibliography of online HTML Style Guides is being prepared, and will be ready for the SLAC Web community sometime in June.)

Though it contains no information on the medium of hypertext, The Chicago Manual of Style is recommended as a resource for issues regarding standard English usage and punctuation.

Part 3: A Model for the SLAC Laboratory Core Pages

We recommend a three-page model for the SLAC laboratory core pages, as described below.

The core pages at SLAC shall consist of (1) an institutional, or "brochure" page, and a pair of working home pages: (2) a "sparse" home page and (3) a "dense" home page (see diagram).

The "Institutional Page" contains general information considered to be primarily of interest to visitors to SLAC WWW space, while the home pages provide information that is more oriented towards SLAC users, although it is recognized that there may be considerable overlap between these two broadly defined user categories. Since the Institutional Page creates SLAC's most public-oriented presence on the Web, it is appropriate for this page to contain more graphics than the two working home pages.

The "Sparse Home Page" (and its related pages) will function like a top-level, generalized table of contents to SLAC WWW space, while the "Dense Home Page" is a more exhaustive, index-like reference page. The current production SLAC Home Page is an example of a "dense" home page.

The proposed sparse page would consist primarily of the first- or first- and some second-level headings from the dense home page, which in turn link to separate HTML pages containing all the links under that heading on the dense page. In its simplest realization, the dense home page would be a concatenation of all of the pages directly linked from the sparse home page, though the Style Committee is still working on enriching this aspect of the model.

The evolution of the dual home-page scheme is a response to user feedback indicating that there are legitimate preferences for each type of access to SLAC's rich information space.

Experienced Web users can set their browsers to default to whichever of the three core pages best suits their needs.

It remains to be decided which of the three SLAC core pages (institutional, sparse home page, or dense home page) should be designated to come up in response to the request http://www.slac.stanford.edu/. The questions are, do we

Until the three-page model is fully implemented, the Style Committee leaves open the question of which page should come up as the default.

Part 4: Further Issues

As mentioned in the Introduction, the WWW Style Committee has intentionally kept the extent of its recommendations narrow, choosing to offer a few simple and focused suggestions that are both easy to implement and compatible with a wide variety of page designs, in keeping with the preferences of the SLAC community.

Due to the conditions of the charge and constraints of time, this report makes no recommendations on the following topics:

In spite of a healthy aversion to unnecessary bureaucracy, which was voiced by several members of the SLAC Web community in responses to the earlier draft version of this report, and which members of the Style Committee share, we nonetheless recommend that a small, representative group of people be appointed by the Associate Director of the Research Division, to serve as a Web Policy Group. Those chosen should represent as many different groups from the lab as possible. Each person selected should have more than a passing familiarity with the Web.

The purpose of such a group would be to set policy on matters like personal pages and privacy on the SLAC Web, authorization to set up servers, and responsibility for server maintenance, as well as to appoint subgroups to address special issues as they arise.

Some members of the WWW Style Committee will continue to meet during summer of 1995 to develop and implement the three-page model for SLAC core pages, and to deal with residual issues not covered in this report (e.g., menu bars). Subsequently, the WWW Style Committee will reconvene on an as-needed basis, as new issues arise. People who wish to comment on style issues are encouraged to do so by sending email to www-l, by posting messages to slac.www.general, and/or by attending meetings of the SLAC WWW Users Group (SWUG).

[Go Back to the Top]


Last updated Thu Jan 18 10:09:02 PST 1996 Henniss