Why have a web site?

This is a short course in what is meant by the Internet, the World Wide Web, e-mail, e-commerce, domain names and other commonly-used terms. It assumes that you have no prior knowledge other than experience of using a computer. It will not teach you how to create your own site. However, MW Associates do undertake training in web design, and would be happy to discuss this with you.

At the bottom of the screen is a Glossary. Click on any highlighted text in the main document to find further information about the term. You can also click on highlighted words within the glossary for a description of those words. This ability to link from one location to another is an example of hyper-links, a big feature (in fact an integral part) of web pages. These pages are deliberately plain and simple.

To continue, just click on one of the subjects below, or scroll down to read the whole thing. If you can't be bothered with all this technical stuff and just want to talk to someone about your own website, click here and fill in the form. We'll then contact you as soon as possible - and we promise we won't get technical on you.

What is the Internet?
What is an InTRAnet?
What is a Web Site?
Some reasons why you should have one:

Domain name registration
Email
Company information, including contact names, departments
Up-to-date, high-tech, image
Product information:
Direct selling ("e-commerce")
Order processing
Customer feedback
Product support
Starting point for links to related topics
Low-cost world-wide advertising
Clubs and associations
Personal pages

How much does it cost?
How to get one


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What is The Internet?

In brief: Imagine lots of computers in a building or company connected together so they can share data. This is a network. Then imagine some means of linking the networks together across the globe so that one computer in one network can communicate with another computer in another network in another town, or another country or continent, more or less instantly. That's the Internet.

When two or more computers are connected together, and have the necessary software to communicate with each other, they are said to form a network. This enables messages to be sent from one to another and for one computer to use programs or data stored on another, usually a central "server", computer. Both programs and data are stored more economically and it is easier to ensure that everyone has access to the most recent information.

Computers within an office, or in the same building, are usually connected by cabling running through ducting in a similar way to power cables, or increasingly by low-powered wireless connection. Often, though, a company will want to connect to other branches throughout the country, or internationally. In this case lines will be leased from a third party, usually a telephone company or other type of communication organisation.

Because telephone lines were originally designed to carry a representation of sound it is necessary to use a modem to convert the noughts and ones of binary code, which computers use, into analogue signals, which are carried by telephone lines.

In addition to the familiar telephone cables, fibre-optic cables and micro-wave and radio-wave transmissions are used as they can carry far more signals. Satellites are being used, increasingly. Also, the conventional telephone system is allocating lines specifically for digital transmission, called ISDN or broadband connection.

Since the nineteen-seventies many of the larger networks have been able to communicate with each other, initially for military and then academic use. Thus the internet was born, although for many years it was the province of a very few specialists. With a "network of networks", controlled using procedures called TCP/IP and routers, it is possible for two computers to communicate via the best available route, and so the failure of one network does not mean the failure of the Internet as a whole. This was particularly important for military users during the cold war.

Apart from the ability to send messages to specific individuals, software evolved to post messages on virtual bulletin boards, which could then be read by any interested party. At first the province of electronics hobbyists, this facility began to be used by businesses, mostly computer-orientated, as a forum for support problems, "bug" fixes and general information. This was usually provided via BBS facilities

This was the situation, more or less, until the early nineteen-nineties. Then two things happened. Firstly, the World Wide Web and browser technology meant that there was a common interface for "surfing the net". Secondly, in 1995 the Internet finally moved from the control of academia and the military and became a commercial organisation. Businesses were starting to realise the potential of this medium. At first it was computer-related businesses who could see another opportunity to sell more PCs, but very soon other industries realised the potential for advertising their companies, keeping customers up-to-date with product and support information and then actually selling goods on-line, a procedure known as e-commerce.

At the same time there was a huge increase in non-business activity, with people using the Internet to communicate with families overseas, special-interest clubs, research for students, genealogy, to name a few. If more than half-a-dozen people are interested in something, chances are there is a web-page either in existence or being planned.

Also, the cost for an individual to use the Internet has fallen. For an individual, sitting at home or in a small company, the way into the Internet is via an ISP. At first, ISPs made both a monthly charge as well as a charge per minute for time spent on-line. This, in the UK at least, in addition to telephone company charges. Prices have fallen generally. Also, all ISPs are now accessible at local telephone rates. Since 1998, ISPs have become available which are completely free to the user and are paid for by advertising. With greater competition in the telephone industry, cable systems, faster modems and ISDN lines (which means that access time can be greatly reduced) and free ISPs, it is now very cheap for anyone with a reasonably modern computer to access the Internet.

