Hand-coding footpaths to fitness

Roisin Woolnough reports on a site that aims to be clear and informative in its health philosophy

Roisin Woolnough reports on a site that aims to be clear and informative in its health philosophy

Walking is good for you and can even be fun. This is the message from a Web site that promotes a scheme launched by the Countryside Agency and the British Heart Foundation last October to get more people stepping out.

The Walking the Way to Health Initiative (WHI) aims to get 1.5 million inactive people in England back on their feet by highlighting the health benefits of walking.

It also provides information on walks going on around England and how each person can work out their own walking schedule.

Web solutions provider SAS Digital created the WHI Web site. For designer Mark Finning, a major consideration was keeping it clear and uncluttered.

"Many sites that are produced at this size do tend to be over-designed. They have so many images that although the final Web site can look great, the overheads against the download times of the pages bring into question whether the site is really performing as quickly as it should at getting to the user what they came for - the information," Finning says.

Apart from the fact that there was a lot of information to post up, he says it was relatively easy to keep the technical design simple because it is not an e-commerce site.

On the design front, Dreamweaver and Photoshop were used for the initial HTML shell. From there on, it was hand-coded.

It runs on an IIS4 server on a bespoke NT4 box, with a Microsoft Access database. Again, the database is a straight-forward set-up, although it does contain a facility termed ICE by SAS Digital.

"The site benefits from having what we call ICE - Internet collaboration environment - which allows the client to use its own staff in updating the database-driven areas of the site themselves over the Internet," explains Finning.

The site is mostly written using Active Server Pages (ASP) with some HTML.

"For the database sections, we used the pairing of ASP code with an odbc [open database connectivity, a Microsoft middleware product] connection to talk to the databases needed," continues Finning.

Each day, five news stories are flagged up in an animated headline box using a standard Java applet. Perl 5 scripts were also used for the site's discussion forum.


Curriculum vitae

Name: Mark Finning

Age: 29

Job title: designer

Qualifications: A-levels

IT skills: software and hardware configuration, implementation and networking of PCs and Macs

Hobbies: music, songwriting, guitar

Favourite film: JFK

Favourite book: don't like books

Finning on Finning: confident, inventive, quick-thinking

e is for excellence

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