Robert S. White, MD

Looking at Websites: Content and Beauty

Reprinted from TAP 38:1 (2004)

In order to evaluate web sites, it is important to know something of the technical history of the internet. The internet is actually a worldwide collection of computer networks sharing digital information by a common set of protocols. It began in the late 1960's as a Dept. of Defense funded project to develop a computer network that could withstand nuclear attack. Initially, the internet was used only by academic institutions and defense contractors. Two technical advances opened up the internet to widespread use in the early 1990's. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was developed at the European Particle Physics Lab. HTML produces multimedia documents, which combine text, images and sound, and enables hypertext linking, where links in a document can reference another document. Students at the University of Illinois developed the first web browser, called Mosaic, which could view and display HTML documents. HTML and web browsers remain the backbone of the internet to this day. The developers of Mosaic formed the Netscape Corporation and Microsoft followed soon after with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

HTML is a set of embedded directions in a document, while not displayed by the browser, tells the browser how to display the text and images in the document. HTML was designed primarily to display content. Various tags have been developed to define appearance, font specifications, line breaks, paragraphs, lists, tables, etc., but they remain primitive and inflexible. It is also a fact that different browsers read HTML code differently, so it is impossible to predict exactly how a particular web page will display.

The second major advance in web page design was the development of cascading style sheets (CSS) in 1996. CSS allows a much richer document styling. It allows precise placement of all the elements in the document, to set colors and styles of fonts, to create borders around any element and to use images in more complex ways. CSS also allows one tag to control multiple pages on a web site, for more compact coding and speeding download times.

The third major advance is the use of JavaScript (JS). JS is a programming language which has been embedded in web browsers. This allows executable content to be included in web pages. A web page is no longer static JS can cause the web page to change when the user interacts with the page. For example, when you click on a link, it changes to a new image (rollover image), rolling over a defined area of the web page causes a pop-up window to appear, forms in a web page can be filled out, submitted and validated, and animation effects such as blinking texts and moving objects can be produced.

A forth major advance just starting to appear in web site are Flash movies developed by Macromedia. These allow more sophisticated and complex animations to be displayed.

In looking at a web site, I am interested in two general elements, content and style. Both elements are always present but one or the other may predominate, depending on the purpose of the site.

Website design and Webmaster

2000-Western New England Psychoanalytic Institute and Society Web site (www.wneps.org)


2001-2004 Laurel Health Services Web site (no longer in operation)


2004- Appalachian Mountain Club, flatwater section (www.ct-amc/flatwater/flatwater.htm)


2000-2004 The American Psychoanalyst (www.apsa.org/tap/index.htm)


2002- A Sacred Place, Inc. (www.asacredplace.org)


2003- Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (www.apsa.org/japa)


2005-7 - Quintessential Nantucket (www.nantucket-pinestreet.com)