Appendix C - Standards for the National Council Web Site

These standards apply to the Boy Scouts of America National Council Web site and are provided here as reference for developing local council standards.

Site Ownership

The BSA Web site is provided by the Electronic Publishing Division as a medium through which all departments in the National Council may publish information via the Internet.

The site shell (home pages, menu system, and navigation resources) will be maintained by the Electronic Publishing Division. The purpose of these interfaces is to guide the appropriate audiences to the array of materials available in a manner that is logical to the user and equitable to the content providers. The primary goals of the site shell are

To support marketing efforts so that the Marketing group may utilize the site as a promotional vehicle

To enable all departments to publish via the Internet so that there is a logical location for any resource any department wishes to publish, and so that all material may be located via a logical system of navigation.

To ensure the site is accessible so that Internet users may find the site and, once there, the specific resources they seek

To attract and develop an audience for the site

The site content (actual informational content of the site) is owned by various departments within the National Council, each of which publishes one or more modules of information in support of its own goals.

Server Access

The BSA Webmaster maintains sole access privileges (FTP/Telnet) to alter files on the Web server. Should it become necessary or convenient to provide others the ability to maintain data on the server, options such as administrative interfaces or limited-access FTP accounts may be considered.

Authorization

There is currently no set of guidelines or policies regarding the nature of content that may be published via the Internet. Individual projects must undergo a process of approval that requires the signatures of the appropriate account executive and director of Electronic Publishing, the director of Relationships and Marketing, the directors of the requesting division and its parent group, legal counsel, the assistant Chief Scout Executive, and the deputy Chief Scout Executive. If alterations to existing content exceed simple maintenance and updates, these alterations must also be submitted through the approval process.

Note that the Web site communications approval process is somewhat different from the communications/distribution approval process for printed material—what is approved for publication in print is not necessarily acceptable for publication on the Internet (and vice-versa).

Content

Content standards pertain to the text, graphic, and multimedia content of Web site interfaces.

Content Ownership

Each department within the National Council selects the information and resources it wishes to publish via the Internet, and has complete authority over its content modules, subject to the following limitations:

  • All content additions must be submitted through an approval process before publication
  • Content modules must collocate: they must support site-wide design conventions, function as "parts" of a larger whole, and support the standards for Internet publishing as communicated in the present document.

No information will be placed on the site for any third party without the sponsorship of one of these departments.

Editorial Standards

The editorial standards that apply to printed publications also apply to the text content of Web publications. In practice, most of the copy that has been placed on the BSA Web site has been drawn directly from printed publications that have already been edited for conformance to these standards. When material is being published directly to the Internet, its text content should be reviewed by a copy editor in the Electronic Publishing Division prior to publication via the Internet.

Because of the uniqueness of the medium, there are a few guidelines in addition to those for printed material:

  1. Web page URLs and e-mail addresses should be set in a monospaced typeface (courier or similar). Append the protocol (http://) to URLs and omit default filenames such as index.html or default.htm
  2. Metadiscourse, especially the dread "click here," should be avoided. Rather than displaying "click" here to view the glossary", the word "glossary" will suffice - if a text serves as a link, the browser will display it in a different color (often underlined as well), thus any blatant declaration would be redundant.
  3. Fractions are not presently supported within the users' capabilities. If possible, convert fractions to decimal values. If this is not desirable, include a space between and whole and fractional amounts (e.g. 1 1/2 inches rather than 11/2 inches)

Graphic Standards

Graphics appearing in Web pages are primarily subject to standards detailed in the context of two other categories: design standards (pertaining to their appearance) and technical standards (pertaining to physical size and download speed). In addition to the criteria provided in the context of those sections ...

  • As the Web is a visual medium, color photography and illustrations are preferred to two-color (black-and-white) versions.
  • Because legibility at low resolutions is difficult to achieve, most informational charts and graphs are not suitable for publication on the Web, and may require considerable rework (complete rebuild) to be legible.

Multimedia

Though it is possible to include multimedia (sound and motion) elements into a Web interface, few users have the necessary connection and software to utilize most multimedia formats presently available. In most cases, multimedia should be presented as ancillary "click and play" files rather than embedded in a standard page.

