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Tips for Buddhist Webmasters

Most Buddhist websites are created and maintained by "enthusiastic amateurs" - who do not have a professional webmaster (term for a website maintainer) to guide them. So these tips are humbly offered so that the Buddha's Dhamma may be usefully, pleasingly and speedily presented online.

You should ask yourself, or may have asked, the following Questions :-

Q : I have tried and failed to understand "technical stuff", or am not interested in understanding it. Can I still create a website for my temple ?

A : No, unfortunately. That's a bit like trying to print a newspaper without knowing about typesetting or desktop publishing. Web professionals know all this technical stuff and a lot more. It will be easier in future, but it's not yet simple.

Q : OK, so I need somebody else to do it. What do I do ?

Design the basic pages on sheets of paper, and then create the individual pages as separate computer documents, using e.g. MS Word.
Scan in any pictures you want to be on the website and add them to the documents.
Then you need somebody familiar with website design to convert these documents to "HTML" which is the web design language.
watthaitemple.net can do this for you ! Just send us the documents as email attachments to us at email, with any additional instructions, and we'll convert these into reasonably professional website pages and email them back to you !

OK, I can do it myself, but have the following problems :

Q : My website looks OK on my screen but why does it look terrible on somebody else's ?
OR : How do I ensure that it always looks right on other people's screens ?

A : Remember that this is not a document that will always be printed on the same size page (e.g. A4). It will instead be displayed on different sized screens at different "pixel resolutions" (e.g. 1024 x 768 pixels on a 19 inch screen or 640 x 480 pixels on a 14 inch screen).
You need to study the following tips about tables, images and text :

Table Width.

Never specify width or height of tables or cells in pixels; either don't specify width or height at all or specify it as percentage. 
This is necessary to ensure that your page displays correctly on all screen sizes. E.G. if you define a table as 750 pixels wide it may look OK on a 17 inch screen, but won't fit on a 14 inch screen.
Correct Examples :
<table width =80% align=center>
or
<table width =100%> or
<table align=center>
Incorrect example:
<table width =750>
(this means it is defined as 750 pixels wide)

Table Alignment

You should specify table alignment i.e. left, right or centre. This is necessary to ensure consistency on all screen sizes. If you don't specify alignment the table will be displayed at the left margin, which may not be what you intended.
Obviously if you specify table width = 100% the alignment doesn't matter as it will stretch across the whole screen.
Correct Examples :
<table align = left>
or
<table align = right> or
<table align = center> or
<table width=100%>
Incorrect Example :
<table>

An alternative way of specify table alignment is placing the table within a paragraph or within <center> :
Correct Examples :
<p align = left>
<table>...</table>
</p>
or
<p align = right>
<table>...</table>
</p>
or
<p align = center>
<table>...</table>
</p>
or
<center>
<table>...</table>
</center>

Image Alignment.

You should specify image alignment i.e. left, right or centre. This is necessary to ensure consistency on all screen sizes. If you don't specify alignment it will be displayed at the left margin, which may not be what you intended.
Correct Example :
<img align = left width=300 height=200 srce="buddha.jpg">
or
<img align = right width=300 height=200 srce="buddha.jpg"> or
<img align = center width=300 height=200 srce="buddha.jpg">
Incorrect Example :
<img width=300 height=200
srce="buddha.jpg">

An alternative way of specify image alignment is placing the image within a paragraph or within <center>:
Correct Example :
<p align = center>
<img width=300 height=200 srce="buddha.jpg">
</p>
or
<center>
<img width=300 height=200 srce="buddha.jpg">
</center>

Text Alignment

Specify text and paragraph alignment as right or center if necessary (if you don't specify alignment it will be at the left margin).
DON'T center the text by pressing the space bar 30 or 40 times, this will not space the text consistently on different sized screens.
Correct Example :
<p align = center>History of our Monastery</p>
or
<center>History of our Monastery</center>
Incorrect Example :
<p>                      History of our Monastery</p>

Q : When people download my web page, nothing happens for some time, then suddenly the whole page, including pictures, appears. How I do I make the text display quickly so they can read it while the pictures download ?

A : You must define Images (pictures) correctly within tables.

Always specify the image size if the image is within a table. This is necessary so that if the download is slow, the viewer can read the text while the image is slowly downloading. If you don't specify the size and the image is within a table, no text will be displayed until all the images in the table have downloaded, which is frustrating for the viewer.
Correct Example :
<img width=300 height=200 align = center srce="buddha.jpg">
Incorrect Example :
<img align = center srce="buddha.jpg">

Q : What's all this stuff you're telling me about <table align=center> or <img width=300 height=200 srce="buddha.jpg"> ? I use xyz program to create web pages and I don't see any of this !

