Saturday, January 17, 2009

Confessions of an Inept Webmaster

Yes, I know I'm late with this blog entry; under the old schedule, when I always blogged before sleeping, this by rights would be my Friday night entry. But I'm here now, and I want to say a few words about webmastering.

I'm not very good at it.

Today, for example, I reloaded a Google Webmaster Tools page, and followed a link to something that told me about bad links Google has found. Having spent many hours over the past few weeks trying to eliminate such things, I was, shall we say, disappointed. So I fixed the ones that hadn't already been fixed (I hope!), and went on to work on something else I've been meaning to do: a custom 404 page. A 404 page, in case you don't know or have forgotten, is one of those annoying pages that tell you that the link you clicked or the web address you typed or pasted is wrong, wrong, wrong, and doesn't connect you to anything but an error message. If I can't completely eliminate such errors for all time on my site, I can at least have a 404 page with some personality, and helpful links.

Having struggled with font sizes and compatibility issues with all the other pages I've worked on recently, I thought about using one of the page building programs that come with my Yahoo web hosting service. I quickly discovered that I hate their Pagebuilder just as much in 2009 as I hated their Sitebuilder in 2002 (or whenever it was). The page comes with preformatted boxes that float on the page according to some fixed coordinates, rather than simply being centered. Maybe I'm a Luddite about this, but I'm much more comfortable putting a table in the center of the page, defining a certain number of pixels (I used to do percentages), and putting everything in there, knowing it will be centered (I hope) in any browser and screen resolution.

So I dumped the Pagebuilder window, and started my page in SeaMonkey, which has its own issues. The first part of that was fun: I went looking for a goofy picture of myself to go with the idea of being dismayed at getting a 404 page. I settled on the one above.

I'm going to publish this entry now and then keep working on it. Be right back!

I'm back. Anyway, I plopped a table on the new 404 page, added the photo on the top left, wrote an intro, and started listing links in a "Real Links" list. To make that link part easier, I opened the sitemap page I sent Google in the last day or two, and promptly discovered that it's not as complete as I thought. As I understand it, a sitemap is supposed to list every page on a website, along with data on how important the page is and how often Google should check it for updates. After much work, I'd gotten a third party sitemap generator to list 37 pages with no obvious bad links. Sound like a lot for a personal website, yes? But it doesn't list my Madeleine L'Engle pages, or the old church website, which forwards to the new church website. And on top of that, there are a handful of oddball web pages on the version of the church site that I'd never copied into the new church site. They weren't a sitemap for either site.

Passing Lourdes on the train from Toulouse to San Jean Pied du Port.
Photo by Rev. John R. Smith, 2005.
From Father Smith's Pilgrimage 2005

So I spent several hours compiling the 404 page, and then got sidetracked with the MIA church pages. They're from Father Smith's 2005 pilgrimage along El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He took a bunch of seriously cool pictures on his long walk through (mostly) Spain, and I posted them at the time. But I only ever linked to them from the church's news blog and schedule page, so it's been years since anything current linked to them at all.

To import the pages into, I started a subdirectory (a folder) called "camino," found an FTP (file transfer protocol) tool, and located the photos on my hard drive. I eventually figured out how to transfer a bunch of them at once. But then I had to update the pages themselves, which still pointed to Eventually I started copying the HTML into Word, doing a bunch of search and replace, and then pasting the result into the html of the online version of each page. Hours and hours later, I'm still at it. It's not just the links that were outdated; I also have to fix font formatting in many cases, because the old html those pages were written in often translates into something very wrong when the GoDaddy page editor (GoDaddy being the host for the church site) gets hold of it.

And I've just discovered that although I uploaded all the photos, I never finished building the pages to display them. My very favorite photo of Father Smith on that trip isn't even on the pages I built. Grr. Argh.

So that's what I've been up to all day and all night, except for the required trip to the dog park. And I'm going to get back to it now. I'll check in with you later tonight, with my scheduled Saturday night entry.


Much later (4:56 AM): Okay, I got those pages uploaded and in acceptable shape, but it's way too late to blog tonight, considering I have church in the morning. Catch you Sunday afternoon (MST)!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I hired a very young girl with a much older bf. She would go on and on about his being a WEBMASTER.
Then one day, very quietly, she said: I've noticed lots of times he doesn't seem to know how to do things right, and he gets frustrated. Does that happen to Webmasters(asked in a hushed tone)?

HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Yeah, that happens. Any advanced computer knowledge is very warped and creaky at best for me. 404 means don't go there. It doesn't work. I move on :-)~Mary