What to do and How to do it

Getting started in web design

I'm assuming that, since you're online, you probably already know about chat programs like ICQ and you're already using email. As a Christian, you'll be treating people online the same way you'd treat people however you met them, sincerely and honestly, and with respect. You can share your life with them and try to persuade them of the truth of the gospel: that the Lord Jesus Christ died on their behalf to reconcile them to God. What I'll be explaining here in a very broad outline is something you may not know about: how to get a webpage together and put it online.

If you've read Weighing it Up you might have some idea of how you'd like to use a website evangelistically. This article is for those who need to know where to start. If you're already into webstuff then you can skip straight to the conclusion; this is the basics.

There's two things you'll need to know: how to make a page and where to put it.


Making a page

Webpages, for the most part, are created using a language called HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). It is very simple to learn (my programming friends refuse to call it programming), and even if you can afford software like Dreamweaver that writes the code for you, you still need to know it if you really want to control how your pages look. There are many sites that will teach you HTML, such as HTML Goodies and Web Monkey; there's probably better ones out there now but they are two that I've learnt from. Text-based HTML editors are quite useful—there are plenty of free ones available at Tucows—and they speed things up by inserting bits of code for you. I use one called 1st Page 2000.

But you don't even need a HTML editor. Once you know a little HTML you can open whatever text editor came with your computer (Windows users will have Notepad, Mac users usually have Simple Text) and start typing your HTML straight in there. All you need to do is save it as a .html file (eg. mypage.html) and you have a webpage that you can look at it in your browser.



Another thing you'll probably want to use straight away are Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Ideally, you are supposed to use HTML for structure (define headings, paragraphs etc.) and CSS for appearance (what font to use, background colours etc.). HTML Goodies has some introductory stuff on CSS but once you get into it, the best site I've found is the Westciv Style Master. Besides that, you'll appreciate The Master List with all the CSS properties in one big table with info on whether they work in each of the major browsers.



Putting it somewhere

This bit can be confusing at first but the basic idea is that you need to put your pages on a computer that is connected to the internet all the time (a server). A webhost is a company that lets you put your pages on their computer so that anyone on the internet can see them. Some webhosts will charge you money, some will let you do it for free. There are thousands of such hosts and if you want to start out with a free one you won't have any trouble finding one—just search for "free web hosting". You can then choose one that you like. The main criteria will be the amount of space you get and where the obligatory ads will go. Angelfire is one of the bigger ones—my first page was there.

There are two main ways to get your page online. Free sites like Angelfire often let you just type the code straight into to a form in their webpage. But the better way is to use FTP (File Transfer Protocol). (WS FTP is a free program that you can get from Tucows.) An FTP program simply allows you to transfer your files from your computer to the server computer. Once you've installed the program, you just need a few bits of information from the company that is giving you the web space (ftp address, username, password) and you can "connect" to their server and transfer your HTML files, images and any other files that your page needs.

Angelfire:  http://www.angelfire.com/
Google search for "free web hosting":  http://www.google.com/search?q=free+web+hosting


It can sound very complicated at first, particularly if you're not heaps familiar with computers and programming (like myself). But it's all fairly simple once you get used to the way things work; you just need to learn it all a bit at a time. Remember, I'm just giving a broad overview of what you need to do, you need to go away and learn how to use all this stuff. But before you do there's something else you should know about ...


Browsers

I've almost completely blocked out of my memory the terrifying experience of seeing one of my pages in Netscape for the first time. It was probably three years ago now, but many of the problems remain: each of the major browsers will display your pages differently. At least, to start with, half your time is going to be spent getting your page that looks great in Internet Explorer to look reasonable in Netscape 4. And so on.

Internet Explorer is by far the most widely-used but last time I checked my parents were still using Internet Explorer 3, and since then there's been version 4, 5 and 6 with other less important ones in between. The differences between the way they display your pages are bad enough but that's nothing compared with the difference between them and any version of Netscape previous to Netscape 6.

The bare minimum I'd suggest you have installed is the latest version of Internet Explorer and a level 4 version of Netscape. I have Internet Explorer 6, Netscape Navigator 4.71, Netscape 6, and Opera 6. But the main differences are going to show up in Netscape 4 which millions of people still use. And remember that there are such things as text-only browsers (like Lynx) so don't be overly reliant on images. If you're curious about how your page looks in any of the less popular browsers or if you want to install earlier versions of IE or Netscape, go to Evolt's Browser Archive.

Download Internet Explorer 6:  http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/default.asp
Download Netscape 6:  http://browsers.netscape.com/browsers/main.tmpl
Download Opera 6:  http://www.opera.com/
Browser Archive:  http://browsers.evolt.org/


Conclusion

I hope that this brief introduction will point you in the right direction. There's an enormous amount to learn, but if you start by learning HTML and find somewhere to put your pages you'll be well on your way. There are plenty of sites with tutorials, examples and bits of code you can use. Below are some sites that will launch you into the web world. Beware—it is addictive!

Finally, remember that everything that you have has been given to you by God and is to be used in such a way that it glorifies Him. This does not mean that if you have web design skills you must have an evangelistic website, but in everything we do, whether “in the flesh” or online, we are to give praise to our maker, and we will meet people who need to hear His Word and trust in His Son. So go and love your e-neighbour, proclaim the gospel with your words and actions wherever you go, and continue to meet in the flesh with your brothers and sisters so that you can be rebuked, instructed and delighted by each other.

A list apart:  http://www.alistapart.com/
Cool Home Pages:  http://www.coolhomepages.com/
Devshed:  http://www.devshed.com/
DocJavascript:   http://www.docjs.com/
Earthweb Developer:  http://webdeveloper.earthweb.com/
Webdeveloper:  http://www.webdeveloper.com/
Web Standards Project:  http://www.webstandards.org/
World Wide Web Consortium:  http://www.w3c.org/
Ben

You have come to the end of the first issue of Hippocampus Extensions. If you're interested, you can look at the bibliography but otherwise let us know what you think—our email addresses are on the front page—and join us in two months time to find out how to stop sinning...

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