I am not a great authority on web publishing. I fell into it back in 1995 because I was working for an ISP. It’s de rigeur for technical writers now, and nearly so for just about any writer, as far as I can tell. While I’m unlikely to ever be a full-fledged “web developer,” I do enjoy learning more as time goes on. I’ve focused on learning to present information in the most useful and accessible format I can for a variety of users. I’m very grateful to the generosity of more knowledgeable folk in various forums, and I see no shame in asking for help.
While many programs exist now to allow people to create web pages without ever using a tag, I think it’s very important to get comfortable with HTML. If you don’t understand a bit about the basics, it’s very hard to figure out why things don’t display as you thought they would, or to achieve the effect you want.
How do you start learning HTML? One of the easiest ways is absolutely free. Just use your browser’s View Source option to look at the code on pages you like! Unfortunately, you won’t get much useful information if the site is Flash-based, as so many are now. You will find that you start recognizing Flash sites, as opposed to more accessible ones, and that’s good.
I started out using a text editor, and I still do that most of the time if I’m not working with WordPress. My favorite HTML editor is HomeSite, but I’m not sure it’s even available any more without buying DreamWeaver (which is overkill for most people). NVU is good, too, and it’s a free, open-source application that runs on just about any platform (Windows, Mac, and Linux). You can use it without knowing anything about HTML, but you can also use it to edit and learn HTML. I’ve found the HTML Reference Library to be a great help when trying to remember the syntax for particular tags. And yes, even after 13 years, there are times when I need to look things up. I’m fairly sure that’s true for most people.
WordPress rocks. It’s a lot more than a blogging platform. You can use it to set up just about any kind of site very easily. It’s another open-source project, and you can find lots of good support available in the WP community. I love the way I can change the look of the entire site in minutes by selecting a new theme, and the added flexibility of the many plugins written for WP. It’s very easy to install on your own, but if that intimidates you or you just don’t want to bother with it, there’s the WordPress Install4Free Team.
I find IrfanView plenty of graphics program for most of my uses. If I need more, I use The GIMP. I consider myself somewhat graphics-impaired, so I have to rely on the generosity of others for the graphics I use on my site. (At least I’m better with computer graphics, than the kind you have to draw on physical materials. I can’t draw recognizable stick figures!)
If you want to use special fonts on your site, be aware that your visitors won’t see the same display that you do unless those fonts are installed on their own machines.1 For that reason, it’s best to stick with pretty standard typefaces, like those that are distributed with Windows and Microsoft applications. The Typography on the Web site is a good resource for learning more about fonts.
Here are a few web publishing resources:
- HTML Help by the Web Design Group
- Best Viewed With Any Browser — campaign for a non-browser specific WWW
- Web Pages That Suck gives examples of what not to do, or you might end up featured in Mirsky’s Worst of the Web!
- The Mining Company’s Web Clip Art forum has links to a many great graphics resources – I haven’t come anywhere near checking out all of them!
- Use the W3C Markup Validation Service to check your pages – or better yet, use Cynthia Says, which was created to check HTML for accessibility to people with disabilities as well as HTML compatibility problems that may prevent the page from displaying properly in some web browsers.
Of course, if you don’t have anything to say, it won’t matter how well you learn to say it or how many neat graphics you have. Spend more time on your content than on how cool it looks! Links are fine, but if your site is essentially your bookmark file with annotations – leave it to Yahoo, okay? And
1 There are ways around that, but if you’re at that level you don’t have any reason to read this page, now do you?