For time-strapped webmasters, an Inter(safety)net
Webnet is a key resource for staff who manage and develop campus websites

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

21 August 2002 | Just a few short years ago, websites were considered a luxury item at Berkeley. Now we can’t conduct business without them. Though departmental and unit webmasters are expected to keep their sites on the cutting edge, staying on top of lightning-speed advances in technology can sometimes be overwhelming.

Fortunately, Webnet, a network of nearly 300 Berkeley employees who edit, design, program, manage content, or develop applications for the web, is a ready resource for wobbly webmasters.

“They’re like a support group,” Sara Leavitt, web developer for the Lawrence Hall of Science, says of the group. “The members understand the frustrations you encounter because many of them have been through the same things themselves.”

One of the biggest benefits of joining Webnet, says Leavitt, is use of the group’s listserv.

“If someone’s having trouble getting something to work on their website, they can send out a distress message using the listserv,” says Debra Goldentyer, web manager at the Haas School of Business and a member of Webnet’s steering committee. “The person will probably get several responses from members who’ve tackled the problem before.”

A whole host of issues can arise when creating or upgrading a website, Goldentyer says. Some of the hot topics on the listserv include security issues, the use of XML (an enhanced web-markup language), installing databases, or deciphering JavaScript.

Sometimes the requests are more informational in nature. For example, Goldentyer was interested in taking some web-design classes, so she put out a call to Webnet members asking which ones were best. By the end of the day, she had six suggestions.

Burning philosophical questions — such as whether a standard web page should be 600 or 800 pixels wide — are also aired on the listserv.

“Believe it or not, there’s a big debate over this seemingly simple question,” she says. “People have strong opinions about it.”

In addition to sponsoring the listserv, Webnet has general meetings every other month. (The next one is at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 10, in 3110 Etcheverry.) Members discuss web applications and systems, and guests are sometimes invited to speak.

Members can also join two informal Webnet subgroups: the Limited Resources Group and the Web Editors Group.

Grappling with tiny budgets, small staffs, and minimal time is the focus of the Limited Resources Group, whose members, says Goldentyer, try to figure out ways to do more with less.

For example, Leavitt, who has no editing background, is responsible for making sure all the information posted on the museum’s website is consistent and understandable. Because many others face the same challenge, a recent meeting was devoted to advising web managers on how to prepare content. Members were given the names of several style guides they could refer to, such as “Wired Style,” covering computer terms and usage, and “Talking About People: A Guide to Fair and Accurate Language.”

The Web Editors Group explores issues of interface, architecture, search engines, navigation, usability, design, and content-management systems.

At one recent meeting, the group discussed how best to re-purpose a printed brochure for posting on the web, what the proper colors for the web are, and how many links should appear on a web page, says Goldentyer.

“These are the kind of questions folks who work on the web have to face,” she says. “Luckily, with Webnet, we have a wealth of resources at our fingertips to help make our jobs a little easier.”

Membership in Webnet is free and open to the campus community. For information, visit, or contact Goldentyer at, or 643-3847.


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