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Interactive Features

by: Richard Lowe, Jr.

If you really want people to be attracted to your web site time after time, you need to add interactivity. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want. It does not matter whether you are a beginner, an intermediate webmaster or the most advanced web designer around, you can add interactive elements to your web site.

What is an interactive element? For the purposes of this section, I am defining it as a way to cause the visitor to a web site to interact with either other visitors or the webmaster. Examples include email forms, chat scripts and games. You can also add tools such as dictionary lookup boxes, weather reports and code generators.

If you are a beginning webmaster, if you are creating a simple homepage or if you do not have access to server-side scripting (a method to cause the web server to do tasks for you), then what you will need to do is find outside services to host your interactive capabilities. These services can be bought (usually for a minor fee) or will will be free and display ads.

The advantages of free services are that they are free, relatively bullet-proof (usually) and generally straightforward to use. The major disadvantage is that they must make money indirectly through the use of advertisements. Sometimes this is just a simple banner, and the more obnoxious services remove your visitor totally from your website and plant them on theirs. The other disadvantage is you tend to lose visitors by using these free services, as it is their goal to get them to click on an advertisement, not to get people to stay on your site.

All of these remotely hosted services (a service run off of a web server that is not the same as yours) have a major flaw in that they tend to slow down your web pages. Even something as simple as displaying a button loaded from one of these services can increase the load time of your page by seconds or even minutes. You see, it depends on how loaded their server is - not how much data is on your page.

So do keep in mind that by using outside services to perform these functions (especially the free ones), you are (a) increasing the chances that your visitors will go elsewhere, (b) slowing down your website, and (c) reducing your customization capabilities.

The ideal solution is to load your site on a host which allows server-side scripting. These can include CGI (Perl, TCL, and languages such as Visual Basic and C++) and more involved solutions such as ASP, PHP and SSI. The difference between these is that CGI is the creation of an external program which is invoked by your web pages, while ASP, PHP and SSI involved adding the scripts directly to your web pages. You can also use client-side options such as Java applets, JavaScript and VBscript.

Just because you want to use CGI does not mean that you need to learn how to write your own scripts. There are plenty of scripts that have been written by others which work perfectly well. Many of these are very customizable and work very, very well. Just be careful to get your scripts from a reputable source. I usually start from cgi-resources, which has a very comprehensive selection of all types of solutions. Note that many scripts are free for private use ... sometimes free scripts may impose a fee for commercial use.

So in conclusion, you can add interactive features to your web site using outside, remotely hosted services or you can host the scripts yourself. You also have the choice of writing your own scripts or obtaining them from a script library. In any event, all of these features will give your visitors a way to interact, thus increasing the chances that they will recommend your site and return themselves.

About The Author
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets. This website includes over 1,000 free articles to improve your internet profits, enjoyment and knowledge.

Web Site Address: http://www.internet-tips.net

Weekly newsletter: http://www.internet-tips.net/joinlist.htm

Claudia Arevalo-Lowe is the webmistress of Internet Tips And Secrets and Surviving Asthma. Visit her site at http://survivingasthma.com

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