There are some negatives:

Everyone has heard about the rampant pornography that is supposed to inhabit the Internet. It is, however, very easy to avoid if you don't go looking for it.

The technology to record visitors to certain sites (including pornographic) is quite sophisticated, so if you use a search engine to find a particular type of site, the chances are that you will receive email ("spam") giving you the URL of similar sites, or simply advertising related projects.

Another problem well-known to the newspapers is the danger of your computer becoming "infected". Any two computers with access to the Internet can communicate with each other. This does not mean that anyone has access to files on your computer which you don't want them to see, although, in theory this can happen if the ""spy" is clever and lucky. With some exceptions, you are in control of what you allow to be downloaded to your computer. However, although it is more or less impossible for a remote computer to, say, read your word-processing documents, it is possible to unwittingly copy a virus into your computer.


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What is an Intranet?

In brief: It's not a spelling mistake.

An intranet is an internal, private network, usually in a company or large organisation, that looks and acts like the Internet (actually more like the WWW) but isn't usually available to the outside world via the Internet. The same browser technology is used. Often hyper-links will take the user to external Internet sites. Apart from giving the user a common interface, an intranet is a very cheap way of keeping employees up-to-date with company news, policy, managerial structures, product information, etc.


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What is a Web Site?

In brief: A web site is is a collection of html-based document files, often with some graphic files to display still or animated pictures and/or audio files for speech or music, viewed using a browser, usually created with a common theme, e.g. for a company, club or individual, with hyper-links between the pages.

Usually, as in the Wolff Systems web site, part of which you are currently viewing, there is a main menu from which you can select other areas of the site. Sometimes a link will take you to another line in the same document (e.g. see the "Up Arrow" icon) or to another document within the site (e.g. to the Glossary, below), or to a page which is part of a different site altogether.

The documents are usually stored on a server or "host" accessible via the Internet or within a private Intranet. You cannot drive or walk to a web site, you don't need to wear a hard hat, like a building site. It is not necessary to know the physical location of the web document files which go to make up a site. Often the creator of the site is unaware of which country it is stored in.

The idea of a physical site is perpetuated by the use of the term "address" for the URL of a site.


Reasons why you should have a web site

It is difficult to imagine a company or organisation which would not benefit, either now or in the near future, from a presence on the Web. Here we list just some reasons:

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Domain name registration

What is a domain name?

Most ISPs provide some space on their servers for their customers' own web pages. If you used FreeServe, for instance, your site address would be:

http://www.yourname.freeserve.co.uk/

This is fine for family or club-related web pages, but for a professional-looking company site you really need your own domain name. Your own name is easier for your potential customers to remember, it is yours for life, once registered (so long as you keep up the payments) and it puts you on a par with the very biggest companies. Just having your own domain name on your stationery and advertisements gives a lot of credibility even if people never look at your site. It's crazy, but it's true.

Even if you really cannot justify a web site for your company now, chances are you will in a year or two, in which case it is important to at least register your company name now, while it is still available. For example, if your company is called Bert's Building Co., it is already too late to register yourself as BBC because it has been used for some years by the British Broadcasting Corporation (see their excellent site at www.bbc.co.uk). However, it may not be too late to register bertsbuild.co.uk or bbcompany.co.uk, but with each passing day the chances of availability are reduced.

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Email

In Brief: These days it is rare for a company to be without a fax machine. Increasingly, however, email is being used as an alternative. Email can be delivered directly to a specific employee's PC, does not require printing onto paper before being sent, can be sent anywhere in the world for the price of a very short local telephone call and can carry attachments.

Email, sometimes spelt with a hyphen (e-mail) is short for electronic mail, and is one of the most popular features of the Internet. With email and the Internet you can send messages to anywhere in the world for the price of a short local telephone call. Messages can be typed into your computer while you're off-line then a connection made just long enough to send the message. The message is first sent to your ISP and from there passed to the recipient ISP's server. When the recipient next connects to his or her ISP the message will be downloaded. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that email is similar to a fax, and that it is being sent from one telephone to another. This is not the case. The message will be held in a server (think of it as your pigeon-hole) until collected by the receiver. This means that it is possible to send and receive your email anywhere in the world. As long as you have access to a computer with an Internet connection you can communicate with all your customers and friends from your holiday island in the Caribbean, and they'll never know the difference!

