home |  

Website Restoration

Maybe I should get into the website salvaging business. On the last Friday in September, 2001, I visited one of the web sites (Jillmaree's - keep reading below) that influenced me to start my own that was hosted on Homestead.com. But I was greeted by a warning statement declaring that the site would be "restricted" in a few days. That would be a shame I thought, as her homepage really is fun to read; she describes her travels around the world aboard cargo ships in the company of her chief-engineer husband and assorted captains and crew. Homestead had decided that any of their web sites that were larger than 3 pages required a $30 per year fee to maintain. They put their customers on notice: pay the fee or after October 1, 2001, their pages would be unavailable for access, viewing or editing. This is not very much unlike GO.com closing their free web hosting which occurred this past February; at least Homestead offered an alternative, whereas GO simply shut down. But holding sites for ransom is still seen as somewhat tacky. But that's what a Terms of Service (TOS) statement is for when you read, "we can do anything we want, any time we want, without notice, without regard for consequences. Just because we can."

The kicker is that there really isn't a good way for people to retain possession of their web sites when they were created with their unique on-line web page creation utility. I would venture to say that an overwhelming majority of web site authors have their sole copy sitting on Homestead's server and not at all on their local computer. And it's because of their featured website creation utility. It is this utility that initially boosted Homestead's popularity. Anyone could log onto Homestead.com, sign up, and drag and drop components from some menus onto a page and instantly have a web site running. And usually a not too bad looking one for free. It became a popular way to deposit a vanity website on the Internet instantaneously. Well, maybe not so "instantly." When I used them, way back in 1999, I made a few pages and discovered that using a dial up connection of 33.6 or 56k in conjunction with such a graphically intense on-line editor can be a very painful experience -- it was soooooooooooooooooooo sloooooooooooooooow. Especially if you developed a site with more than one or two graphical components. I finally gave it up and learned HTML; that way I could make a page on my own machine, view it immediately before uploading it to the web, make any adjustments, reevaluate, etc. But using Homestead's editor didn't allow this, there is so much scripting used to place components that makes it impossible to use locally (on your own machine). Later I think they added that capability, but that wasn't the thrill of using Homestead. But a Homestead creation on your machine? Uh, uh!

I found this out when I tried to download Jillmaree's site. First I saved her pages to my hard drive using the browser's (IE5) "Save As..." function. This would at least save all the graphics to a separate folder for each web page. After doing this for each of her thirteen pages I tried to open the HTML file on my machine. What "opened" was a blank page. Lots of white. Oh, there was the message "The page cannot be displayed." And this was even for pages that consisted of nothing but a background image, a "back" button and text (a journal page). After looking at the source I discovered why, there was a huge amount of scripts being used. This of course was necessary considering that a highly customizable web page creation tool was used to manufacture the page. But it wreaked havoc when you wanted to take control of your page and display it elsewhere. As I found out, it made it impossible.

So, with three days before the site would be inaccessible, I thought I'd just remove the scripts rewrite the code on each page using what I call "caveman" HTML (plain vanilla HTML) and find another free site so it could be displayed. I also wanted to contact Jillmaree to let her know what I intended and to see if she had planned to pay the fee or not. Her Homestead.com email wasn't functioning, I tried that first. I then looked through her guestbook and saw that there were entries worded as if some might personally know her. So I emailed those individuals hoping they'd pass my note along to Jillmaree who at the time could have either been at home in South Africa or out on the ocean somewhere. But this indeed worked and in a couple days I heard from the site's author herself. She confirmed my suspicions that she wasn't going to honor Homestead's ransom demand and would let the site languish. She was excited by my project and I proceeded to work through all of index picture her pages reconstructing them to match as closely as possible to the original. I made screen shots of some of the pages to verify the reconstruction. It took a few days to work the code into shape discarding about half of the unneeded characters bits and bytes (scripts and excessive repetition of font tags and division tags). This decreased the file sizes tremendously. For example the largest journal page was originally 176kb of HTML. After all the pruning and restoration it is 95KB. To see the original coding for the index page by Homestead.com look here. To see the original Index page here's the screen shot to the right, and here is the new HTML to compare the before and after.

After finishing the restoration I posted the site on one of my free host servers until Jillmaree could find a permanent home. This was done this past weekend and the finished results were hosted on my subdomain for many years. I think it looks great and very similar to the original. I was able to make a more symmetrical appearance to some pages, add some hyperlinks to the photo pages so larger versions of her pictures could be seen, I added a search page for the site so people could find where certain locations and ports she visited might be found in her site. I also was able to maintain her original guestbook and then install a new one for future use. And Jillmaree is very pleased with the results. She had hoped to work on more pages to keep the site alive but a growing family on terra firma has inhibited that. It would have been fun to continue to following her around the globe vicariously experiencing contact with other cultures and life on the high seas.

I've enjoyed the challenge of taking a web site in one form and re-creating it in another trying to match the original's appearance. I then turned my sights on my wife's web site; she asked me to give it a face lift and I finally started. Using a graphic she acquired I worked on it and finally achieved a state of satisfaction. I wish I had more experience with graphics software packages like Paint Shop Pro. That's one hundred dollars we don't have to spare at the moment though. However the inexpensive Photoshop Elements works well for what I need.

Maybe I should offer my services to others who are in trouble with their web hosts and need to reclaim ownership of their creative talents. But I'm sure I'd be biting off more than I could swallow!

home |