Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Building a website.

How did I not know just how difficult this is?

I began with a free google site that I could tack onto this, write in proper words - but with such limited scope it obviously wasn't going to be flexible enough. I couldn't work out how to move things around, mould words round pictures - any of that. Which meant the page had too much white space - which is fine in a book, but not online.

Nothing for it, I was going to have to teach myself to do it properly, or pay someone. Paying someone appeals in some ways, but it would paying for ongoing maintenance, being able to phone them in a panic when something went wrong. Besides, if I could master the Kindle technology, surely I could do this?

So I bought a book, 'Build Your Own Website The Right Way Using HTML and CSS'. It's not a snappy title but tells you what to expect.

There's plenty of introduction in proper English; I could manage that. And then it began getting complicated. Surely I didn't need all that gobbledegook, just for one little website. I'm not building Amazon, or a newspaper, just a page or two with more information about the book and a photograph or two.

So I started skipping bits.

Then I didn't understand one word. So I decided it was designed to exclude everyone but computer geeks and I had plenty of better things to do with my life and who needs a website anyway. (Spot the tiny hissy fit!)

But I do - I know I do. I need to tell you more about my book (yes, very soon it will be a book and not just an ebook!). There may even be more books? I need to tempt you with photos from my travelling, tell you where I'm going next.

And so I went back to the beginning, and began to read every word. Practise every exercise. Build their pretend site - and my own, alongside it. One nugget of learning rests on another. It's like maths, or latin - it has a terrible logic that works, once you understand the code.

But the code is precise. I learned that < and = and " (not ') must be in the right place or a whole page can disappear. 'Scr' is not the same as 'src' - and the difference is almost impossible to spot in a pages of mark-up text.

This is not how I usually work. I throw ideas at the screen, ignore grammar and spelling, just get the shape of a story or poem or idea down, and then begin to unpick it, shape it, tease out what I'm really trying to say until - countless drafts later - it's as polished as I can make it. If I do that with the website it will never work. Finding mistakes hide among all  the <div>s and <a href>s and </p>s. I spent hours, yesterday, trying to work out why a link wouldn't appear, only to find I had instructed it to appear in white, against a white background.

I'm sure there are shortcuts. But please don't tell me about them. I've got this far, and I'm going to do this. But it may be a little while. (Though, please, tell me this is difficult, and I'm not being a really dingbat making a meal of it!)


  1. I ended up putting my website on Wordpress. It was all free (altho I did end up paying $30 a month to keep it ad-free), and with just a little help from a friend, I managed to figure it out. It doesn't get the traffic my blog does, but that's ok. I like to just go there and gaze lovingly at it. My website! Yay! Good luck with yours, Jo!

  2. Well 1 did already tell you it was difficult and what your options are/were. I tried many years ago when it was all a lot simpler and still failed to pick it up. All credit to you for persisting and it will pay in the long term, not least because it will give you the power to get exactly what you want rather than live with what the wysiwyg tools give you.
    A little tip that might help, if I remember rightly, is to add comments. I believe there is a way of adding comments which explain what portions of your html code do without themselves being displayed or doing anything. In Visual Basic, a programming language, you would add a comment with apostrophes ie: 'this part of the code formats the title' . It really does help you navigate your way through the code.
    Word also uses a mark up language and when you understand the concepts of marking up you should find you can edit that direct as well and avoid the mysterious formatting quirks you had with that before.

  3. Yes, Mark - you did tell me it was hard. You didn't tell me it was so hard you gave up! But, having got this far I won't let it beat me (tho' when my efforts to make my heading a bit prettier last night ended up with the page littered with fractured prayer flags I can close!). And thanks for the advice to add comments - that should help. I hope ...

    Karen - thanks for you encouragement. Wordpress is certainly worth looking at it - though $30 month feels a lot, just to avoid adverts. I'll have to think about that! But gazing loveingly at the site - that's certainly something to aspire to!

  4. You are very brave! We have been experimenting with Wordpress, which is meant to be simple - but as you say, no explanation is simple if you don't understand each word that contributes to it. I guess it is like a very complicated knitting pattern (but you have to start with intricate lace and Fair Isle rather than practising by knitting a simple square!) - and when finished you will be so proud, and we will all be proud of you too! xx

  5. I program and design websites (amongst various other applications) as my day job, Jo. If you need any help, let me know, or if you'd like me to take a look at something, I'd be more than happy to.

    After a while, all those "<" and "/>" and various other tags (for example, "src" stands for "source"), will start to make a bit more sense.

    Both Blogger and WordPress offer the possibility of adding extra pages, and Blogger is quite versatile about using scripts (for example, to include a photo gallery or something), so you could still do your website as part of your blog, if you wanted.

  6. CD - you are a star, I've emailed you.

    Carolyn - brave or foolish? Sometimes it's a fine line! And the knitting metaphor gives me hope, oddly!

  7. Jo, you are right - it is hard. Me and my hubby designed my website... but, hubby is a computer programmer. Still, it was new ground, especially for me, and took a few weeks to get right. I never ever thought I'd understand code, but I can actually now maintain my own site - a thing which never ceases to amaze me. So you will get there with it Jo, and good on you for giving it a go.

  8. I absolutely admire your determination to do this. I've looked at HTML and CSS in the past and it is completely mind boggling. I look forward to seeing the results.

  9. How kind you all are. I'll do my best not in inflict any hissy-fits on you - progress is very slow!

  10. Keep at it!

    3 Years on and I'm still learning.


  11. Wishing you the best of luck with it Jo. It's something I've been meaning to do for a long time but, like you, I struggle to wrap my head around it :( I'll take inspiration from your success :)