Smallsite Design

Small site design tool

For the technically and typographically challenged

Smallsite Design is a product designed for those who want to write to the world, or run a solo service business, and need facilities that support that.

There are a lot of site design tools available these days, many being available for free with your site hosting package. While they often claim to be simple to use, they can be. Simple to make a mess, that is! They are not designed to make a useful, workable and maintainable site in minimal time, that your visitors will be able to use easily. They are designed to make any site, which means that they are easy to make bad sites with!

Flexibility always brings with it the risk of choice-overload, which undermines the confidence needed to get a site up and running. With Smallsite Design you can know what you will get, and if that is what you want, you will get it.

This site uses Smallsite Design itself, so you can see exactly how useful it could be for your visitors.

Some other real sites built with Smallsite Design are

  • Sokaris IT - the maker of Smallsite Design
  • DevaKnighT - folk music site
  • Patanjali Sokaris - an example of a blog site.
  • Devaki Sokaris - the type of solo service operation at which Smallsite Design is aimed. The PayPal integration here is the type that the end-product will provide.

Who will want Smallsite Design?

Smallsite Design is for those solo operators who don't have the time, nor the expertise, to do more than just add content and sell their services. But, it can also scale to handle multi-lingual online help.

Specifically, Smallsite Design is designed for

  1. aWriters to focus on what they do best.
  2. bSolo service operators, by providing the facilities that support their business and its web presence.
  3. cOrganisations that need to provide multi-lingual online help for their products.

Running a blog site

Blogging is about having a soapbox to the world, but it can also be your chance to influence how people you have never met think about themselves and the world they are in.

By its nature, blogging is a frequenct activity, so benefits from being able to be done with minimum overhead, which is where Smallsite Design comes in.

Smallsite Design is intended to support blogging by

  1. aUsing a structured editor for articles.
  2. bManaging the whole article life-cycle, including works-in-progress and drafts.
  3. cSupporting private viewing of drafts by selected reviewers.
  4. dProviding specialised structured article types for glossaries, procedures, questionnaires, policies, contact and feedback.
  5. eProviding categories, by which related articles are grouped, and automatically providing list pages and feeds for each.
  6. fAllowing people to make a gratuitous payment if they really like an article.

Allowing ads on a site is the current way many choose to make money from a site. However, there are several downsides to that approach.

Ads tend to

  1. aBe visually disruptive to readers of your article.
  2. bPersuade your readers to abandon your site.
  3. cOpen your visitors to being tracked across the web.
  4. dResult in the quality of articles tending towards merely being minimally-written click-bait to attract visitors to look at ads.

Conversely, by not allowing embedded ads, and especially for those who value what they write, Smallsite Design is

  1. aAvoiding distractions for your readers.
  2. bEliminating avenues for tracking by third-parties.
  3. cGiving you the impetus to write the best articles you can, for which people are willing to part with their money on-the-spot, just because you provided something worthwhile for them.

Running a solo service business

Getting a solo service business on to the web is not a trivial task if you really want it to fully run online.

Just taking bookings and payment online can save a lot of time, but having the computing power and centralised management of a site allows for other time-saving opportunities as well.

Smallsite Design is intended to support solo service operators by providing

  1. aPayPal integration, including handling PDT and IPN messages.
  2. bSpecial structured article types for booking and payment for appointments, live chat, and email chat.
  3. cManagement of service definitions and their scheduling.
  4. dRound-trip managment of testimonials.
  5. eStatistics that relate site use to services booked (conversions).

Online help

Providing multi-lingual online help is another use for which the simplicty of Smallsite Design can make implementation quite straightforward.

Given the small-site focus of Smallsite Design, massive online help may seem a bit odd to be catering for. The answer is simple, Smallsite Design needs its own online help, so why not allow the product to do that as well, by using an architecture that uses the product to its best advantage.

In reality, online help in Smallsite Design is just a particular scenario for using its multilingual facilities.

Smallsite Design runs in multilingual mode, by using a standard site for the principal language, running as the master, with a sub-site for each additinal language.

The basic process for using Smallsite Design for online help is

  1. 1A user of your program clicks on a help link, in the form of:
    https://masterdomain.com/language/art/topic/
    redirecting to the sub-site for the language, or to the master for the principal language.
  2. 2If that locale subdomain has the topic, it is loaded into the user's browser, otherwise it redirects to the same topic id on a locale subdomain designated for fallthrough for that failed language.
  3. 3The process can continues until a locale in the chain has the topic, ending at the master site for any language without a fallthrough.
  4. 4Endless loops are prevented, because there are no revisits to a language, instead, falling through to the master site for the error display.

Try out the help demo.

