This document is a supplement to
Editing for Clear Communication
Copyright 1996-1999,
Thom Lieb.
No portion may be reused without the author's permission.

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Editing for the Web

Java, Shockwave, CGI -- and Beyond

An editor at a major online publication recalled the day her teenage daughter toured the office where dozens of the brightest and the best were producing a well- respected Web site. Unimpressed, the daughter observed, "You're not doing anything I couldn't do with WordPerfect."

Young people are a key target of almost any publication, especially those on the Web. But to snag those youngsters — who have in many cases grown up with computers, CD-ROMs and the like — Web producers have to push the boundaries of multimedia. Technologies such as Java and Shockwave are being used to do just that; more importantly, they also can be used to improve the flow of information and to build community.

Java is a programming language that can be used to create applications that run on PCs with any type of operating system: Windows, Mac or UNIX. That's a great benefit for the Web. While Java can be used to create free-standing applications, it's mostly used on the Web to create applets. Applets are mini-applications that are embedded inside an HTML page and run inside a Web browser. One example of a Java applet is the chat function at Yahoo! Chat.

Javascript may sound like Java, but It's a completely different beast. Javascript is a language used to create scrolling tickers, change graphics as a mouse rolls over them, open new browser windows and provide a host of other small processes — like the scrolling text at the bottom of this page.

Shockwave started life as an add-on to Macromedia's Director, a multimedia authoring program. While Director is great for creating multimedia products, the files were traditionally way too large to carry over the Internet. Shockwave allows for compression and delivery over the Web (provided viewers have the plug-in). The latest addition to the family is Flash, which can pack animation and sound into tiny files. Most Shockwave/Flash creations so far either have been games or splash screens.

CGI scripting and databases can be used to deliver personalized information to site visitors. For example, a Chicago Tribune package on homicide in Chicago included a map that let visitors choose a neighborhood for which they want detailed homicide information, as well as an interactive quiz on homicide in the city. The Seattle Times Matchmaker feature let readers check their positions on major issues, then let them know who was the best candidate for them to vote for in the 1996 race for governor.

So if you want to develop a site that gives your visitors a jolt, consider using Java, Shockwave or CGI scripts. If you don't want to wait for them to come to you, zap your content to them with a Castanet transmitter. Either way, it won't look like you're using WordPerfect any more.

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