The December meeting of the Scottish Region was addressed by John Fender, the Region's Vice Chair and Webmaster who took a look back a the development of the Scottish Region Website. It all began with an informal discussion in a hostelry after a CIT Scottish Branch meeting when the discussion got round to the then new phenomenon, the World Wide Web.
How the CILT Scottish Region Website looked in 2000.
© John G. Fender 2011
In what John called a "moment of madness" he found himself stating boldly that it would not be difficult to build a Scottish Branch website for the CIT and so a few weeks later the Scottish Branch website was unveiled on an unsuspecting Internet. John took a look at the development of computers and the Internet and highlighted the rapid pace of development from the introduction of the IBM PC in 1981 and the invention of the Internet in 1991.
He looked at some of the early computers, both for business use and home use, and the development of the Internet, including the "browser wars of the mid 1990's before outlining how he developed the Scottish Branch website.
With the merger of the CIT and ILT for form today's institute, changes to the Scottish Branch website were necessary and the start of the evolution of today's Scottish Region website had begun. John used many archive illustrations of how the website looked in those days to show how it has changed over the years. Some of these early versions of the website now look quite antiquated!
The 2001 redesign of the website was the first where element's of today's website could be seen as some of the features have been continued to this day. An example being the colour scheme and the adoption of strict compliance with international website standards. A particular feature was the rating of the website with the Internet Content Rating Association, guaranteeing that the website contains no content that some people could find offensive or embarrassing and that it is safe for young people to browse.
John looked at how changing Internet fashions have impacted on the website and highlighted changes that were necessary to keep the website up to date. He explained why the graphics had changed over the years. The early website had garish colours and animated graphics that whilst at the time were accepted as being normal practice, would today be frowned upon as they are distracting and inaccessible to those with visual impairments. He looked at the changes in the size of computer screens over the years and how the website had to adapt to these.
Photography on the Internet is another area that has changed over the years. The early photographs were taken using a 35 mm film camera, prints were obtained, then scanned and edited. Now a digital camera is used, making the process much simpler and quicker.
Another redesign took place in 2002, this time with the aim of improving the graphics and making the website look more professional. This involved removing the distractions, such as animated graphics. The site from having a coloured background for the pages to a plain white background to make it easier to read. A number of designs were looked at before the one used was selected. The menus were tidied up and it became easier to navigate around the website. At this stage the menu was still based on graphics. The Scottish Saltire flag that was a feature of the website was changed from an animated graphic to a static one, or as John put it "the flag was starched". This version of the website also introduced the events listing that is basically the same as that used today and included popup additional information.
Yet another makeover took place in 2003, this time the main change was to replace the graphic based menu with a plain text one as this improved accessibility for people using assistive devices, such as screenreaders and at the same time by reducing the size of each page in terms of the code used, speeded the loading of pages in web browsers. Also introduced at this time were a number of measures aimed at making the website accessible under the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act and taking recommendations issued by the Royal National Institute for the Blind into account. For example, every photograph now has a file describing it for people using screen readers and who cannot see the photograph. The opportunity was also taken to add "longdesc" attributes to photographs for the future, as this will become the standard in time. Larger sizes of photographs were introduced, mainly to cope with the increasing size of computer screens and to avoid the photographs being the "size of a postage stamp" on large monitors.
A minor change in 2004 introduced the Scottish Region's online booking system and although this worked, it was decided by the committee that all bookings would be handle by the Institute's Corby Office, resulting in the withdrawal of the facility at the end of the 2004 - 5 session. Also added to the website at this time was the mapping facility to show the location of all events. This is a free service provided by streetmap.co.uk
John Then took a look at the "behind the scenes" work and showed how the website is built using nothing more than a simple plain text editor, an a detailed knowledge of XHTML (Extensible HyperText Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) He also showed how the photographs are edited and illustrated how the colours used on the website were checked to ensure that those with the most common forms of colour blindness (protanopia, deuteranopia and tritanopia) were still able to see the website easily.
To bring the story up to date, John finished off by looking at the development of the current design, from its beginnings as a sketch on a sheet of paper to the finished article, now live on the Internet. This redesign introduced a completely new menu bar replacing the old menu down the left hand side and this vastly improved the navigation of the website. New graphics were designed for the page headings. Every page on the website was rewritten and the sitemap, something that had been somewhat clumsy before, was vastly improved. The Scottish Region website today consists of 330 pages (and growing), 170 photographs, 75 custom made graphics and gets about 3,500 hits per month (average).
The latest development is the incorporation of language translation facilities using Google's language translation facilities. By clicking on a flag on the homepage, users can read the website in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese or Korean.
The Scottish Region would like to thank John Fender for addressing the meeting and Edinburgh City Council for providing the accommodation and refreshments.
Report by John Fender.
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