The advantages are of this simple arrangement are

  1. aEach language can be provided and managed by independent translators.
  2. bThe system on which it all runs can be provisioned and managed by minimal support staff.
  3. cHelp for a language can be progressively built up, one topic at a time, knowing that there is a fallback path until ready.

Online help is where the simplicity of the Smallsite Design can achieve enough scale to provide a big solution. However, for online help for really large programs, which would require lots of articles, one master site per program module is recommended.

The license fee for a standard Smallsite Design site will include all language sub-sites.

Benefits of using Smallsite Design

Smallsite Design was conceived to help those for whom maintaining a web site seems too technical, or those for whom even thinking about how to layout a site is too daunting.

Normal website design tools allow a huge amount of freedom to layout your pages as you see fit. Now, while that may work for people who have design skills, for most, there will be a lot of versions with dubious layouts, making the whole process rather frustrating.

Instead, Smallsite Design uses a lot of fixed layout values, such as vertical spacing between elements, text colours and what elements are allowed where, so that there are few decisions that will result in disharmonies in the layout.

Such restrictions can be made because Smallsite Design is primarilly targeted for producing text-based pages, where layouts have had centuries of print layout designing to shake out what doesn't generally work, so even if your writing could use a lot of improvement, your pages will still look good!

A consequence is that Smallsite Design does not have the so-called modern look. However, those designs are very dependent upon a high level of photographic and layout skills if they are to be effective in keeping people engaged on your site. If you want that look, and have the skills for it, there are many other tools available to help you.

Smallsite Design is for writers, and their audiences are mainly those who like to read, rather than just look at pictures. Smallsite Design supports building pages that their readers will readily be at home with. It allows pictures, but in asides, or inline with an introduction, so that they support the page, rather than overtake the rest of the content.

Mobile-friendly

With half of all web-browsing being done on mobile devices, web sites have to be able to cater for a large range of viewing screen sizes.

The two main ways that can be done are

  1. aMaintain separate sites for mobiles and desktop visitors.
  2. bUse a fluid design, that adapts information to the size of the viewing device.

For complex layouts, the former is probably the only way to adequately cater for them. Because Smallsite Design is focussed on a simpler layout paradigm, fluid design is easily accomplished, without any special considerations required by the writer..

The mobile-friendlines of Smallsite Design is not limited to viewability, but extends that to editing as well, so that the ongoing maintenance of your site can be done on a tablet or smartphone, while on the train, or whatever.

Unsuitable for

By making several layout restrictions, there are several scenarios for which Smallsite Design is likely to be unsuitable.

The main scenarios for which there are better design tools available are

  1. aHeavily picture-based layouts, as used in so-called modern sites.
  2. bSophisticated layouts, like maths, programming or translations.
  3. cPrecise layouts.
  4. dHTML tinkering.
  5. eData collection – no general purpose database to store info, at least not used by Smallsite Design itself.
  6. fSale of goods - link to an installed third-party shopping cart, or use a fulfilment provider.
  7. gComments – link to an associated Disqus page.
  8. hMultiple users with secure acces to their own private information.

However, Smallsite Design can be used to provide your basic site maintenance needs, while you can install or link to third-party party modules and providers to perfom specialist needs. Note that for some needs, like shopping carts, you will need substantial professional help to set them up and maintian them, which is why they are not included in Smallsite Design.

Smallsite Design is for those whose customers like to do thorough research into what they are interested in. They are more likely to spend 10-15 minutes reading all they can, rather than just clicking around pictures out of curiosity. Words, they love them, and words are what Smallsite Design is built for!

Design principles used in the product

While general purpose site design tools have a lot of flexibility, it is a double-edged sword, in that while it can enable you to make great sites, unless you already have a lot of excellent layout skills, and are exceptional with photography, you will probably spend a lot of time making some pretty ugly versions of your site.

The Smallsite Design tools take a different approach, by reducing the number of layout choices where having extra options will more likely result in layouts that actually make it hard for your readers to comprehend what you are writing.

Accordingly, the layout principles (typography) are firmly based upon some research Colin Wheildon performed for the Newspaper Advertising Bureau of Australia Ltd. Up until then, layout rules were a rather ad-hoc collection of rules-of-thumb. Colin has now transfomed that research into a book called Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes.

To bring it all together, Smallsite Design is designed by Patanjali Sokaris of Sokaris IT, who has been providing technical writing services for over 20 years, with most documents produced largely based upon Colin's research results.

Limited focus - not into world domination!

Smallsite Design is not trying to be a megalomaniac product, taking over the world by trying to be all things to all possible clients. Rather it is for one person, operating on their own, and wanting to fully manage their own site.

