wisdom from Strong Bad
Hilarious, and oh-so on target ... it's Strong Bad's advice to those starting a website!
starting a website (or a good one!)
A friend of mine just said in an email that he's thinking of launching a website, so he's getting someone to teach him design. As I was emailing a reply to him, I realized that what I was saying might be helpful to others who are like my friend and I:
- We have a lot of training in our field, and our field is NOT web design or programming.
- We have a lot of responsibilities in our jobs, and while an effective online presence would be a great book to the mission of our organization (we both work in Episcopal parishes) and some of our personal goals, we were not hired as web designers, and most people don't really think of web design as being what we're paid to do.
- We're bright people who like learning new things, but we both (he may correct me, but this is certainly true of me) are more into ideas than details.
- We like what technology can DO, but mostly aren't all that interested in how it happens. We like our cars to start in the morning, but are unlikely to start talking about ignitions and fuel injectors unless something isn't working and the other person in the conversation is a mechanic.
If you're at all like we are, you may appreciate the advice that I (as someone who has now set up three fairly substantial websites) am giving to him (as a person with similar inclinations who is thinking of setting up a website). So here goes:
- You don't need another person to teach you how to put together a website. I found learning to put sites together to be more like learning to ride a bike than leaning Greek or ancient history; things don't really make all that much sense until you experience what happens when you do 'X' or 'Y.' The best way for me to learn to put sites together was to:
- Buy some good books (my favorites are in the right-hand sidebar), and keep them on hand. Because I love technology for what it can do rather than for how it works, I am bored to tears by reading manuals. I keep them on hand, though, so that when I need to know how to do a particular thing, I have the means to find out on the spot.
- Take a look at websites that you like, use 'View Source' (in some browsers, 'View Source Code') in your web browser, and paste what you see into a text editor (like TextEdit on a Mac, or Notepad in Windows). Mess around with changing things in the code, saving the file with an .html extension, and then opening it in your web browser. See what happens, and if you can end up with a page you like.
- I think the best of software you can buy to help you put a site together is Dreamweaver, but honestly -- and believe me, if these programs made it easier to put together a good site, I would never have bothered doing it any other way -- I'd say get to coding things by hand as quickly as you possibly can. And stay far, far away from Microsoft FrontPage; it generates messy pages that are often unreadable in non-Microsoft browsers.
- After you've learned very basic HTML, and as soon as you possibly can, learn how to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). If you format things using a style sheet, then you can change just one thing (e.g., you can tell the style sheet to make h2 headlines a certain font family, color, and size) and it will change every one of those things throughout your site at once. You can lay out pages that will load faster, be more accessible to disabled people, and look prettier in a wider variety of browsers.
- And if you, like me, are someone who likes technology best when it "just works," if you value your car most when you think about it least, then set up your site using some kind of user-friendly Content Management System. That's a fancy term for a program that allows you to add, edit, and remove things on your site by filling in a form, clicking on things, and generally not doing very much coding. The less annoyance is involved in posting and editing content, the more likely you are to keep your content fresh.
- The easiest kind of Content Management Systems for most people to use is blogging software, like Blogger (free) or TypePad (paid). And blogging software is NOT just for blogs! I am currently using TypePad for my entire site -- not because I can't install programs on a server, hand-code things, and such, but because doing those things just isn't my vocation in the way that building Christian community, proclaiming Good News, and sharing a contagious love of scripture is. I set up a fairly fancy site template by doing as much coding as I had to do to get the look that I wanted, and nothing makes me happier than just seeing it work. I wade through enough odd-looking squiggles in trying to keep my ancient languages from getting rusty; in my spare time, the last kind of reading I want to do is something that has lots of brackets and percent signs.
And since some people have been asking ... yes, I'm open at present to working with you to build a template for your parish or other ministry that you can then maintain using something like Blogger or TypePad. I'm not a full-time web designer and don't particularly want to become one, but I am looking for consulting work at the moment, I am passionate about furthering the mission of the church, and I am convinced that have a website that's both attractive and easy to maintain is crucial for most parishes. Email me if you'd like to start that conversation.