While I’m on my so-called “sabbatical” from the tutorials, I did go through a few of some “throwback thoughts.” What this means is that I touch base on some current and past practices done on hobbyist websites (particularly towards fansites and shrines), its background/history, and how they were changed at the time this blog is written. I’m giving it its subcategory underneath the Commentary section, in case I want to make it as a separate section on the nav.

The first edition of Throwback Thoughts, I will be writing my thoughts and opinions on some certain practices that were used to build (and in a way maintain) a fansite and/or a shrine. I will be posting a few discrete screenshots without revealing which sites I got these from. The reason being because I am writing of these practices in general and not specifically targeting a person or a particular site. 1 After all, this is an entry that should have everyone who do websites give some thought to themselves and maybe wonder, “why the heck have I been doing this for?” Some of these may offend some others, even though I am not out to attack or offend anyone, but then again, this is my site, my blog, my words, and I’m its admin/moderator.

I promise this to be short, concise, unabridged; everything is raw from my inner voice. Let’s get started.

I. Mystery (Meat) Menus

kinomoto.nu mystery menu
© 2001 kinomoto.nu

One of the biggest trends in the early 2000s decade of web design and development are the concept of mystery meat menus. These are the types of navigational menus where they’re represented by something else other than what the page names were intended. With the help of CSS, simple Javascript, and Photoshop (or any similar image editing program), we can create a standard website into something a lot more creative and artistic. In a way, that’s when the term web designer first appeared. Of course, because we were noobs back in those days, we only cared about what looked good and appealing to attract more visitors, when in some moments, we even forget about the simple functionalities that would make the site work for everyone, especially those who may have sight or movement disabilities.

One of these practices as a cause of attempting to make our layouts look like pieces of interactive art were called mystery menus. Rather than representing them with sections that lead to those specific sections (Home, About, Gallery, Links, Contact, etc.), we represent these pages with something else unrelated, such as different shapes or poetic words that fit the layout’s theme/subject. In the case of this example, those four little circles were also backed up with Javascript rollovers, therefore, when you move your cursor to those circles, you’ll actually see a rollover with the actual section to show readers where this particular circle leads to.  Plenty of fansites/shrines use this kind of method, but many others who use the mystery menu method don’t have any Javascript rollovers on them, so users were left to figure out themselves which menu item would take them to and what not.

I would also like to insert the fact that while we web designers tend to have our designs as beautiful and as poetic along with the words that go along with it, we also failed (back in those days anyway) that not all visitors/users are that design-influenced or even cared about being poetic. When this is purely a fact, we also failed to realize that having these mystery meat menus could also bring inconvenience to these said visitors altogether. Different browsers function in different ways, and some browsers don’t show the URL at the bottom of the browser screen like more familiar ones like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. The whole accessibility issue just came into play with this particular trend that after having some thought, I stopped doing this altogether, javascript rollovers or not, and just be direct and straight to the point.

And today…?

I believe that many of us highly improved with the handling of the navs in our sites, be it small or big, one page or more, etc. There are still those (will not name names) who still use this whole mystery meat menu concept. I understand being artistic on the web level, but in the period of convenience that we live in right now, just being artistically beautiful on your sites just doesn’t suit anyone. It’s pointless for a webmaster/mistress to say things like “if you don’t like how my site looks, don’t ever come back” because really, the visitor won’t have a problem not coming back to your site. You, as a webmaster/mistress on the other hand, will have a problem with gaining hits and earning a recognized reputation for your site alone. Why bother, right?

CSS has made rollovers a lot easier for us instead of copying/pasting the Javascript rollover code all the time. I believe it’s time to just have the nav links be direct to the point and still remain artistic and beautiful. There are still a few who still has this mystery meat menu practice, but these only apply to websites that are still existing but no longer being updated or maintained since the last decade.

II. Domain Name =/≠ Name of the site… right?

Let me give you an example of what this means. This is all fictional, but an example nevertheless. Just bare with me on this one:

Domain Name: sweet-memories.net

Site Name: The Dark Inertia Network 2

まじで?!3

I completely understand if one would like to have a special name for their site if their domain name happens to be his/her own name (like for a personal site or a portfolio), or if that site name is a subtitle of the domain name. But, a domain name using random/matching words and then naming the site itself with something else unrelated (like the example above) is something that I would continue to fail its purpose. Let me explain further.

