W3C Style Guide

Web Etiquette

There are a few conventions which will make for a more usable, less confusing, web. As a server administrator, or webmaster as they are known (the term having been coined on this page, below) you should make sure this applies to your data. This Guide gives more ideas for all information providers. See especially:

Your server administrator needs these things set up once per server:

A welcome page for outsiders

You don't have to have any particular structure to the data you publish: you can let it evolve as you think best. However, it is neat to have a document on each host which others can use to get a quick idea (with pointers) of what information is available there. You should put a "pass" line into your daemon rule file to map the document name "/" onto such a document. As well as a summary of what is available at your host, pointers to related hosts are a good idea.

Welcome home?

The welcome page for a server is often now called a "home" page because it is a good choice for a client to use as a home (default) page. The term "home" page means the default place to start your browser. Don't be confused by this, though. There are two separate concepts.

The welcome page will be welcoming those new to your server who want an overview of what it contains. It will serve a similar purpose to your personal starting page, but it differs in the audience it addresses. Often, it only confuses things to have two, so people within the organization use the welcome page as their home. This at least ensures that they are aware of the public view of the organization. I don't do this myself, as I have many personal things on my home page, which I don't want on the organization's welcome page nor my own "welcome" page, my Bio. A welcome page may have explanations about what your server is all about which would be a waste of space on a home page for your local users. So you may want to make a separate home page for local users.

An alias for your server

If you have a serious server then it may last longer than the machine on which it runs. Ask your internet domain name manager to make an alias for it so that you can refer to it, instead of as "mysun12.dom.edu" as "www.dom.edu". This will mean that when you change machines, you move the alias, and people's links to your data will still work.

In the future [3/94] clients may come out of the box configured to look for a local "www" machine, to use its welcome page as "home" if no other default is specified. This means that anyone starting such a client within your domain will get a relevant place to start.

(See more discussion of whether to use "www.foo.com" or "foo.com")

An alias for yourself

You should make a mail alias "webmaster" on the server machine so that people who have problems with your server can mail you about it easily. This is similar to the "postmaster" alias for people who have mail problems with your machine.

Delegating control

The server administrator (the one with the root password) in principle has the power to turn the thing on or off, and control what happens. However, it is wise to have clearly delegated responsibility for separate areas of documentation. Maybe the server administrator has no responsibility at all for the actual content of the data, in which case he or she should just keep the machine running properly.

House style

The web has spread from the grass roots, without a central authority, and this has worked very well. This has been due in part to the creativity of information providers, and the freedom they have to express their information as directly and vividly as they can. Readers appreciate the variety this gives. However, in a large web they also enjoy a certain consistency.

If you are a person responsible for managing the information provided by your organization, you have to balance the advantages of a "house style" with the advantages of giving each group or author free rein. If you end up with decisions in this area, it is as well to write them down (not to mention put them on the web).

(on to Cool URIs don't change)
1992-95 Tim BL