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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