Say I’m just an everyday internet user looking for sites to visit out of curiosity. When I see the name of a site, that name of that site would be implanted in my head that the domain name would be the same as the site name. I would be thinking that the URL would be dark-inertia.net without realizing it that the domain name is completely different from that. I would find it inconvenient for me to search Google for that site, especially when it’s highly possible that none of these fansites/shrines have SEO 4 implemented in them. Sure, I would have bookmarked it, but I have gazillions of bookmarks that sometimes I get mixed them up in my bookmark folders, so yes, I find this inconvenient as a user.

What can also help with establishing the domain name from the site name would probably something like this:

The Dark Inertia Network @ sweet-memories.net

Sweet Memories: The Dark Inertia Network

Sweet Memories (a.k.a. The Dark Inertia Network)

Sweet Memories Network

Whenever I visit a site like this (regardless of what the site’s purpose may be), the first thing that I would do is to visit their About section. If there’s no About section, then there must be some info about the site itself and its background on their Site section, Network section, or anything that’s closely related to a section that talks about the site altogether. 5 The reason why I do this so that I can further understand why the webmaster/mistress did something like this, just on the naming alone. A few of the ones I’ve visited actually had a brief explanation of the domain name and the site name and why the webmaster/mistress decide to have these two names different from each other. That, maybe I can understand their reasonings. But most of the sites I’ve visited with this type of practice have no explanation whatsoever about the domain name, the different site name, and the relationship towards each other and/or towards the webmaster/webmistress or the purpose of the site. Okay, that’s a mouthful.

I’m pretty sure that most everyday internet users won’t really care, but keep in mind that every internet user is different from one another. Some are curious with the non-technical stuff alone, such as the domain name and the site name, their relationships with each other, the webmaster/mistress, the purpose of the site, and everything. I do what I can to explain why I named my sites with the name I chose, regardless if the site and domain names are the same or different. I read books and do art myself, which is why I would be a lot curious (and maybe irritated) with this practice without even knowing a single thing about web designing or development.

Going back to the second example where I listed out possible site titles, if you ask me, I rather be direct to the point with the purpose of my site, let alone just the name. I would go with the last item of that list. Short, but sweet.

And today…?

This practice never really went away. It still exists. A lot of these webmasters/mistresses would probably say something that “only (anime/manga/video game) fans visit my sites, why should I cater to other people who aren’t?” The question is, how do you know that for a fact? I become a fan of something just by visiting a site dedicated to a subject I’m unfamiliar with and eventually become interested in them, and I’m sure I’m not the only visitor who thinks this way. That’s all I could say. 😓

III. Synonyms and Purposes of the “About” Section

Let’s say, you came upon a collective site of some sort and then you come across any one of the following nav menus:

About / Network / Sites / Others / Exits / Contact

About / Domain / Network / Sites / Others / Exits / Contact

Domain / Network / Others / Exits / Contact

Intro / Domain / Network / Sites / Others / Exits / Contact

Intro / About / Domain / Network / Sites / Others / Exits / Contact

Intro / Info / Domain / Network / Sites / Others / Exits / Contact

(etc., etc.)

If you ask me first and foremost, there’s nothing wrong with the names of these nav items. The only problem that I’m having here is that different webmasters/mistresses use these section names for different purposes from one another that I start to get confused to see which one of them really is their About section of the site. There are even times where their About section talks about something else other than the site or the subject intent itself.

There will be times where the About section would be about the site’s subject itself, but nothing about the background and history of the site altogether. Sometimes they consider About and Domain as two different things/purposes, where the Domain talks about the site itself. There are also times where the About section talks about the subject intent and the site’s background/history altogether, while Domain simply talks about the background of the domain name and where it was first purchased. And so on and so forth with the rest of the other sections.

In the early days, I admit that I used to have similar nav menus like these. In my old funyaragaNU collective domain, I had the following: About / Domain / Network / Sites / Exits / Contact. The About section was about the subject intent of the site. Domain talked about the domain name, its background, and relationship to me and to the subject intent. Network talked about the barebones of tools and techniques that I used to build the site. The other three were self-explanatory.

One good remedy to the issue of the confusion between the sections is to put up a site map somewhere within the site, where it lists down all the sections and the description of each section and what we are to expect to see in those sections. I haven’t really visited a fansite with a site map before, so to many hobbyists, this section may be irrelevant to them. It would still help though.

And then, for some design convenience reasons in its future layouts, my nav menu was minimized and brought a lot of a few sections into one. My last layout (before I shut this collective down) had this nav: About / Sites / Others / Exits / Contact

And today…?

