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Let 'em grow

Sometimes the hardest step is the first one. I started on a site for my sister Lisa's saddle company, http://www.skyhorse.com three years ago, but after a lot of work it just didn't feel right to me. The problem was that I didn't have a seed to grow from. I was thinking "products" instead of "people."

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said that art was the flower of the human soul. Last month, when I visited the Skyhorse studio and watched them work, I saw the seed of an idea. I realized that the site wasn't just about saddles, but the souls who make them--my sister and her husband, Loren. Souls being difficult to photograph, I took several dozen digital photos of them at work, many of them close ups of their hands.

And that's where this "hand made" site started. The home page shows only their hands around their silver logo that "signs" their saddles. Their hands clearly show the strength and passion that goes into their work.

For me, that image of hands was such a strong seed that the site literally grew from it. The site's colors were taken from the photo. The banner and navigation show my sister tooling leather in her signature feather design. Even the typeface, Copperplate, was inspired by letters stamped into leather. Once that seed starts to germinate, there's no stopping it.

The next day, as we drove from Colorado to Arizona, to my mother's house, I sat in the front seat with my laptop computer, using NetObjects Fusion to build the site. From their hands to my hands to the web. Sure beat the long car trips we took as kids, fighting in the back seat. Of course my niece and nephew provided that action on this trip.

When I got home I pruned it. I used a graphics program called Xara http://www.xara.com, to slice the saddles out of their backgrounds so visitors could focus on them. The site was growing, naturally.

Then things got technical (and temporarily out of my hands). It took three weeks to get "Network Conundrums" to transfer the domain to the new ISP, a process that stalled until I got hold of the right people--my ISP's *PR* people who responded to a strongly worded e-mail in mere hours. (More about this problem, and how to avoid or solve it below, under tips).

While technology *can* get in the way, the web isn't about technology. It's about people and ideas. So if you're stumped for an idea, look at the people involved, and see what seeds you find.

If you can't see the idea seeds, then you probably have preconceived notions of what you "think" the site should be like (at least that's what happens to me). You've got to drop those notions to let the seeds show through. You can't grow a rose from a grape seed--but maybe what you really need is a grape. Ideas seeds have their own DNA--they're going to grow into what *they* want to be. Plant them. Tend them. Don't step on them. Just let them grow.

dwh sig

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The Easy Way To Add
Graphical Drop Down Menus

Want to create those interesting graphic pop-down menus you see on slick sites? It's easy to add them in NetObjects Fusion using the coolmaps GraphicMenu component.

GraphicMenu lets you build a dynamic navigation menu using your own graphics. GraphicMenu creates the complex Javascript automatically (but you need to create the graphics yourself). The results are impressive, and easy.

http://club.coolmaps.com/component_detail.cfm?nfx=91

If you're looking for an even simpler drop down menu component, look at coolmaps' Dynamic Menu2 which creates drop down text menus--you don't have to create any graphics. http://club.coolmaps.com/component_detail.cfm?nfx=89

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TIPS:
Keeping Control Of Your Domain Name

Moving my sister's domain name turned into quite an ordeal, taking three weeks, even for me, "Mr. Big Web Expert." The trouble? When my ISP parked the domain, they attached the wrong e-mail address, and since you need your e-mail address to verify your identity, I couldn't move the domain.

Countless e-mails and faxes to the domain company failed to get any response. Not a one. The ISP (who had incorrectly registered the domain) had a customer service department that didn't seem to care about customers know the meaning of the word "service." 

Finally, I had another seed of an idea. I realized that the domain name company clearly wasn't going to help, so I'd have to get my ISP (who was the technical contact) to do it. Now, ISPs may claim they can't do it, but they really just don't *want* to do it. When push comes to shove (and you may have to shove), they can do it in minutes.

I wrote a very strongly worded (but not angry) e-mail to the ISP's *PR people* (their addresses were listed right on the site, under corporate information). I wrote that I would tell everyone I knew to avoid this ISP like the plague and that news of their terrible technical support could, with e-mail alone, reach around the world to their potential customers faster than they could say, "Hey, where'd our market share go?"

