Widely Regarded Author, Journalist/Columnist, Editor, Consultant,
This week, Stephen
Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with widely regarded
author, journalist/columnist, editor, and Web expert, Kate Chase.
Kate has more than 13
book credits in Web design, PC hardware, operating systems, and
Windows applications. She is an avid FrontPage user and expert
having managed online communities for American Online, MSN, and
ZD-net. Her latest book credit is the “Absolute Beginner’s Guide to
Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003.”
Q: Kate, as a
well-respected Web authority, we are fortunate to have you with us
to do this interview—thank you!
A: Thank you!
Q: Can you give us a
history of how you got into this field?
A: I’ve used computers
since mainframes were king back when I was a child in school. From
the start, I found them an extraordinarily powerful tool for all of
us to get the information we needed. However, my online adventure
dates back to the late 1980s, when someone finally convinced me to
try a modem to reach beyond my own system. My first night with it,
and my love of the online knowledge experience was born. I quickly
became involved with bulletin board systems (the precursors to
today’s Web sites) and quickly got onto the Internet before most of
the world seemed to know it existed.
Q: Can you describe your
work with America Online and one surprising story?
A: America Online, when I
started there, was a company no one knew. It was filled with bright
people trying to lay claim to an online world dominated by
CompuServe, Genie, and Prodigy, all names that have today been
eclipsed by AOL. I had the pleasure of working with some truly grand
online visionaries. At AOL, I ran technical support forums in a
number of different areas, and built communities of users who were
not just there to ask questions but to share their expertise. The
power of the user community was a delightful surprise.
My biggest surprise
there? AOL’s growth was in large part due to a committed roster of
volunteers who donated a great deal of time to the service to make
it better. They created the sense of community that people still
talk about today. The sad surprise came with how little AOL
appreciated their work – well-paid staffers would climb over the
bodies of volunteers to demand larger pay raises and benefits for
Q: What lessons did you
learn from your work with MSN?
A: That Microsoft, the
parent company, is a marvelous place filled with some of the best
and the brightest people, but they don’t always understand what the
true online user is looking for. As such, you’ve seen MSN go through
a number of different revisions.
But Microsoft and MSN
taught me so much: they had the tools, the people, and the drive to
make an online community great – even if the reality was sometimes a
little less sterling.
Q: What valuable
expertise can you share from your work with ZDNet and can you share
A: ZDNet was a little bit
different, because they largely bought our crew at MSN to literally
put us out of business and end the phenomenon of professionally
managed technical communities online. This is because ZDNet was
acquired by CNET, another online giant, who was doing massive
restructuring. CNET is still a tremendous resource, but I think its
online communities, as they exist today, are nowhere near as strong
and helpful as they were.
If there’s a story to
share here, it’s that people will tend to notice that there are
cycles in all online service businesses: the idea that is successful
today won’t be successful tomorrow, yet a few years down the road,
that same idea will be picked up and expanded as if it’s brand new.
So while you see few professionally managed support communities
online today, I suspect you’ll find them again in a year or two
Q: Can you detail your
current work and favorite projects?
A: I’m extraordinarily
fortunate because I get to work with a number of different editors
and publishers around the country – and even around the world –
while sitting in my mountaintop compound in north central Vermont.
The FrontPage for Beginners book was extraordinarily fun – both
because of my co-author, Jenn Kettell, who came from the same online
background I had, and because it allowed me to recapture the newness
of starting one’s own Web site, something I’ve been doing since the
Web was first born in the early mid-1990s. I just watched a friend
who had been discussing having a site for several years take
FrontPage and turn out a dazzling site that is visited by tens of
thousands of people each week.
But my favorite project
is almost always the one I’m working on currently – and that’s a
book to prepare people for A+ hardware technical certification.
Q: What five tips can you
provide from your web experiences?
A: 1) Don’t underestimate
or assume anything about your audience. They’ll surprise you every
2) A sense of community
can aid any Web site, regardless of the topic. So plan to have
something community based, such as message board discussion areas, a
blog, user testimonials, or anything else that ties you back to the
real people using your product or services.
3) Never sacrifice the
user friendly elements for “coolness”. People tire of ultra-cool
4) Solicit feedback from
your audience: constantly reassess what they want and need.
5) A person with little
experience can turn a brand-new Web site into something
extraordinarily with just a bit of patience and vision.
Q: Regarding your latest
book, what makes it different from the others?
A: I think approach is
the best difference. Too many books either reduce the subject to
“dummy” status or assume you have more knowledge than a beginner
typically would. The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to FrontPage assumes
nothing, while respecting your intelligence and your sense of
Q: Can you give us your
top five tips from the book?
A: 1) That the sooner you
can develop your skills in cascading style sheets (CSS) for site
layout, the more usable, more flexible, and more accessibly a site
2) That FrontPage 2003
gives you a wonderful set of tools to start – but that you can take
it far beyond just those basic tools.
3) How to design forms
and interactive tools to engage your audience.
4) That site navigation
is all-important, and that you must see your site from your
visitor’s perspective to make the navigation fit their needs.
5) That graphics, used
wisely, can truly enliven a site and capture your visitor’s
Q: Do you have any
humorous stories to share?
A: One of my favorite
“there’s a lesson in this” stories is working for one of the major
online services that was constantly soliciting feedback from its
audience to “improve the user experience”. One day, I went to my
boss and asked to see the results of some of this feedback so we
could actually use it to improve our services. The response I got?
They didn’t actually record the information solicited from users;
they just made it seem like they wanted user feedback. The moral of
this story: if you ask a question, accept the answer... and use it.
Q: What are your top
Many of these are ones
I’ve listed in one place or another in the book and the book itself
is an excellent resource to the beginning FrontPage webmaster.
A: 1) Microsoft Office
Online – columnists and users regularly share great ideas for things
they’re doing with FrontPage to increase traffic, increase
functionality, and increase results from their web.
http://www.w3schools.com – you can learn so much by using their
code testing examples
http://www.diveintoaccessibility.com, where you can get a look
at the things you need to do to make your site accessible to
4) The various scripts
sharing sites because they offer code you can adapt and include in
your FP or other Web site
5) Other good sites –
look at the sites you really like and determine how they did it –
either by looking at the Source beneath it or by asking the
Q: What kind of computer
setup do you have?
A: Actually, I have
several since I tend to work on several different projects at once.
My main workhorse is a badly abused Celeron 1.8 MHz system with
every USB device you can imagine attached to it, and it’s networked
to several other machines, ranging from a lowly Pentium 133 to an
Athlon XP system. My Internet setup comes from a satellite feed
because I live outside of traditional broadband connectivity.
Q: If you were doing this
interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your
position and what would be your answers?
A: Q1) With so many
studies showing people are reading less today, how valid is it to be
writing computer tech books?
A1) It’s very relevant.
Nothing yet exists to replace the written, easily consult-able
format of a book on your shelf. When I want to learn, I use a number
of different methods, but one of them is always the best book(s) on
Q2) What are the three
most important jobs a new Webmaster must tackle?
A2) Research, advanced
planning, and developing good site navigation to make sure the
wealth of content on your site can be found.
Q3) Do you always follow
your own technical advice?
A3) Usually! Sometimes, I
even go back to consult my own books because the answers I need are
often found there.
Q: Kate, we appreciate
the time you spent in doing this interview—thank you!
A: And thank you, too,