There are some low-bandwidth techniques (DHTML, GIF89A, Java) for simple animation, designed to be loaded as part of an interface rather as a stand-alone "movie" file. It is acceptable to use these so long as the entire page can still be accommodated within the 60K ceiling and is usable by a majority (90%) of the site's audience.

Interactivity

In most cases, interactive features, which allow users to send information upline or enable communication between the National Council and the public or membership, are not permitted on the BSA Web site, largely because these same people should contact their local council rather than National.

Direct communication with site visitors has been approved in very few instances, in which the normal channel of communication would be direct to national. For example, site visitors were able to send their name and address upline to request an information packet about the world Scout jamboree—these same people would have contacted the National Council for this information, as it was not provisioned through the council distribution system.

Data provided via the Web site is provided directly to the department that owns the interface that collects the information. Departments are urged to be discreet when this information includes contact information. Specifically, contact information should be used only for the purpose for which it was provided—it is unethical, and in some cases illegal (especially when contact information for children under 13) to use this data for any solicitation or communication outside the context in which it was provided.

Structure and Design

Standards for site structure and interface design are provided to ensure new content fits neatly into the existing site. These standards are largely dependent on the overall site strategy and design conventions, which may change when the site as a whole is redesigned. The following standards suit the Web site's present design.

Site Structure

The BSA Web site currently consists of five separate, self-contained Web sites:

  1. Information for the general public ("About the BSA")
  2. Information and resources for program participants ("Youth Participants")
  3. Information and resources for adult volunteers ("Adult Volunteers")
  4. Recruiting-oriented information for individuals interested in joining or supporting a unit ("Sign Up for Scouting")
  5. Resources for professional Scouters that cannot, for whatever reason, be accommodated by ScoutNet2000 ("Extranet")

The BSA Webmaster maintains high-level elements such as the site's design, navigation structure, and entire body of "universal" resources and interfaces. The content of the site, meanwhile, is owned and maintained by divisions within the National Council. In that way, divisions provide self-contained modules of information that are linked, as appropriate, from navigation interfaces within one or more of the five "major" sites.

It is possible for these modules to function as self-contained sites. For example, the International Division's suite (http://old.scouting.org/international/) functions as a self-contained Web site, as do the Venturing Division's pages, Boys' Life and Scouting magazines, the Supply Division's promotions, and other content modules. It is important to emphasize that, while these modules function like self-contained sites, their primary purpose is to provide content in the context of the National Council site.

Information modules are linked into the site as appropriate. Because each module is self-contained, it may be linked as necessary or desired from one or more of the first four sites. There are a few restrictions:

  • The "splash screen," i.e., the first page viewed when the user arrives at http://old.scouting.org/, divides the audience into four sections. No links to content are presented here.
  • The first page of each content area serves as a menu for that content area, which should be considered as the "home page" for that specific audience. It contains no links to individual content areas except for a small number of "featured" selections, which receive a graphic and link at the top of the page. To date, there has not been a problem with numerous departments wanting their content to be permanently featured here. If this occurs, it may become necessary to define specific criteria that determines whether a module may be featured.
  • Navigation pages provide menus of links to content pages. There have been a few instances when a request was made to add a brief announcement to one of the menus without any click-through. This is not done. (A good analogy is that the navigation interfaces are a table of contents, hence no informational verbiage is placed.)

Finally, each module belongs to the department that created it, and modifications cannot be made without that department's consent. For example, if Cub Scouting wanted to make an alteration to the "What is Cub Scouting?" fact sheet, they would need to work through Marketing and Communications (who owns the Fact Sheets), who would then request that the page be changed. This applies to changes that would require altering the content of another department's material—it does not exclude providing a link from one's own module to another department's (though permission from the second department would be required to make a link in the other direction).

Design Standards

Standards for visual design are very flexible. The only required element for the content of Web pages is a standard footer containing the BSA logo, identification, and URL. Also, the design of pages must accommodate the site's navigation sidebar both in terms of their physical dimensions (width of the "page" on screen) and design (pages should not clash). White or neutral-colored page backgrounds are preferred, as information modules may also be presented in the context of local council sites' interfaces, whose color schemes will vary widely.

Also, information modules should be designed to be modular. Specifically, they should not depend on graphics located in other modules; i.e., if a module is to contain a graphic contained within another module, a duplicate copy should be made in that module's directory. Granted, this is inefficient in terms of storage and bandwidth usage, but it avoids creating site-wide dependencies that cause some pages to "break" if others are altered or deleted.

