Dogs Home's best friend

The Battersea Dogs Home Web site has won awards for creator Simon Crabtree and his company Lateral Net The British have often...

The Battersea Dogs Home Web site has won awards for creator Simon Crabtree and his company Lateral Net The British have often been described as a nation of animal-lovers, writes James Rogers

Certainly, the 400,000 visitors a month to Battersea Dogs Home's Web site suggests that we have a serious soft spot for our four-legged friends.

But the site is popular not just because of pictures of furry animals - it is a comprehensive source of information as well. So much so that dogshome.org has been winning plaudits for some time, even picking up an Emma (a Europe-based interactive media award) last year in the external communications category.

The site was created by Web site designer Lateral Net, with the company's creative director Simon Crabtree overseeing its design. Lateral is perhaps better known for its work on the Blair Witch Project Web site, but Crabtree says the company likes to spend time working on charity Web sites as well.

He says, "We have a policy that we commit some of our time to doing interesting or free projects. The Battersea Dogs Home site went online two years ago to promote the charity and show it in a more modern light."

Lateral was brought in to design, develop, install and maintain the site. Crabtree says the actual design of the site was a fairly swift process, taking about a month from start to finish. He says, "That's a fast development for such a comprehensive site, but we did have a lot of freedom on it."

Apple Macintoshes were used to build the site, while Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop software were employed for creating designs. The site runs on a Sun Solaris server and the Web tool used is Mac-based text editor BB-Edit.

Crabtree explains, "This was a straightforward site in that there are no plug-ins - just HTML and Javascript. Dogshome.org is less gimmicky than a commercial site because there is no need to drive sales - the content is there."

Nonetheless, Crabtree argues that it is much more comprehensive than the average charity site. While many charity Web sites are let down on presentation, Lateral has helped build a Web site that has attracted attention across the Internet community.

As well as profiles of the animals at the Battersea Dogs Home, it features an online shop and a first-aid section with advice for animal-lovers. Perhaps most importantly, there is also a facility for making online donations. The most popular sections are "hot dogs" and "cool cats", which focus on animals that have been cared for by the charity for a long time. Future developments on the site are likely to include a revamp of the shop and greater use of photographs.

Web sites present the ideal means for charities to keep in touch with their members while reaching a potentially huge audience and making sure they do not become a thing of the past. A good charity Web site, according to Crabtree, is the Greenpeace one. He says it is both a useful archive and a good source of information.

Find out more about Lateral Net.

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