A critical review of contemporary web development issues has been made
and a prototype website developed to provide a practical demonstration
of the application of many of those issues.
11.1 The e-business
The all-pervasive nature of the web is already impacting on the world
of business and its influence is set to continue growing for the foreseeable
future. For those businesses that can meet the challenges of the e-economy
unparalleled opportunities exist. In particular three major factors affecting
the e-business were identified:
- The non-commercial origins of the 'net have created an ethos in which
valuable content is made freely available. Sites hoping to attract and
retain visitors would do well to embrace this philosophy.
- Intelligent agent software (e.g. shopbots and pricebots) is likely
to make profit from artificially inflated prices infeasible. Instead
market share must be earned through differentiation by the provision
of some form of added value.
- Traditional business concepts such as long-term planning and managed
teams may no longer be applicable in the e-economy.
11.2 The Online Photographic Library
A number of existing online stock image libraries were critically analysed
and surveys of image users and photographers were conducted. As a result
of the research the following areas were identified as being those in
which improvements could be made:
- Free content and added value e.g. allowing royalty free usage of some
images (possibly with the requirement than an acknowledgement of the
source is made), online news and magazines.
- An emphasis on usability, i.e. clear and simple navigation and search
- Improved search mechanisms together with the facility for searching
across a number of collections (i.e. portals)
- A greater exploitation of the web's potential as a virtual community
i.e. facilitating the coming together of those with common or complementary
Casual surfing of the web reveals that, despite the ever-increasing sophistication
of sites, usability often continues to be overlooked or given insufficient
consideration. The work of leading human-computer interaction experts
was reviewed and some key principles for the design of usable web sites
The characteristics and needs of the user should always be foremost in
the developer's mind. The interface should not present a challenge to
the user (unless such a challenge is part of the site's purpose), instead
it should enable them to move swiftly and easily toward their goal.
Navigational controls should be consistently placed and should describe
their purpose clearly and unambiguously. Web features such as rollover
effects should be exploited to further emphasise the meaning of controls.
Feedback should be employed as a means of aiding the user to build an
accurate and meaningful conceptual model of the system. Such feedback
includes notifying the user of their current location within a site and
of system status e.g. indicating what is happening during a download.
A number of tools designed to extend the capabilities of HTML were critically
It was encouraging to find many powerful technologies (e.g. the Java
Development platform, Perl interpreters, ASP/VBScript, Apache and Windows
web servers) available for free or bundled with popular operating systems.
It was also encouraging to find vast repositories of pre-written scripts
also available for free or for provision of a link to the originating
All of the tools were found to be useful when employed appropriately.
The biggest criticism of the use of these tools in practice is that they
are frequently used gratuitously, without adding anything to the core
purpose of the site. In such cases they often serve to detract from the
site's usefulness by forcing users to endure lengthy downloads and often
diminishing usability by presenting a confusing interface.
11.5 Search and Retrieval
The need to catalogue and search images in the prototype web site was
considered in parallel with the issue of retrieving documents from the
World Wide Web. A enormous variety of information is now available to
a huge and global audience, however the sheer volume and diversity of
this immense data bank introduces the problem of information overload.
Current efforts to circumvent this problem are discussed, including the
standardisation of metadata and the use of thesauri to bridge vocabulary
11.6 Further Research
The project has highlighted a number of questions which could provide
points for further research, a few of which are listed below.
- e-commerce. Why have some e-businesses been hugely successful, while
others have failed spectacularly? What do consumers look for before
entrusting their custom to a cyber enterprise? What measures can be
taken to improve security and increase consumer trust?
- Usability. Which design features and which technologies contribute
positively to the user experience? Which are likely to encourage repeat
visits and sales?
- Information Retrieval. How should the search mechanism be designed
to produce the highest quality results for a diverse user set? How best
should multimedia resources such as images best be indexed for efficient
and accurate retrieval? To what extent can content based retrieval be
used to retrieve multimedia resources such as images? How can thesauri
best be designed and incorporated into the search process? How may research
in the field of artificial intelligence be incorporated into information
retrieval, e.g. the identification of likely phrases in a query string,
the use of natural language to receive queries and request further clarification
from the searcher.
11.7 Future Development of the Prototype
The web is a rapidly changing environment in which any individual offering
needs to evolve in order to continue to attract new and repeat visitors.
As twinIsles develops it is hoped that, in addition to a growing stock
of images, its breadth of content will expand to offer one or more of
- online tutorials;
- an online magazine;
- online photographic competitions, in which the winners were chosen
by site visitors;
- a one-stop search feature enabling visitors to locate images from
sources across the web
- the facility for users to purchase images online, i.e. secure server
technology and the capacity to accept credit card payments.
It is further hoped that the site will evolve in response to the wishes
of its users.
11.7.1 Revenue Generation
Despite its altruistic ethos twinIsles will eventually need to generate
revenue to perpetuate its existence.
The most likely source of revenue will be from the sale of higher resolution
versions of stock images. It is anticipated that these will be offered
on a non-exclusive royalty-free basis. This means purchasers would receive
the right to use the image in any way and as many times as they choose,
but also that images may be sold many times. Given the ease of reproduction
offered by digital technology it is felt that royalty-free licensing is
the most appropriate means of marketing twinIsles' product.
Another potential revenue source would be for twinIsles' to act as a
"shop widow" for other photographers work. The simplest means
of operating such a scheme would be for all images to be marketed under
the same terms with a commission being deducted from monies arising from
the sale of other photographer's work. This would have the advantage of
providing a unified purchasing process for the user. Alternatively, requests
for other photographers' work could be directed to the photographer concerned.
However, this would complicate the user experience.
In addition to being made available for publication purposes, images
from the collection could be offered for sale in the form of high quality
photographic prints e.g. for room decoration.
If twinIsles is able to build a reputation as a site offering valuable
free content, and to capitalise upon this in the form of high traffic
levels, a further form of revenue could be obtained from advertising.
twinIsles may be attractive to advertisers due its well-defined user groups,
i.e. photographers and image users.
Finally, it is envisaged that twinIsles will stand as a living advertisement
to my web development abilities. Visitors who may require advice and assistance
in developing their own web site will be invited to contact me in this