Okay, I'll be lazy this time around: if you were (or even if you weren't) in tonight's "What Editors Do" class at Simon Fraser University's downtown campus, to which I gave a presentation, then take a look at the entry I posted here when I spoke to the same class last November.
A few additional notes, reflecting points that I made at previous sessions of this course but didn't get to today:
- The Web is about being useful and usable, but it's also about links. When writing and editing copy, link around—not just to your own site, but outside. That's what makes the Web the Web, and sites that try to restrict visitors to material only within their own boundaries aren't very useful—or all that frequently visited, in most cases.
- One of the reasons that the design—and especially the navigation—of web pages is only now developing some standards is because the field of web design is so young, only a decade old. Magazines and books, on the other hand, have well-established standards because they have been evolving for centuries to meet the needs of their readership and publishers. For example, you know what to expect from most magazines: the cover lists articles inside, there are ads on the first few pages, then a table of contents. There are page numbers somewhere near the top or bottom edge (and think how annoying it is when ads don't have page numbers, and you're trying to flip through a whole bunch to get to page 78). Stuff in the back sections is usually shorter, and so on. Magazine editors, designers, and publishers who flout these standards had better have a good reason, and know what they're doing. The same is starting to happen in web design, finally.
- Another type of web standards is also important: that dealing with the markup code that determines how web pages appear. While as a web editor you might not be intimately involved in the code behind web pages, you can advocate for standards compliance with the designers and programmers you work with. The only way anyone can rely on tomorrow's web browsers being able to view pages built today is if your pages meet the standards established by organizations such as the World Wide Web Consortium. In other words, just because Internet Explorer 6 for Windows displays a page acceptably today, if the code that makes the page doesn't meet the established specifications, that doesn't mean the page will display correctly in whatever people will be using in five or ten years—not even Internet Explorer 8.
- Avoid "file not found" when people come to your website. Plan sites so you can keep the addresses of pages alive forever—in other words, if you set up www.example.com/press/releases today, don't change it in six months to www.example.com/company/media/announcements—at least not without redirecting the old version. To put it another way, sites should be built with thoughts of how they will grow in mind. You'd be surprised how often really old material is still useful to somebody out there, and how many obscure sites may be linking to or bookmarking you.