As well as sending simple text messages, it is possible to attach other files to your message. These can be programs, word-processed documents, spread-sheets or pictures. Unlike a fax, these will be sent digitally so no deterioration in display quality will be experienced.

Every sender and receiver of an email has an email address. This is in the form of yourname@yourdomain, eg john@wolffsys.co.uk. Letters, numbers, hyphens and underscores can be used, so john_smith10@wolffsys.co.uk would be ok. When you register with an ISP you will be given, or allowed to choose if available, an email address. For instance, if you use CompuServeTM you will be allocated an address like 100557.3441@compuserve.com. With Dixon's FreeServeTM it would be yourfirstname@yourlastname@freeserve.co.uk. People abbreviate their names to make the address more manageable. johns or jsmith would be popular (if they were available) or sometimes nicknames are used for non-business addresses.

If you have your own web site (and, therefore, domain name) you can use the form myself@mycompany.co.uk which is, firstly, far more professional-looking for a business and, secondly, yours for life. If you use your ISP's domain name but want to change your ISP at some time in the future you have to change your email address (and your stationery, brochures, business cards, etc.)

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Company information

People will contact you only if they know your telephone or fax number, postal or email address. Furthermore, they may not have the name, internal 'phone extension number or email address of the person most appropriate for their enquiry. If your company is a busy one, or is complex organisationally, nothing is more likely to cause frustration among your clients than being kept waiting on the telephone only to discover that they have been put through to the wrong person. Having the company structure information easily accessible on a clearly laid out web page not only aids your customers but can drastically reduce telephone switchboard activity, leaving your receptionist more time to deal with each call properly.

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Up-to-date, "high-tech" image

Just having "www.mycompany.co.uk" on your stationery and advertisements gives an air of up-to-date professionalism, even if the observer never accesses the WWW. In the same way, a company which does not have a web site is perceived as being rather insular and not open with its clients. Again, this is before the actual web site has been accessed!

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Product information

Brochure information
Once people get used to the Internet, they begin to use it first for many different things. If they can use it to book holidays, search for hobby information, send messages to relatives in Australia, etc., they will, almost without thinking, use it to research product purchases. If you do not have a web site, they won't find your products. Printed brochures are expensive to produce and expensive to distribute and have a long lead time. Web-based product details are cheap to maintain and cost nothing to distribute. Many people do not want bulky publications cluttering up their offices, find them difficult to store effectively and often out-of-date. Customers can, if they wish, print just the page(s) relevant to them.

Prices
All the above points apply to product prices. Also, prices can change even more quickly than the product details themselves. This is often because of currency fluctuations. With a web site, it is possible to have overseas prices automatically updated daily, if you wish, linked to currency exchange rates.
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E-commerce

Athough massively over-hyped, resulting in many collapsed high-tech companies in 2000 and 2001,
E-commerce is still expected to be the big growth area over the next few years. With e-commerce, unlike other types of commerce, all the transactions involved in a sale are conducted via a web site. (Some products, like computer software or music, can even be delivered via the Internet.) The customer selects a product, possibly choosing from a range of optional extras, colours, etc., arranges delivery details, and pays, usually by credit card.

E-commerce is a big step for any organisation and it is vital that it is approached in a committed and professional manner. Properly implemented, it can be an important and significant marketing opportunity. It does require greater levels of security than other "brochure" web sites (so that credit card details cannot be accessed by others, for example) and a larger investment in web hosting facilities. However, this must be offset against resources in other areas, such as sales and telephone order-taking.

Even if you have no plans to introduce e-commerce in the foreseeable future, it is something which you would be better prepared for in the future if you at least have a brochure-type site in place.
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Order processing

This is really a part of e-commerce, but can be useful on its own, and does not need the same level of commitment in security, credit card processing, etc. Once a customer has placed an order (by whatever means) the progress and delivery of the order can be viewed via the web page. The customer can, at any time, enter his/her order number, often with a password allocated with the order, and view the latest delivery date and other details. This, again, can reduce customer frustration when making telephone enquiries, and reduces pressure and interruptions for your staff.

