Got cache? Or, why can’t I see the changes I’ve made on my website?

pic_disp.phpNowadays, many of us maintain our own blogs or websites, using various tools, either on our computer or online.  Over the past 3 or 4 years that I’ve been creating websites, one of the issues raised by many frustrated users in user forums is “I don’t see my changes!!!”.

When you are developing or editing your blog or website using online tools (such as WordPress, Joomla, Google Blogger) the answer usually comes down to one of two things, both related to cache:

  1. The web browser is presenting the older view of your page from the data saved in cache.
  2. You are using the back button on your browser instead of refreshing the page.

Or, (only occasionally) you’re too fast for the host server.

What does that mean, what does it do, and how do I overcome it, you ask?  Well, let me give you some background information and examples to illustrate.

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Style versus Substance

When web sites first starting popping up in the 1990s, they were mostly text, with some formatting and styling. Truth be known, many of those first websites were pretty ugly (my own among them.) We could choose colors, or make text bold, add a picture, and even (shudder) make words blink. To style our pages we applied formatting instructions to the HTML tags.

For example, if I wanted a sentence to be bold or red I could do this:

<p><b>This part is bold.</b></p>
or
<p><font color="red">This is red</font></p>

The basic approach was to lay out our web page and then apply some styles or formats to it – much like a painter might draw a picture.

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Shhh! It’s a Secret.

We’ve been conditioned to worry about the security of our personal information while surfing the web. Perhaps the most important and effective security practice is to be prudent and sparing when sharing important information.

As web site users and web site owners/developers there are some steps we can take to help safeguard information. Today’s post focuses on the secure, encrypted communication offered by some web sites.

Some Background from the Web User’s Perspective

When we go to a typical web site, like ashmug.com, we are sending a simple message out through the Internet asking to display the ASHMUG web site. The ASHMUG web server sends us back the pictures and text and instructions that construct the page. If there is a simple form on one of the pages, like the form on the Contact Us page, any information we type into that form gets sent back to the server in the same way.

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Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster from Sesame StreetGo ahead, admit it –  you remember the song… “C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me.” One of my favorite Sesame Street characters as our children were growing up.

In another use of cookies, a friend exclaimed recently that she had been browsing the Amazon site for some items and later got an email from Amazon suggesting some similar products. Roughly quoting her, “That’s creepy. I felt like I was being stalked.” How did Amazon do this? Through the use of one or more browser cookies, and customer information from logging in. A browser cookie is a little snippet of code that is stored with or near your web browser, usually with a name, a value to go with that name, and an expiration date. Let’s see how this might happen and then turn the tables and ask whether or when cookies might be appropriate on a web site that you produce.

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Bricks and Mortar – HTML

HTML

Web pages have a basic, bricks and mortar, foundation. It’s called HTML – short for HyperText Markup Language.

So, here’s a trivia/history question for fellow Mac enthusiasts. Do you remember an early Mac application called HyperCard? This was pre-Internet, and had some features of web pages as we know them now. The principle feature was that you could link a word or phrase on a card and the user could click on that link and be taken to another card. The only problem was that you had to use the computer where the HyperCard application was running. No one had figured out how to make it run over a network (unless our Alan Oppenheimer had gotten ahead of everyone else when working with AppleTalk.) I actually created a simple marketing game/simulation in HyperCard, and used it for marketing training for Kaiser Permanente reps in the late 1980s. (but I digress….)

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Home Sweet Home

Viewing ASHMUG site in the AdirondacksSo, I’m sitting on a dock in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York state, with my laptop and a semi-reliable wireless connection from a cabin up the hill. I type in ashmug.com in Firefox, and in seconds our nifty web site appears on my computer screen. If we think about it, that’s a pretty extraordinary accomplishment – an instruction sent from one corner of the country that ultimately finds its way to another corner and back again. For our inaugural post on web and related topics, let’s explore the whole idea of Internet addresses and domains. We’ll use ASHMUG.com as an example.

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