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As some of you may know, Im the owner of a language school in Bulgaria. For some time now Ive been meaning to get a company website set up, and have been looking at various possibilities ranging from getting a professional web design company to do everything, getting a friend to teach me what to do, or just sitting on my backside hoping that the web fairies will make one for me.
After messing about with a free hosting site (www.bravehost.com), (you can sign up in a trice and play about with either their ready-made templates or have a go at typing in some code yourself), I began to realise that perhaps building a website wasnt quite so mysterious and difficult as Id imagined, and that paying someone to do it for me would be a huge waste of money. But I also realised that Id need a bit of help, quite a lot of time, and a huge amount of patience.
I chose the SAMS teach yourself book after searching through Amazon and reading various reviews of How to Build Website books, and not finding anything that struck me as useful, intelligent, affordable and up-to-date. I abandoned the Amazon search results (of which there were hundreds) and headed straight for SAMS, because I once worked in a university library where all the students were mad keen on the SAMS series and there was always an endless waiting list for copies. There were actually quite a few different titles available from SAMS for web building, but I chose this volume since it includes both HTML (the essential language for writing web pages) and CSS (useful for making your pages look rather fabulous) (more of these later) and is about the right thickness (i.e. not too basic and not too advanced).
I was approaching this project as a complete novice- I didnt know at this stage what HTML or CSS stood for or did, but Id gathered from using bravehost.com that they would be the most useful languages to learn to get started, and I was right.
SAMS Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours starts you off right at the beginning with a brief overview of how web sites work and what you need to know to get started. Right in the first chapter you get to create your very first (albeit rather crummy) page and learn how to publish it. Yes, in just 10-15 minutes you can get your first web site up and running! However, youd probably choose not publish it just yet, since it will consist of just one page with a title like My First Web Page in big black letters and nothing more. Still, its all rather exciting if youve never done it before, and spurs you on to see how far your creativity can take you.
The book is divided in 24 Hour chapters (although in reality, it takes a lot longer to get through the material if you want to really learn what youre doing or experiment with each new skill you learn). After the thrill of the first hour, youll probably need a large cup of tea to calm you down before tackling chapter two. Heres a brief run down of the chapters and what amazing feats youll accomplish after studying each one:
Aligning text on your pages
Unlike using Word where you can just click on the right-align icon to line your paragraph up on the right hand side of your page, you have to actually type in code to tell your web browser how to display all text and pictures etc on your pages.)
How to make words on your page spirit you away to a completely different page when you click on them.
Creating Web Page Graphics
What programmes you can use to work with photos or other images (like logos), and how to get them to display on your web page. How to make your page have a pretty background colour and how to make it possible for someone to click on different parts of a picture (e.g. a map) and have them spirited away to different places depending on where they click.
These are hugely informative chapters, and so exciting that youll be phoning your mum to get her to look at your budding web site already. At this stage, you can have a perfectly reasonable (if simple) web site up and running without any problem. Up to now, all the lessons have been in how to use HTML or Hyper Text Mark Up language. (For those of you know about these things already, the book insists on using HTML which is compatible with XHTML, so all the code should be nice and not likely to get extinct any time soon.) Although HTML sounds a bit scary for the novice, it is actually quite simple to use and fairly easy to learn. The book provides handy reference sections both at the front (quick reference) and back (in-depth) so you dont need to worry about actually memorising the code straight away. There are a few faffy bits of code you need to type with HTML, and the importance of obscure bits of punctuation is rather annoying at first, but you get used to it quite quickly, especially if you give yourself plenty of practice messing around. This is why the book is may be a bit misleading in its 24 hours title, as if you dont spend the time playing around with this stuff you cant really learn what to do with it. Still, this is not a huge criticism.
One important point to note is that you can do all this practice stuff off-line. Theres no need to actually publish what youve done unless youre satisfied that its scrutiny-worthy. Also, all of this typing of code goes on in Notepad, which is that really basic program that comes as standard on everyones computer. You dont need to buy any software at all to get started with your web pages. You can sort out your graphics and photos in Paint, (if you havent got anything more sophisticated). If you use a free hosting site like bravehost.com you neednt pay anything at all to get your first web site up and published (except for the cost of this book of course!). However, once youve dipped your toes into the wonderful world of web design, youll probably want to get some nice software to help you design more beautiful pics. This book leads you in the right direction by suggesting both commercial software and websites where you either download software to create graphics and pictures, create them online or download ready-made.
Now it all gets rather clever. After the first 10 hours, youll be fairly comfortable using HTML and ready to go a bit deeper into what lurks behind webpages. During these 5 hours you learn about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) which is a language fairly similar to HTML but is used exclusively for making your pages look pretty and uniform. The idea is that you dont need to type on every page that you want your paragraphs aligned to the right- you create one page in CSS, which is basically a page of instructions, where you define everything about the formatting you want to use. For example, on your CSS page, you define the colour of your text, the size of the text in your headings, the font(s) you want to use, and so on. Then, on each web page you write, at the top, you tell the computer to look at the CSS page to find out how to format everything. You dont have to use CSS, but if you dont youd have to type these formatting instructions on every separate page of your website. No hardship if youve only got 3 pages, but if website grows into a hundred or so, its going to be a chore. Also, if you suddenly decide that Times New Roman is far too boring, you can change your font to Chiller uniformly across your entire website by only changing one instruction on your CSS page. The SAMS book is very clear in its lessons on learning CSS. Again, CSS is potentially a bit daunting before you get stuck in, but this book leads you step by step by step and holds your hand all the way. However, unlike some teach yourself books Ive read, it is not dumbed-down, (like the Dummies series). The writing style is light-hearted, but always intelligent. Other bits you get to try out in these 5 hours:
Putting Tables on a Web Page
Making Printer-friendly pages
This means dividing your page up into several different pages, so that only part of the page changes when you click on a link. Its a very useful tool, but apparently some web designers dont like them. Personally, I think theyre great.
These pages provide you with extremely practical tips, now that youre pretty much an expert at web design. While all the previous hours were indispensable for anyone writing a website, these hours may or may not be useful to you, depending on what you want your website to do. I skipped a few of these, as they were about certain whistles and bells that I dont need at the moment, but heres a list just sos you know:
If you want to collect information (such as names, addresses, comments) from people, you can get them to fill in a form which is then emailed to you. Or, you can just get them to click on your email address and have their own email program open up with your email address neatly inserted in the right place.
Find out how to put music and video on to your site. Not a chapter I needed, Im afraid.
How to make your Ebay pages stand out from the crowd. Again, not for me.
How to create a blog. Ditto.
The burning question on any new web-designers lips is always How do I get on google? These last few pages tell you how people can find your pages, how to get listed on google, yahoo and more and how to be neat and tidy in organising your web-site. The book finishes off with a musing about web-sites for the future, but I have to admit I didnt bother reading that bit.
At the end of the book there are plenty of appendices, FAQs and a good index.
£17.99 from Amazon
Sams Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours, Seventh Edition, is a carefully organized, well-written tutorial that teaches the beginning web page/web site developer how to get a web page up and running efficiently through the use of HTML and CSS. The book covers only those HTML and CSS tags that are likely to be used on creating a beginning web page. The 24 separate, one hour-long tutorials follow the process by which the reader should be creating his/her web page, building knowledge not only of how to create a web page, but building a general knowledge of how to use HTML and Cascading Style Sheets in other projects as well.