After-hours HTML

Many IT pros set up personal Web sites for themselves, friends, or family. In this monthly column, Kevin Rayburn provides advice and information to help you host, design, and promote your personal Web site.

So maybe you’ve fiddled with HTML or run Web-page-building software and built yourself a nice rudimentary Web page. Or maybe you haven’t even gotten that far.

The design choices involved in building a personal Web page can be off-putting to first-time Web page builders. How do you create a Web page that’s not boring or text-heavy; one that makes good use of graphics and colors and has a classy look and readable fonts? You might also wonder if you should have fancy gizmos such as music and video.

Don’t be frustrated. There’s far more free help online than you might imagine. When I began to build my first Web site in 1995, there was already plenty of HTML tutorial material online. Now, there’s even more, and the quality of the information and the choices of Web tools are much better.

I can’t tell you in one article how to design your Website, but I can direct you to some very helpful sites.

One resource I wish had been around in those early days is Annabella’s HTML Help. In my opinion, it’s the best HTML tutorial and Web design starter site in the world. Run by Annabella Ramsden, from Rockingham, Western Australia, it is comprehensive and written in plain English for non-techies.

Along with HTML basics, Annabella’s offers advice on which colors to use, how to create e-mail links, how to use fonts and which are the best to use, how to create and add graphics, and much more. Annabella’s site has several color palettes, including a chart of the 216 browser-safe colors. Heck, Annabella even has a massive site on household cleaning tips, in case you spill coffee on yourself while staring at the computer.

Some basics:
It is possible to create a Web page with a minimum of tools. All you really need is a computer and a Web connection. There are many sites with free page-building software, free fonts, and free image files. However, if you want to make something distinctive, you’ll need to be able to scan photos and art and create your own page images, icons, banners, and so on. The basic tools you’ll need are a scanner, Adobe Photoshop or comparable photo/art manipulation software, and either Web page-building software or skills in HTML hard-coding. I think HTML is one of the easiest things on the Web to learn, but having that skill is not a necessity given the wide array of easy-to-use page-building software available.

Many Websites, including TechRepublic’s, look fine without heavy use of graphics. TechRepublic’s site is geared to practical-minded information seekers, so navigability and clean design are more important than fancy art and photos. The main thing to remember is who your readership (surfership?) is.

I’ve seen many overly designed pages where the creator boasts his or her Web skills, even as I struggled to read the blue type the Web author had laid over a blue background. Proper contrast of type on background is probably the most important color consideration in making a Web page. In most cases, black type on white background is still the best way to go.

Web page resources
Along with Annabella’s, there are many great places to find Web help and resources.

One of the best is a site called Nuthin’ But Links, which has hundreds of categorized links on everything from fonts and photo file sources to Java tutorials and HTML editors. This site is a must-surf for the beginner or the experienced Web creator.

Other helpful sites include:

  • HTML: A Guide for Beginners: An excellent resource for the most Web-challenged HTML dummies. Along with Web-building tips, it offers glossaries defining basic Web terms and what HTML commands mean.
  • Connors Web Guide: This site offers HTML help, color charts, and includes a step-by-step guide on adding music to your page.
  • Yahoo’s “HTML help” sites : A further collection of useful Web-creation sites.
  • Netscape Web Site Garage : Very cool. After you design your page, “drive” it into this garage and get a “tune-up.” This nifty tool instantly rates your site on factors such as browser compatibility, load time, number of dead links, link popularity, spelling, and HTML design.

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