I sent it on Sunday at 9 pm, fully expecting this e-mail to be ignored like all the ones I'd sent before it. But Monday morning I had three e-mails from the ISP. The first was from tech support saying they couldn't fix it. The next was from a support supervisor, saying they'd already made the change for me. And the third contained the cell phone number of the head of customer support, so she could personally help if the problem wasn't solved.

The lesson? While "Customer Support" should support you, often they don't, because they are too busy or too disinterested. But it's the job of PR people to make sure that they don't get bad press, so if you can convince them that you can give them bad press, it's amazing how fast they can solve your problem. If they still don't, change ISPs immediately, if not sooner, and see if your new one will help.

So what can *you* do if you run into a similar network conundrum?

  1. First, try to avoid this by making sure your domain name registration has your correct e-mail address. Check it right now. If it doesn't, get to work now, before you really need it.
  2. If the e-mail address is wrong, see if your ISP can set up an e-mail account that matches the incorrect address, then forwards the e-mail to you, so you can update the domain record.
  3. If your ISP isn't helping, find out the e-mail address of their PR people and tell them you're going to email thousands of people to say how bad the ISP's service is. Also mention that you will post on newsgroups, as well as post bad reviews on sites like http://www.epinions.com , cnet.com and zdnet.com
  4. If you use Network Solutions, make sure you change your "authentication scheme" to a password (CRYPT-PW), so even if your e-mail address has changed you can update your record. Choose the "Make changes" link on the home page to start the convoluted process.
  5. If you don't like the service your domain company is giving you, you can change your domain company. I have 12 domain names registered at http://netobjects.register.com (yes, I collect them and get them as birthday presents, what can I say?) and they make it fast and easy to manage your domain online.
  6. Once your domain is finally working, try to forget technology and concentrate on people and ideas.

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NetObjects Fusion MX TIPS

Since I've been using NetObjects Fusion MX, I've learned a few things that will help you use it better.

UPDATE the SERVICES VIEW:

If you've installed NetObjects Fusion MX and haven't yet been able to download the Update for services view, here's a fast solution. Go to:

http://www.fuseletter.com/mx-update.html

This will automatically start to download the update. Save the update (in your desktop, so it's easy to find), then once it's downloaded (it'll only take about 30 seconds), double click on the file (it'll end in .exe).

This will run the Updater, and automatically install the latest files for your services view. This problem will be fixed shortly, but with so many people updating at once, their update servers are overwhelmed. Yes, it happens to everyone from time to time.

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CSS in MX

If you're using NetObjects Fusion MX (fun, isn't it?), and you may want to start using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). CSS gives you more control over how your text looks in the browser, and one of the most useful things you can do with it is to add more space between the lines of text (line height) because to make text easier to read.

But if you're like me, you may have tried to use CSS in MX and thought, "This doesn't work." Well, it *does*--but first you have to turn it on. Huh? Well, I thought that, too--and the setting is buried so far down it's hard to find. But here's what you need to do:

  1. Choose Tools/Site Settings.
  2. In the Browser Compatibility box, click on CHANGE.
  3. At the bottom of the menu, select the CSS radio button.

Now MX will generate CSS code.

Two notes: Avoid using "Points" and "Pixels" as units of measure for type. When you use them, site visitors can't make type larger using browser controls.

Also, CSS doesn't work the same in all browsers. Specifically, Netscape's implementation is sometimes idiosyncratic, so if you use CSS, test it in both browsers to make sure it looks the way you want.

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Do Good For Free With Just A Click

NOW is the time to visit these sites, and click to donate for free. Visit their advertisers, too, so they'll keep supporting these good causes.

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One more thing...

My father taught me two important lessons: 1. Chew with your mouth closed, and 2. You can't argue with an idiot. After dealing with the automated e-mail response robots from the biggest domain name company, I learned the 21st century version of this, "You can't argue with a robot." Fortunately, you can light a fire under PR people. I wonder if this is something we'll need to pass on to future generations...

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.