Masthead CMC Magazine December 1, 1995 / Page 4


The Vision of an Accomplished Webmaster

An Interview with The New York Times' New Content Development Editor Elizabeth Osder

by Chris Lapham (

Elizabeth Osder's development steps:

  1. Concept definition: Ideally you bring in as many people (designer, researcher, writer, programmers, etc.) as you can for an initial creative meeting. This is the brainstorming session where you let the reigns go and dream up the ideas as a team. No ownership, the best creative efforts are collaborative efforts. To this day, I don't remember who first said the sentence "The Yuckiest Site on the Internet," but I'll never forget the meeting!

  2. Research and information gathering: Once you get the concept you have to be diligent and gather all the information in support of your idea. It's essential to know what else is on the Net, to identify all your potential content sources. You can't rely on links. Study your archives, read, research, and get ready to tell a story. A site is nothing without content.

  3. Editorial Direction: Once you've thoroughly researched a topic you have to create sections and topic areas and make them relate in intelligent ways. We gathered an enormous amount of facts and data for Yucky. Then it was time to organize them and explain the wonderful world of cockroaches. What I came up with were four central galleries and then smaller supplemental categories. The main galleries were based on the factual data the scientist wanted to convey: Ecology and behavior became "A Day in the Life of Rodney Roach." Cockroach biology became "The Inside Story," and 5000 species, "Around the World with a Roach."

  4. Story boarding/site map: After you gather and define your content you should storyboard all the sites pages. This is where you think through links, functions like search and forums, and define the content and navigation on each page. Never underestimate the value of clear concise navigation. Navigation is an integral part of a site's narrative. My goal is to encourage the user to navigate the site and to interact: users should never be more then two clicks away from another section or the ability to search, sound-off in a forum, or go to the home page.

  5. Copy and design: Once the sites contents are defined a copywriter can bring a consistent voice to the piece and the designer can create a graphical look and feel for the site. I'm very hands-on about organization and the message I want conveyed, but I love to give designers the freedom to invent how it's displayed. On Yucky, I wasn't happy with the quality of our roach photographs so the designer caught a roach in the stairwell, scanned it in and created our lead art.

  6. HTML Markup: After final copy and design approval a production person writes any outstanding pages, brings all the elements together, and cleans up the HTML by adding image sizes, ALT -Tags, etc.

  7. Programming: On most simple sites once you have final HTML, a programmer can makes your forums, forms and automated tasks functional. If a site has major programming tasks you need to get a programmer involved early. For instance, our weather site required hours of programming times and tests on our weather datafeed. That was not a site to bring in the programmer at the last step. It's surprising how little time it takes a good programmer to set up the basic interactive elements of search, forums, and forms.
Link to interview [CMC TOC]

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