26Th Computer Applications in Archaeology

Barcelona, March 24-28 1998

Topic: Using Computers and Computer Networks in Heritage Diffusion and Teaching

A Web site engine for the development of heritage-related sites

 

Leonel Morgado (*), Arsénio Reis (*), Mila Abreu (*), Joel Bicho (*),

Arlindo Santos (*), Mário Guedes (*), João Barroso (*), Pedro Melo-Pinto (*), Helena Lobo (*),

Alberto Proença (**) e José Bulas-Cruz (*)

 

(*) Projecto GEIRA

University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro Computer Centre

Apt.202, 5001 Vila Real Codex

Tel (059) 320356   Fax (059) 320480   Email: jcruz@utad.pt

(**) Projecto GEIRA

Centro de Informática da Universidade do Minho

4700 Braga, Portugal

 

Traditional Web site development follows several independent stages: theme analysis, site-structure design, graphical design of the site, and site-structure implementation.

Under the project GEIRA, a large number of Web sites for archaeological sites and museums are being created. Each one is, in its own way, unique. But many features are common to all sites or, at the very least, widespread. Other attempts have been made to take advantage of these common features [NETSQUARED 1996]. The time and effort involved in implementing similar features would certainly be very useful elsewhere, should it be available.

While developing a number of sites for museums in the north of Portugal, the need for a systematic approach to site development became evident (sites under construction are listed in a companion paper entitled "Beyond traditional Web pages design - a communication language between designers and web page developers"). Figure 1 shows a screenshot of a page from one of these sites, from a silk-industry archaeology project site, in the region of Macedo de Cavaleiros.

The key idea is to take a systematic approach [LAYZELL 1989]. The Web-site engine associates a web-site page structure with a database. Inserting a new record in the web-site database would then automatically generate the main features and structure of a new web site. This is a step beyond the current database-oriented web site development approach, which is mainly content-based [GORMAN 1997].

The development team effort could then focus on the unique features and requirements of each site.

Two steps composed the development of such an engine:

·         Definition of the database fields – identifying the relevant features common throughout the several sites;

·         Implementation of a flexible structure for the Web pages, capable of responding to the different design demands of each new site, using Active Server Pages [MICROSOFT 1997].

The first step starts out as a flat-level study – that is, collecting as much information as possible, sorting it out, and finally stepping back in an effort to see the full picture. Common information fields can then be detected, ranked for relevancy and selected for inclusion in the Web sites.

Co-operation with a graphic design team is then necessary to ascertain a group of possible designs to be used for all sites. Those designs will most likely require the use of specific graphic elements for decoration, clearer presentation of information, etc. Together, the "design elements" and the information fields make up the web site database. For greater access speed and efficiency, graphic elements are stored in the database as references – links – to the actual graphic files, which reside on the Web site's directory structure.

Figure 1: Screen of the silk-industry archaeology project site, Macedo de Cavaleiros' region.

The second step considers the several graphic design possibilities and uses Active Server Page (ASP) technology to dynamically create Web pages based on the database elements. The server-interpreted code technology of ASP allows each page to adjust itself according to each database record's properties. This could also be achieved with DHTML, but the result would then be browser-dependent, since a DHTML-compatible browser would have to be used. That is in itself a complex issue, since the two main browsers' DHTML implementations differ. Using ASP ensures that the Web pages will be viewable by the largest possible audience, since the client file is plain HTML code.

The main point to address in this second step is ensuring that the underlying structure can automatically respond to each site record's properties, avoiding the need for a tune-up at each subsequent web site development.

The potential uniqueness of each heritage-related site is allowed for in the database-field definition stage. At that stage, specific screen areas can be reserved for the display of independent information, i.e. areas that are capable of hosting sub-sites. Specific control areas must also be defined at such a stage in order to account for possible communication requirements between the unique sub-sites and the enclosing site structure. The sub-sites can then be developed by independent teams, and be fitted into the overall structure as simple plug-in/plug-out "modules".

Acknowledgements

This work has been supported by the EC programs Interreg II (contract number 02/REGII/6/96) and Feder, and by FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia).

References

[MICROSOFT 1997] Microsoft InterDev Developer's Reference, Microsoft Corporation, USA, 1997.

[GORMAN 1997] GORMAN, T., How CNET does it.
URL site: http://www.cnet.com/, and URL document: http://www.cnet.com/Content/Builder/Business/HowCnet/?dd. Cnet, Inc., USA, 1997.

[NETSQUARED 1996] MuseumNet, http://www.museums.co.uk/, NetSquared Internet Solutions, Bedford, UK, 1996.

[LAYZELL 1989] LAYZELL, P. and LOUCOPOULOS, P., Systems Analysis and Development, 3rd Edition, Chartwell-Bratt. Bromley, Kent. UK, 1989.