It is also possible to arrange for your suppliers to take their instructions from your web site, with links to your computerised stock control system. Obviously, the usefulness of this varies depending on the type of company you are.
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Customer feedback

Any good company values feedback from its customers and this can easily be incorporated into your web site. The comments are then sent to you via email.

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Product support

Product support and other queries are easily handled via a web site and email. They enable a customer to formulate his or her thoughts clearly before setting finger to keyboard, and the reply is often much clearer to follow when written. Your customer does not have to wait in a queue on a telephone, or keep calling back. Your reply can be printed and carried anywhere. A burglar alarm fault, for instance, may not be located near to a telephone. Also, it enables your support staff to handle queries in a more relaxed and measured way, and at any time.
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Links to other sites

There are thousands of reference sites on the
WWW. If you sell, say, herbs, you may like to link to a site detailing the history, varieties, locations, etc. of herbs. Maybe another site will offer tips on cooking with herbs. Other companies may want to link to trade organisations, standards (BS, ASA, DIN, ISO, etc.) bodies and mapping sites for directions of how to find them, and their branches. Usually, if you link to another site, that site will be happy to have a link back to you. So, anyone looking at your trade organisation's site will be able to find member companies in their particular town, i.e. you, or your competitors, if you don't have a web site!
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Low-cost twenty-four-hour world-wide advertising

Every second of every day, thousands of people around the world are using
search engines to find information about all sorts of things, including products which they may want to buy, if not now, at some time in the future. Someone looking for information on the latest four-wheel-drive off-road vehicle may just stumble across your garage and find that you have a similar second-hand model in stock. Someone looking for details of their forthcoming holiday area may find that a particular herb is cultivated there and, following links to receipts for that herb may find that your company supplies it. These examples are not far-fetched; there are thousands of routes by which someone could be led to your site.

People may not have an immediate need for your product or service. However, if they find your company interesting they may well store your URL in their Favourites list and come back to it later.

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Clubs and associations

If you have an unusual interest or hobby (and who hasn't?) the Internet is the ideal forum to exchange news, views and information with other like-minded obsessives. Your web site can act as a focus point for people to keep up-to-date with what's going on. If you have a specific interest or talent (perhaps you collect lead soldiers from the Boar War) you can build up links with similar, but not identical, sites (lead soldiers from other wars, blood poisoning, for example). Anyone interested in, say, Railways, may be intersted in model trains and be led, thereby, to your model soldier site. Best place for them, I say! All this is perfect for the Internet as it could build to a vast collection for long-term research projects. Also, you can link to commercial companies (maybe your own) which supply, in our example, model soldiers, trains, etc. - they may even thank you with a regular discount!

Particularly useful is where a group is meeting at different venues. A web page can make sure that everyone knows where they should be going, and when. Examples are: orienteering, running and walking, theatre and local history clubs. Genealogy (family trees) is very popular and, again, ideally suited to the web.

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Personal pages

The sordid end of the web page spectrum. This is where the Internet gets its bad name. Here you will find details of people's children's piano grades, graphic descriptions of the family labrador's recent rectal operation and out-of-focus pictures of pink drunkards on holiday in Ibiza.

Don't be tempted. Nobody cares!

If you want to tell your relatives about your life, e-mail them. Don't involve the rest of us with a web page. Thank you.

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How much will it cost?

Because payment to register your domain name, forward email, maintain web server space and create and maintain your web site all go to different organisations, costs can seem complicated, and furthermore can vary depending on what level of service you require. A small business site expecting a moderate number of visits, with no e-commerce, but with email, including "feedback"-type facilities could cost as follows:

80.00 to register your name, set up email forwarding, and
480.00 for us to create a simple web site, incorporating up to six separate pages, unlimited links, your company logo and some other graphics, including background.

Every year, on the anniversary of first registering:

25.00 to continue email forwarding and server space, and a further
25.00 for our administration of these services (if you wish us to provide this service).

After every two years from the anniversary of first registration you will be charged:

£80.00 to continue domain name registration.

To summarise, you could have your own domain name, unlimited email addresses and a web site for only 560.00, with nothing more to pay for a year.

You own the domain name, you own the web pages and are under no further contractual obligation to us.

Significant subsequent modifications to your site will be quoted for separately. Because everyone's needs are different, we have to reserve the right to quote individually.

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How to get a web site

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