It’s not very surprising that this particular practice still exists today, but in some cases, the nav menus have gotten a lot cleaner and more compact. With CSS frameworks like Bootstrap or with popular CMS software like WordPress, we can now see some of these items as submenus (Domain / Network) of one major item: About. With my sites though, I just put everything in the About section with no submenus whatsoever. I understand that organization is a huge component in web designing and development, but to have synonyms of one major nav menu (About) and interchanging them with different content and purposes is just way too much for an everyday user. It’s way too much for me to navigate. Someone’s About section may be different from another person’s and call it something else. You get the idea. 😐

IV. Javascript “Page Navigation” at the footer of  static sections

Back Clear ForwardFor over a decade now, whenever we visit a fansite or a shrine, I’m pretty sure that you may have noticed that most of them have one thing in common: The javascript “pagination” right at the footer of their site. In short, you would see something like this screenshot here. Other words that you may see in that trio of navigation links at the bottom can go by Prev / Clear / Forward or Prev / Home / Forward. 6

There’s nothing wrong with seeing that page navigation trio at the bottom of the site, however, what I fail to understand here is why this would be added on static sections of this site. What I mean by static sections is that these sections (pages) don’t have any dynamic functions behind them, such as with Javascript (except for that navigation trio) or PHP. It would make sense to me if they have a section of news and updates and that they save these posts manually in different pages (like a blog, for example), but then seeing these at the bottom of static sections like the About section or the Sites section or even the Exits/Links section?!

What was the webmaster/mistress trying to tell us here? Were we supposed to visit all of the sections in order, rather than just click on whichever section that we want to go to? If this little part of the site was meant to be optional, why put it there in the first place?

Back in the early days, we all fell in love with Photoshop and others like Paint Shop Pro, giving us the abilities to create our own (edited) graphics and making an entire website layout into a work of art with the help of image maps and/or image slicing. The only problem with image maps was that when the web server becomes unstable and the connection would be dragging and slow, there will be a lot of broken images that would go all around the layout. This, of course, includes image maps and sliced images. When this happens and the webmaster/mistress becomes aware of this situation, there are two ways that they could remedy this situation:

  1. The whole javascript “page navigation” practice that you’re seeing in this section now, or…
  2. Rewrite the same nav items in text format at the footer instead of the screenshot you’re seeing now.
  3. Depending on the layout, there could be a sidebar on all the static sites with the same nav items listed down in text.

It seems that most of the fansites/shrines I’ve come across would go for #1. Me, on the other hand, would go for #2. The reason why I go for #2 is for one major reason: users can navigate through the site with whatever section they want to go next, instead of pressing prev/back or next/forward numerous times just to get to that particular section. #3 may be a good remedy to this issue, but the problem with this one is that most likely, this sidebar would not appear on the home page, and once again, our curious user is still stuck with the broken images.

And today…?

Thanks to the introduction of CSS3 and its @font-face property, we can now use custom fonts to display all our nav menus on our sites. Because they are still text and not images, we won’t have a problem with seeing the main nav as broken images should the server starts to get unstable again. On the other hand, regardless of this, I’m still seeing newer fansites/shrines who still use that Javascript “page navigation” at the footer of the site. I don’t know if the webmaster/mistress would add this just for the sake of nostalgia or the fact that they just copy/paste everything from their previous designs without any regard on making them a little different, I’ll never know the reason why.

And for that, I still fail to understand this practice when, dare I say it, see this feature as being useless on static sections/pages.

Conclusion?

There’s actually more to this list than what I have now, but the entry is getting a little too long. A Part 2 of this entry will be worked on the next time. Plus, I got other stuff that I need to do that needs to be done before I end up putting them off again. In addition, my mind is a little exhausted but inspired all at the same time. That is, inspired to do cool, awesome, enjoyable things.

I know that some of you may feel offended, and like I said in the beginning, I’m not out there to offend anyone. After all, if I were to offend anyone, then I wouldn’t be giving out a few tips on remedying the issue. 7 Sadly, I had to write all of these here because if I did write this somewhere else, I’ll be getting the banhammer for speaking out my feelings and opinions. Oh well.

Back to classes and what not. 😊

On the sidenote…

  1. In fact, some of these screenshots are from my old sites too, so I’m criticizing myself as well. In fact, I’ll mention the source of the screenshots when they come from my own projects.
  2. or something just unrelated to the domain name, the webmaster/mistress, or even the site’s purpose
  3. Really?!
  4. search engine optimization – keywords that would have Google read and bring them at the top of the results list when searched
  5. Don’t get me started with this one, because this is actually what I’m going to talk about next.
  6. I’m not sure what we’re “clearing” at that point whenever I see that word “clear.” I don’t know how the word “clear” would be related to simply returning to the home page. I’m not saying this in sarcasm now…
  7. Even though I know some of you may not even consider the tips and remedies that I provided through this article.