Aesthetic Standards

To date, the majority of documents published on the BSA Web site have been adapted from hard-copy publications and have been converted to retain a semblance, inasmuch as possible in the medium, of their original design.

As it is not possible to verbally describe the criteria of a visual aesthetic, all decisions as to whether any interface is acceptable for publication will be made by the BSA design director.

Technical Standards

Technical standards are provided to ensure the integrity and security of the Web site, and to ensure its usability by the majority of the audience. Because the technology itself changes over time, these standards will need to be updated periodically.

Code-Level Standards

To date, all programs and interfaces placed on the site have been developed or rebuilt by the BSA Webmaster, so there has been no need to develop detailed technical standards for Web interfaces and programs. Should any department wish to create or outsource the development of programs and interfaces, the BSA Webmaster will review them before placing them on the Web server, and will adjust or rebuild them as necessary to ensure they are optimal and secure.

End-User Accommodation

In terms of both design and technology, Web pages should be suited for display given the following minimum parameters:

  • Terminals running Macintosh or Windows operating systems
  • Monitor resolution of 640x480 pixels (remember the sidebar, though)
  • Monitor depth of 256 colors (decorative elements may be grainy, but the informational content should be legible at this depth)
  • "Third generation" Web browser (Netscape Navigator 3.0 and Internet Explorer 4.0) compatibility

In order to avoid excessive download speed, the total file size of an interface (all text and graphics) should not exceed 60 kilobytes. Some items may be presented as a single page, but most will need to be divided into a suite of pages. As a note, this is not inflexible—in some cases, it may be necessary to exceed that limit (if the information can only be presented graphically, or if a large unit of data would not make sense if presented as smaller pieces).

Disabilities Awareness

The task of making the BSA Web site accessible to the disabled largely falls upon the developers of hardware and software solutions that make any Web site accessible by the disabled. The measure of success for such solutions is in their ability to make standard Web pages (without an unreasonable degree of accommodation on the part of the developer) accessible.

Pages on the BSA site should employ language-standard conventions (using alternate text to images, avoiding server-side image mapping and nested tabular layouts) to make materials as accessible and intelligible as possible to disabled users. However, going to extremes to accommodate any specific piece of hardware or software often excludes competing products. The degree of support for these products should be restrained to the same degree to which they rely upon the standard conventions of Web technologies.

The World Wide Web Consortium promulgates guidelines under its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). These guidelines should be regarded as helpful advice rather than taken as factual standards. (See http://www.w3c.org/WAI)

Plug-Ins and Helper Applications

Ideally, Web interfaces should be usable with the Web browser alone; i.e., without the need for additional software to assist the browser in displaying an interface. This is not practical as a hard-and-fast rule due to the limitations of browser software. While requiring additional software cannot be forbidden, it is discouraged unless there is a compelling reason.

Projects that require plug-in or helper software are expected to be rare, so the BSA Webmaster will evaluate these requests on a case-by-case basis. The factors in determining whether it is acceptable to use a given technology include:

  1. Redundancy. If an existing page requires additional software to accomplish a given task or effect, other pages with similar requirements should use the same software. (Example: we are already using QuickTime for video, and it is capable of streaming video, so there's no need to require Vivo or RealVideo for the same effect.)
  2. Necessity. The user should receive a benefit from installing the software. It should be necessary to content or resources of value rather than for any frivolous purpose.
  3. Availability. The software must be available for the entire audience. An application available for Macintosh only is unacceptable, as a portion of the audience uses Windows.
  4. Stability. The software must run reliably (without causing the browser or system to crash) on all platforms.
  5. Reliability. The software must have been on the market for at least two years, and it must be used in the Web sites of other organizations similar in scope and prestige to the BSA.
  6. Cost. The software should be available to our users free of charge.

Where content requires plug-in applications, it is necessary to provide a link to the manufacturer's site so that the visitor may obtain the software. Such links should be treated carefully, such that the manufacturer's license agreement is met and, at the same time, the link does not take the tone of a commercial endorsement.

These standards apply to the Boy Scouts of America National Council Web site and are provided here as reference for developing local council standards.