orld Wide Web surfers now have thousands and thousands of sites to choose from, and nothing sends them sailing faster than a badly designed home page. So attention to detail in launching a site is more important than ever.
"Above all, you have to keep the site user-friendly," says Rick Kuhn, a computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology who designed his agency's National Information Infrastructure Virtual Library.
Kuhn recommends including two critical icons on the home page: Frequently Asked Questions (known as FAQs in Net-speak) and Help. Popular data should also be placed under special icons. "People shouldn't have to spend a lot of time searching for what they want because the pages are too cluttered," he says.
Unfortunately, Internet programming is still a painstaking activity. Arcane codes and command-line interfaces dominate application develop- ment. But companies such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are doing their part to make jobs easier for would-be Webmasters. Within the next year, visual programming technology-in which complex codes are replaced by easy-to-understand graphics-will be introduced to help speed Web site development.
New search tools-from companies such as Folio, Fulcrum Technologies and Verity-are helping Web site developers ensure that users can quickly locate documents and images. And web servers, which have traditionally run on the difficult-to-learn Unix operating system, now can run on user-friendly Windows NT or even Windows 95.
Agencies interested in establishing or expanding a Web presence can get help from Highway 1, a Washington-based nonprofit organization funded by five leading information-technology companies. Highway 1 hosts demonstrations of Internet technology and sponsors seminars on such topics as home page design. For more information, call 202-628-3900.