Thus, the facilites are limited to only those that such people actually require, with no complicating plugins nor future expandibility included.

That doesn't mean that another product cannot be used with Smallsite Design, but just not in a way that creates direct dependencies upon them. For example, Disqus can provide embedded comments for articles, which is not allowed by Smallsite Design, but you can also just have a link at the bottom of your page to your own dedicated comments page on their site.

Editing by article structure

Up until recent years, much of the technology underlying the web has been based upon presentation, as in defining how each element on the page looks. The latest standards shifted focus to what each of those elements means in relation to the page content, known as semantics.

Pages used to be designed around headings, paragraphs, images and other individual elements. If structure more than that was wanted, there were general purpose container elements to do that, and they were used, a lot, but they didn't provide a standard way of determining what parts of a page were related to others by content.

The latest incarnation of the basic page standard introduced specific semantic containing elements, like article, header, section, aside and others, making it a lot easier to identify related content. These allow programs, such as Smallsite Design, to present and edit pages by their content structure, which makes more sense to a writer.

The big driver for the change was that the huge amount of infomation available on the web was just getting too hard for search engines to make sense of. While they can gain a lot of infomation by just scanning the text of a page, a semantic structure helps to differentiate the relative importance of words by where in the structure of an article they occur.

That means that a search engine's algorithms have a much deeper set of parameters with which to determine how relevant a page is to a search.

Smallsite design implements the new focus by

  1. aAllowing editing of an article by its structure, rather than as just one huge tract of text.
  2. bOptimising the editing of each structural element, so that they can be safely and easily editied, without risk of breaking the structure by inadvertent keystrokes.

Such a structure means that Smallsite Design can take care of a lot of design elements automatically, like that when you add a section or subsection, the associated navigation bars are automatically created.

Privacy for your clients

With most sites trying their best to reap every bit of personal infomation out of every one of their client's visits, the Smallsite Design product takes the opposite tack.

The premise behind the design of the product is that there is a sizable number of potential site owners that don't buy into the sacrificing of their visitor's privacy. It is about respecting your visitors.

As a basic principle, the product doesn't request information of visitors, unless

  1. aIt is absolutely required for what your visitor requires next.
  2. bLegally required, such as for accounting records.

One area where many sites want information is for mailing lists, often gathering far more information than is necessary for keeping in contact. Smallsite Design automatically provides Atom feeds for each category -- grouping of articles -- so rather than provide information to your site, your visitors can add the feed to their browser or email client, which will poll for updates. You have no privacy issues, and they are in control of what information they want, and when.

Alternately, they can just bookmark one of the provided category pages, and directly visit the type of topics in which they are really interested.

However, that is just about the information that the client is being explicitly asked for. During the course of a visit to most sites, there is a lot more being collected.

To avoid such data gathering, what the Smallsite Design product does is

  1. aNot allow embedded images linked to other sites, as doing so would allow that other site to collect information about every visitor to your page, including their IP address, time of access, and your url, all of which contribute to building up their profile of your reader, plus stats about your site.
  2. bNot allow embedded javascript, which can gather more data than images, like how long a visitor has spent on the page, but it can also change your pages, potentially interfering with them.
  3. cUse cookies, which are small files kept by your browser so that a site can know it's you next time you visit. Smallsite Design uses other means, and only as absolutely necessary for the purpose required, and without leaving any files on the visitor's device.

Of course, Smallsite Design allows outbound links, but until clicked on, no data leaks out, and even then it is only the address of the page the link was on. Images are only sourced from your site, so no data is ever leaked by viewing them.

However, depending upon who hosts your site, site visitor statistics will probably be on by default, and perhaps with no ability to switch them off.

Russian tank approach

A possible urban myth posits that a key factor in the failed invasion of Russia by the Germans in 1941 was that once winter hit, the precicely-designed German tanks could not handle the freezing weather, and seized up, whereas the Russian tanks, designed with more play between components for a wider range of temperatures, still worked fine.

This illustrates the two basic approaches that any engineering can use

  1. aPrecisely make and place components.
  2. bAllow components more freedom to find a position that works according to the restrictions in place in use.

The first relies on tight coupling between components, which enables susceptability to being broken if any of them change in their characteristics in future. The early web soon learnt that some heroic means were needed to get sites to be predictable, so Dreamweaver became a popular tool to lock down the look of sites, but it was predicated on people having fixed size screens.

Move forward a couple of decades and we now have a myriad of screens sizes, for which fixed layouts just look clunky. Enter fluid design, where page elements dynamically adapt their size and position for best situational placement. Such an approach is essential for using a site across many devices.

Smallsite Design takes fluid design to its core, so that it adapts to screen size and orientation in reasonable ways, but which also maintain usefulness for situations like the on-screen keyboard obsuring much of the content.

