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  • The MarkUp language to be used on a site.
  • The security systems that must be implemented.
  • The file formats that can be used.
  • The screen dimensions the website must be designed for.

It is important to emphasise that a Website Standard is not merely a list of aspirational rules. On the contrary, it must state in clear and unambiguous terms how a site must be managed with respect to the environmental and operational constraints of the business.

As such, the first step for creating a Website Standard is to explore all these constraints in full. These are:

  1. The Environment
  2. Established and Emerging Industry Practice
  3. Organisational Values
  4. Organisational Policies
  5. Organisational Practice
  6. Organisational Website Infrastructure

1. The Environment

'The Environment' is a term used to describe elements that shape Website Management at the highest of levels. Drivers in this area are often set directly by government or indirectly as a result of high-level trends in society. For example, among the chief constraints in this area are:

The Law

The law encompasses legislation, directives or court judgements that have the power to influence web activity. These typically comprise:

  • Privacy and Data Protection
  • Criminal Damage
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Copyright
  • Electronic Commerce
  • Disability
  • Official Languages

Technology

The rate of change in technology is a powerful influencer on web development. For example, think of a site that was released in 2003 but has not been redeveloped since. If this site is not renewed soon, it is in danger of being sidelined. This is because many of the web practices that were current in 2003 have now been superseded, e.g. by Web Standards.

Politics

Most nations have long since recognised the opportunities provided by the internet and are eager to ensure their citizens realise its potential. Because of this, governments are investing millions in internet awareness programmes and business schemes as a means of getting people online. This can be of assistance to organisations who require extra funding or support.

Economy

While the bubble years of the 90s are long gone, eCommerce continues to grow as more and more people discover the convenience of buying goods or services online. However, this expansion is a double-edged sword because a strong market has the knock-on effect of making staff more expensive to hire.

Society and Culture

Research by Google recently found that UK citizens now spend more time on the internet than watching TV. Organisations that are prepared for this change in consumer habits (e.g. by developing high quality, engaging content) will find they have an advantage over those that are not.

2. Established and Emerging Industry Practice

Industry Practice is defined as a set of conventions that are central to the activities of a specialised community of interest. Some of the most widely accepted web practices (as of 2006) include:

  • XHTML 1.0 as a choice of MarkUp language.
  • CSS 2 as a choice of Presentation language.
  • WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 as means for evaluating the accessibility of a website.

Any website that ignores these factors is deliberately condemning its users to a poorer-quality online experience.

3. Organisational Values

Organisational values are the set of attributes that define corporate personality. When applied to a website, they play a central role in the development process. For example, a business that adopts 'trust' as a key value, implies that the emotional relationship it has with customers is of overriding concern and needs enforcement by making a substantial investment in security equipment. In this way, values are an important constraint on development activity.

4. Organisational Policies

Policies are the rules by which a business sets limits to the behaviour of its staff. Some of the most common policies that affect web management include:

  • Security Policy
  • Privacy Policy
  • Corporate Identity Policy
  • Ethics Policy
  • Customer Care Policy

5. Organisational Practice

When undertaking development work, staff may have a number of preferred techniques or conventions that they rely on. Practices of this type are often based on existing skills, company traditions and preferences for technology, e.g. Open Source versus Licensed Products. This means that any attempt to create a site that is not based on existing practices or preferences will meet with staff resistance.

6. Organisational Website Infrastructure

The final set of constraints to be reflected in a Website Standard derive from the infrastructure that is used to host a site. Website Infrastructure encompasses all of the hardware, software and other technology needed for hosting. It is the technology used within the infrastructure solution that determines its effect on site management. For example, a site with a high performance server can tolerate more traffic than one with low grade technology.

We now know all the elements that need to be reflected in a Website Standard. The means by which such a standard may be written will be explained in the next article (July 2006).