Find your way around your Web site

The ability to group information any way you want is a compelling reason to provide information through the Internet. Another reason is that you don't have to duplicate information. If you have the information, a simple link to the information is all you need, and users can access it as if they were on the original site.

Gone are the headaches of synchronizing information among multiple sites and applying regular updates. Or are they?

How Do You Manage Multiple Links?
Consider this scenario. In a fit of inspiration, you decide to create a page to help your company track the 401K plan's mutual funds. You tell the big brass, and they are all for it. Surely fame and glory will follow.

You locate the resources and set up the page. It's a big success. People begin to rely on this system. You add features that let people compute the up-to-the-minute value of their 401K contributions, and everyone--and I mean everyone--is using it.

Then the Web Master changes the universal resource locator (URL) at one of the numerous sites that supply your mutual fund information. You have to search to find out which link it is. You have dozens of links, and as your site matures, you will have hundreds.

So how do you manage such a site? Well, you can manually check every link on your site. This tactic will take a large chunk of your day and is probably not efficient. As the Web becomes the medium for global commerce, software developers (are you listening?) must create new tools to cope with the unique challenges the Web presents.

An Overview of Your Web Site
Enter WebMapper from NetCarta. It gives you an overview of everything on your Web site, including simple Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) pages, forms, audio clips, video clips, and Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts. This is one of those unique software packages that are so good that they hook you: Once you try WebMapper, you won't be able to do without it.

A big part of being a site administrator is verifying the information you post. You need to make sure that all your links are valid and functioning properly. WebMapper excels at this task. As a test, I had WebMapper create a Web map of the URL, www.winntmag.com/ home/index.dbm. Two minutes later, I had a complete representation of the Windows NT Magazine Web site, which you see in Screen 1.

Digging Deeper
Notice that this pass through WebMapper shows only the first level. At the start, you can specify how deeply you want WebMapper to look, or you can later tell it to explore n levels deep from any point in the original map.

Clicking a question mark tells WebMapper to go out and follow the links on a particular page and further build the map. You can see how this step works by looking at Screen 2, which shows the Hot Site page for www.winntmag.com/home/index.dbm. This page is always changing, and to keep up with valid links, we've relied on a variety of methods, including kludged scripts, people power (in the form of helpful email from our readers), and of course, the old manual method.

Now we have a convenient and efficient way to check whether links are valid. Beginning with the map WebMapper created, we can highlight a starting point, the Hot Site page, and tell the product to explore from here n levels deep. We also tell WebMapper to verify all external links. Ten minutes later, we have the graphical representation that Screen 3 contains. It includes all the broken links in the Hot Site area.

Interfacing with Authoring Tools
Of course, WebMapper automatically interfaces with all your favorite authoring tools. So fixing any broken links is a breeze.

Another feature worth mentioning is the ability to explore a mapped site to an HTML file. The file is in list format, and it is indented for each level. You can, of course, print this information, which makes managing changes a snap.

The End of the Tour
This quick tour of this product's capabilities barely scratches the surface of what WebMapper can do for a site. To dig deeper, you can download a trial version of WebMapper from NetCarta at www. netcarta.com/merchant/wmreg.htm.

This is an outstanding product, and I have no hesitation in recommending WebMapper. I regret that it can't print those gorgeous Web maps I've been talking about, but I have to make due with just the HTML file. You have to have WebMapper, but it costs $499, so you may have to figure out what to give up to get it.

NetCarta WebMapper
NetCarta * 408-461-8920 or 800-461-2449
Web: www.netcarta.com
Price: $499