Agencies use low-cost tools to enhance sites

Agencies use low-cost tools to enhance sites

Powerful apps build pages and add graphics or animation'without HTML coding

By Joe Dysart

Special to GCN

Low-cost, tried-and-true site design programs can catapult a Web page beyond the ordinary, without tedious Hypertext Markup Language coding.

Many agencies use these tools to do much more than plaster a billboard in cyberspace. They pay attention to first impressions. They construct interactive tools for citizens to find promptly what they need to know and to conduct business, at least on a limited scale.

One product for site building is Dreamweaver 3.0 from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco [GCN, April 24, Page 31]. This industrial-strength package lets you build pages using images rather than HTML, and it integrates well with tools such as Adobe Photoshop.

USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, center, is featured in streaming videos on the department's site. Here, he is preparing to testify before a Senate committee on school lunches.

A Dreamweaver-built site is friendly to old browsers. It can be set not to overwrite pages created with other programs. And you can select and resize images directly on a page as you create it. Though powerful, the $299 Dreamweaver is accessible to the motivated beginner.

A good example of what can be achieved with a program such as Dreamweaver appears on the site of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, at This highly organized site has small yet evocative images and quick, intuitive jumps to interest areas.

Less is more

The Federal Election Commission site, at, takes a similar, less-is-more approach to design. Other good sites that fire on all cylinders include those of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at, National Center for Education Statistics at and the National Science Foundation at

Site creators with few graphics needs can probably get away with a less-expensive program than the $544 Adobe Photoshop 5.5, but in general, only Photoshop will do. It can combine, paint and modify images or filter the effects. It has multiple levels of undo, customizable text, a magnetic pen and a magnetic lasso.

To see some dramatic use of Web photography, visit the CIA site, at, and the Veterans Affairs Department site, at

Often, animation software forces users to pay their dues to uncover its secrets. That isn't the case with the $149 WebSpice Deluxe from DeMorgan Industries Corp. of Ridgefield, Conn., at Once you pop in the CD-ROM and point and click four or five times, you've lifted the animation you want from the program right to your Web page. Choose from 3-D animated objects, letters, words, buttons and arrows.

Some of the best animation appears on NASA's site, at Check it out to get an overview of what can be done graphically on the Web. NASA galleries are full of animations, streaming video and 3-D experiences'as well as those famous still images from space.

Although it's fairly sophisticated, some sites use panoramic virtual reality for 360-degree walkarounds or walk-throughs of products or buildings. The standard-bearer of panoramic VR software is Apple Computer Inc.'s $399 QuickTime VR, downloadable at It creates virtual panoramas by stitching together photographs of a scene or object from many angles to make a navigable experience.

Trim the fat

Forget bloated, slow-loading graphics that users won't have the patience to download. Take a fast-load approach with the $129 WebRazor Pro from Ulead Systems Inc. of Los Angeles, downloadable at, to squeeze the fat from images, animation and 3-D design.

The Treasury Department site, at, has especially skinny, fast-loading graphics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics site, at, carries on the crusade for the fast download by offering a text-only version for users with old browsers or slow connections.

RealNetworks Inc. of Seattle, whose Web address is, pioneered audio-video streaming with its $399 RealAudio and RealVideo Pro Bundle. The company claims 115 million users of its free RealPlayer viewer.

A video scaling feature in the Pro Bundle lets you import video at any size and scale it for use on the Web.

An optimal bandwidth programming feature adapts the presentation to the individual user's bandwidth.

The Census Bureau does some interesting video streaming at, as does the Agriculture Department at Both sites require the user to have RealPlayer software installed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency site, at, even has streaming audio press releases.

Agencies concerned about making Web site information more accessible to vision-impaired users have a free option in Firetalk from Firetalk Communications Inc. of San Francisco, available at Any Web visitor equipped with Firetalk can converse with any government Web site that is Firetalk-compatible.

Several software companies and service providers offer telephone access to Web sites through a toll-free number and browsing via spoken commands.

Among the providers are @Motion Inc. of Anchorage, Alaska,; General Magic Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.,; Nuance Communications 2000 of Menlo Park, Calif.,; SpeechWorks International Inc. of Boston,; Tellme Networks Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., at; and Wildfire Communications Inc. of Lexington, Mass.,


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