Monday, November 06, 2006

Getting down to it

I took some time this evening to work my way through W3School’s Web Building Primer for the beginner. In the very first section, I learned that there is a World Wide Web Consortium that makes rules and standards for the Web. Really? Are they pulling my leg? There can’t be. I sure hope that, if there is such an entity, there’s a very Jean-Luc Picard-ish figure at its helm. Ah, Jean-Luc. "Make it so."

Right away, I appreciated W3School’s simple interface. One of my favourite features was the table of contents in the left-hand margin section of the page. I like knowing where I’m being led, and, as many of us have commented this term, it is always great to know how much one has to read. Will this be a 5-minute long project? Will it take me all evening, or a couple of hours? The layout gives its user a clear sense of her location.

On a side note, I really do think that we should offer our visitor a mapping statement – a sentence explaining the major themes, in the order they will appear, for example - on the first room’s title wall of our Museum London Exhibit. We could even be very clear about it, and tell our visitor in this panel something like, “…you will see x, y, z…”, etc. We don’t want our visitors to feel lost, or as if we’ve left them to their own devices to make sense of our project.

Back to Web Primer: I learned that XML is for describing and transporting data, while HTML is for displaying data. I look forward to learning what all of that means, in real terms, shortly. I also learned that Carling was right (not that I would ever doubt her): it is great to learn to write HTML using a plain text editor instead of a WYSIWYG one like DreamWeaver. I will pick up the tutorial tomorrow at the “CSS Primer: What is CSS?” stage.

So far, I’m finding the tutorial fantastic. Well, almost fantastic. I ran into one small snag. “Do you want to try it?” the tutorial asked me, after it had explained the basic features of an HTML file.

Well, I thought, of course I want to try it. What a silly question.

I couldn’t make sense of the explanation for doing so, though. The tutorial tells me I’m to open word pad, but what is OSX, and how do I get “in” it? Where is TextEdit, and how do I “start” it? This little roadblock is frustrating, and I wish the instructions had been clearer as to how the beginner can access these requirements.

Despite this wee stumbling block, I must admit that I find all of this very exciting! The big scary Web seems so much simpler to me now. I do, however, have an awful premonition that my happy state will not last long, provided that I continue learning about how to be a Web participant. I took a historiography course in the 3rd year of my undergrad. It was my first introduction to the scary concept of historiography. On the first day, our professor told us that we should imagine our ideas of history as represented by our good ol’ friend Humpty Dumpty. Over the course of the year, he told us, we would boot HD off the wall, and he’d smash all over the place. He would make a big, smelly, sticky mess. My prof. assured us, however, that we would, in time, right HD once again. His cracks would be visible thereafter. I am sure that my notion of the Web as lovely and friendly and relatively simple is the attitudinal equivalent of the moment before poor, naïve Mr. Dumpty topples to his messy (though not fatal) doom.

1 comment:

William J. Turkel said...

Lauren, on a Windows machine you can start a text editor by choosing Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Notepad. OS X is the Mac operating system, so you don't have to worry about it.