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Historical Background

When you've been building software systems for 17 years you understand that no project can start with a truly clean slate. You must work with existing infrastructure and interface with existing systems. The key decisions made early in a project will likely have consequences for years to come. This is why I am including some historical background on the origins of ATLA's web site before I was responsible for it. Some of my major accomplishments involved the solution of problems that existed when I took over the site. The state of the site I inherited in February 1996 reinforces my strong beliefs in planning, standards, documentation and centralized control. Some problems created on ATLA's web site in 1995 have yet to be solved in 2000. Some have applicability to many if not most web sites.

ATLA's web site, which was called ATLA NET until mid 1999 was started as a joint venture between ATLA and a legal publisher which went "live" in June 1995. The legal publisher was moving onto the Internet with the plan of being both a legal content provider and an ISP to lawyers. Being second only to ABA in size, and far more focused, ATLA's members are choice prospects for almost any venture of a legal nature. Both partner's saw lucrative opportunities. It quickly became clear to both partners that the ISP business was not going to be a success. The legal publisher still runs a leading Internet legal content site but discontinued the ISP business by the end of 1995.

The legal publisher had provided basic HTML training to Production Services staff who typeset ATLA's periodicals and who then also coded them for the web site. A clerical worker with no computer training also received HTML training and "managed" the web site, i.e. put the HTML pages online and created static web pages as requested. There were no standards or documented procedures of any kind. Though there was some vague similarity in page appearance, except for pages in the same issue of a magazine, there were probably no two pages on the web site with truly similar coding and visual style.

Initially the entire site was private and restricted to ATLA members and staff. In late 1995 ATLA wanted to start making selected pages publicly available. The legal publisher's hosting staff took advantage of a Netscape configuration option to create a new file extension, ".ht" which the Netscape server made public, i.e., did not prompt for a password when requested. Such pages were scattered throughout the site without planning or logic. ATLA staff had no access to the few bug ridden CGI scripts that existed and no administrative access to the list servers which were nominally ATLA's. ATLA's only control of the site was through an ordinary user account that had write access to ATLA's web area via telnet and FTP.

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Copyright © 2000 - 2014 by George Shaffer. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in (or These terms are subject to change. Distribution is subject to the current terms, or at the choice of the distributor, those in an earlier, digitally signed electronic copy of (or cgi-bin/ from the time of the distribution. Distribution of substantively modified versions of GeodSoft content is prohibited without the explicit written permission of George Shaffer. Distribution of the work or derivatives of the work, in whole or in part, for commercial purposes is prohibited unless prior written permission is obtained from George Shaffer. Distribution in accordance with these terms, for unrestricted and uncompensated public access, non profit, or internal company use is allowed.

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