Commentary on
Vol. XXIII, No. 1

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Posted 3 May 2010

Reader Commentaries on and Responses to "Designing Scholarly Web Sites" by Harrison Eiteljorg, II

This comment was made by Andrea Vianello and posted on May 3, 2010.

The article raises important issues in developing scholarly websites. The number one issue is definitely cross-compatibility among different browsers, and I would add devices. Nowadays mobile devices such as smartphones and medium-sized devices such as netbooks and iPads need also to be considered as tools that may be used to access them. And we do not know what kind of devices the future reserves. The solution can be only one: adopting a recent standard language of publication such as XHTML or the forthcoming HTML 5 and update all pages to new standards periodically. New versions of hypertextual standards are usually friendly with the variety of current devices. Of course, the integration of multimedia files can be problematic, and the best advice would be to use widely available formats such as MP4 and VC-1 video files and Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight web application frameworks until HTML 5 will bring the promised integration of these files into the language itself. In the recent past specific browsers such as the now infamous Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 were being targeted by web developers, today only standards can be targeted.

Deciding to target current and standard hypertextual languages in the development of websites leads unavoidably to the necessity to keep websites simple, partly because feature-rich websites use proprietary technologies that can be expensive and difficult to maintain and partly because many features require programming skills that content developers such as scholars are unlikely to have. Mr. Francis has a point in saying that websites are a "form of art" and the comment expressed by Ms Tasopoulou's friend suggests that readers expect some degree of design, and (unfortunately) many may judge a website by how it looks. I perfectly understand that if one scholar publishes some content formatted as a simple word processor document (i.e. black text typed on a white background), that will be useful for a second scholar, probably a colleague and friend of the publisher, who is openly interested in that specific topic and perhaps already values the views of that scholar. Publishing on the Internet means, however, giving to the wider public the opportunity to access scholarship, and this wider public may include many students or scholars from different disciplines, countries, views, etc. This is the public who may not be familiar yet with a particular scholar and will access the website with genuine interest but also as they would access any other website. This means that loading speed and layout of the website, two key concerns of commercial web developers, need to be considered also for scholarly websites. In the fast-paced world of the Internet, a website looking dated will trigger the impression that its contents are also dated. The "CSA Propylaea Project" website does look dated, almost as if hand coded and, although I appreciate its simplicity, I also recognise that my first thought was to look when it was last updated (11 March 2010). Somebody else may just be put off, and this would greatly reduce its effectiveness in spreading contents.

What can be done then? Scholarly websites must use current hypertextual standards, concentrate on contents and limit the time and skills needed to maintain the layout that still needs to be pleasing if not "artistic." In my personal experience, I have started using a content management system (CMS), Mojoportal (, for my personal website(, where I publish also scholarly contents. Mojoportal is just one of many similar CMS applications. Great scholarly websites using CMS applications already exist, for example the website of the Swiss excavations at Kerma ( uses the Joomla! CMS (, and the new website of the British School at Athens is based on the "Yahoo! User Interface Library (YUI)" CMS ( As cataloguer for Intute (, I have noted an increase in the use of CMS applications for scholarly websites. I think that CMS applications may just be the solution to avoid lengthy discussions as those mentioned in the article, which can only result in a compromise.

LINK TO PRIMARY ARTICLE, "The Scholarly Apparatus: When Should It Be There?" by Harrison Eiteljorg, II

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