A : Most editors hide the actual "HTML code" that a web document actually consists of, but behind the scenes that's what it looks like. E.g. if you want to "centre" some text you normally highlight the text and click the "centre text" button. Behind the scenes your editor has generated something like <p align = center>Blah</p> or <center>Blah</center> even though what you see on the screen is

Blah
You can make the editor show you the HTML code by pressing a button somewhere on the screen called "show HTML".
Different editors do fairly good or just plain bad jobs of generating good HTML code in a page.
Most problems originate when you originally create a web page using an editor originally designed for creating A4 paper documents e.g. MS Word. In such a documemt it makes sense to create a table x pixels wide which fits nicely on an A4 page so that's what it does when you drag the edge of the box with your mouse to the edge of the page boundary.
Later on when you convert the page to a web document, (i.e. convert it to HTML code) either by telling MS Word to save it as such or with a different program, the definition of table width in pixels is retained and you have a problem.
What's the answer ?
1. Use an editor specifically designed for creating web pages such as Coffee Cup, HotDog, or FrontPage.
2. Educate yourself in "Basic HTML". It's necessary to create websites properly.
3. Define size of tables and cells in percentage, not pixels (by clicking "table properties" or similar button and bringing up a window where you can enter size details).

Q : My website takes forever to download to some people's screens. Why ? Or, how can I make my website display quickly everywhere ?

A : Remember that while you may live in the US and have "broadband" cable or similar fast internet connection, many people don't, and rely on relatively poor phone line connections.
The rule is, the bigger and sharper the pictures, the more space they use on that phone line and hence more time they take to download.
So don't try to make your Buddhist website the ultimate audiovisual experience. Simple rules :-
1. Keep photo sizes to maximum 400 pixels wide by 300 high and limit them to perhaps 4 per page, preferably no more than 2.
2. Compress photographs in the .jpg ("jpeg") format using programs such as Paint Shop Pro, Imaging for Windows, Ulead Photo Express, etc. If a photo has been properly scanned you should be able to compress most 400 x 300 pixel photographs down to 20 k (20,000 bytes) without losing much visual clarity. Exceptions are when the image has many random small details, in which case you may only be able to compress it down to 35k. Try progressively higher compression ratios until the image starts going fuzzy then back off a little.
Compress images with fewer colours and mostly lines such as graphs, diagrams, and maps in the .gif format. Its different compression algorithm will give better results than .jpg for such images.
3. Use Text instead of buttons for navigation (e.g. menu items). Even a small button can occupy 3 k, and these buttons tend to multiply. Make skilful use of text, fonts, table cells and background colours instead.
4. Total size of all images on any page should not be more than 90 k., and most should be much less.

Q : I want to create a website for my temple or monastery. What should I put on it ?

A : Useful information or pictures about the temple or monastery, its address, phone number, email address, teachers, history, lineage, school, sect etc. 
You can include dhamma talks by the temple's monks or founders, times and dates of special ceremonies or regular functions.
EG "Chanting and meditation is at 6 am and 6.30 pm", "Venerable X will be visiting and giving a talk on October 16th 2001".
Be sure that such information is frequently maintained and corrected if necessary. It's rude to invite people to your site and then give them incorrect or out of date information. If you can't devote ongoing time to simple website maintenance you should reconsider creating it in the first place.
Your subject matter should match the website description. E.g. if your website is for a temple or monastery you shouldn't upload a lot of general Buddha images to it, or general Buddhist texts - better to create a separate website for "Buddha images and texts".
Remember that there are already many excellent specialist sites on the web with wonderful images and texts, there is not a lot of point in trying to duplicate them.

Q : How do I upload my website from my PC to the website host ?

A : Normally you will use a "FTP" (File Transfer Protocol) program such as WS_FTP. You can download a free copy from here. You use this program to "login" to your website on the host computer (you will need a userid and password). It will display 2 windows, the files on your PC in the left window and your files on the host computer in the right window. You can click on two arrows in between the 2 windows to transfer files (e.g. web pages, pictures or audio or video clips) in either direction.

Q : How do I get "Domain Name" for my website e.g. www.buddhadamma.org ?

A : Visit the website of a "domain registry" company e.g. http://web.dotster.com , check whether the domain you want is available, then register it and pay about US$15 per year using a credit card to keep it.

Q : How do I let people know where my website is ?

A 1 : Register it with Search Engines

Registering your site with search engines will enable people to find your website. Web addresses where you can add your site to a Buddhist category within a search engine :-

DMOZ (used by AOL, Google, Netscape Search)
HotBot
Yahoo
Northern Light
Webcrawler
Buddhanet not a search engine, but lists thousands of Buddhist sites

A 2 : Register it with Web Rings

Web rings are similar to search engines, but only contain addresses of similar types of websites, so there is less "junk" to ignore. When you request to join a suitable webring you will be given some HTML code which you will need to add to the first page of your site. This code "links" sites together and enables visitors to click from one site to the next.
Homepages of some Buddhist webrings :-
Dharma Ring : http://www.dharmaring.org/
Theravada Webring : http://i.webring.com/hub?ring=theravada
Oz Ring (Australia) : http://www.watthaitemple.net/talon/ozbuddhist.htm

Page updated 18th February 2008