Social media integration

Basically, there is none. Que? Because social media sites are mostly about short-term, light-weight interaction, which is fine much of the time, but not when you want to engage more deeply.

Smallsite Design sites are envisaged as your office or home site, where you invite people to come, after engaging them in the streets of social media, or the footpath signs of search engine entries, free of all the distractions of others.

With that in mind, and that most social media sites are engaged in extremely high levels of user tracking, Smallsite Design does not want to have all your visitors being tracked, so the official buttons and scripts that these sites want you to embed on yours are not allowed.

The main principle here is that they are not the target for your visitors, but that your site becomes a valued target for your followers on those sites, so you provide links on them to your site, making your's the end-point, not theirs!

Of course, you can link back to them, but only with a normal link, so unable to be tracked by them, unless a visitor clicks on it.

Smallsite design allows you create all the content for your site, rather than being forced to live with a their latest agendas, experiments, and advertising co-habitors, which certainly are not in your best interest if you want put out a clear message to the world.

Social media sites want you to be in their world, on their terms only, but they can be useful, so it is finding the right balance between their rich interaction and distractions, and the stability and determined presence of your own site.

Requirements

Smallsite Design is restricted to using technology that has proven itself stable for years, and is unlikly to radically change for many more.

Servers

Smallsite Design user well-tested server technology that is the de-facto standard for running small to medium websites.

Smallsite Design runs on a server stack called LAMP, which is

  1. 1Linux operating system.
  2. 2Apache web server.
  3. 3MySQL database - not used.
  4. 4PHP - the programmable pre-processor with which Smallsite Design is built.

This stack is offered by all site hosting services, and is always the lowest cost option. cPanel is the stack management package that Smallsite Design is designed to use, just because it is so common. Smallsite Design may work on other LAMP-based platforms, but is not designed with them as a target enviroment, so is unsupporrted on them.

MySQL server is not utilised by Smallsite Design because its own data requirements are very modest, and so can be provided by means that are not dependent upon separate login ids and passwords for the storage itself. Also, such databases require technical knowledge to migrate the site to another hoster. A design goal of Smallsite Design was that migration be as low-tech for the site owner as possible.

Smallsite Design does not use any third-party software, other than what most implementations of PHP provide. PHP version 5.6 is probably the minimum version, just because it has so much internationalisation support built in. However, PHP 7 is the preferred version to use, because it is twice as fast at processing pages.

Payments

For payments, PayPal is likely to be the only payment provider, because the others seem to want to embed javascript in pages, which has privacy and operational stability considerations attached, as future changes to them could potentially break Smallsite Design pages, whereas PayPal's classic button-on-a-page approach decouples it from such risks, as well as minimising personal information leakage.

Also, PayPal handles all the credit card details by itself, so that your site does not need to be PCI-compliant (specifies credit card data handling requirements) at all.

Browsers

Smallsite Design only relies on that part of browser technology that has been shown to weather many version changes without fault. Any that are serious enough to disrupt Smallsite Design will have created problems with far too many sites not to have an urgent patch forthcoming.

For visitors to a Smallsite Design site, browser requirements are

  1. aMade in the last few years, as supplied with most devices bought within that time, just so they have all the inbuilt functionality to support secure and reliable performance.
  2. bJavascript enabled, but only required for pages where textual information is entered.

All browsers have quirks, but Smallsite Design's fluid layout and conservative use of browser facilities makes it less suseptable to what a particular version of a browser may not do correctly in future.

When can I get it?

There is still a lot to do to make Smallsite Design a working product, including multiple language text for user interface elements, like buttons and and standard texts, and online help, let alone a few of the basic facilities are still works-in-progress.

We know it is a bit of a teaser to be placing this page here, but Smallsite Design is being used in real sites now, so leaving the links at the bottom of the pages of those sites with nowhere to go was not an option.

Once available for sale, at about US$20 for a perpetual license, we will make efforts to make sure to get the message out there. We will submit Smallsite Design for reviews so that you will get some independent opinion, plus commenters (that actually bought it) usually indicate quite quickly whether a product doesn't measure up.

A Smallsite Design license number will be tied to the domain name for which the license is purchased. No other personal details are required, beyond whatever invoicing data the initial sale requires to satisfy legal financial and invoicing requirements, like purchaser's name and address for international sales, mainly because of money-laundering provisions.

Smallsite Design will check for updates, but only you will choose whether to install an update. It is meant to be a finished solution, not a work-in-progress, so updates are intended to be minimal.

Smallsite Design is not for everyone, but for those for whom it is designed, it will do its job well. Hope you become one of its users.

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