Learning Web Development

This post is actually in response to the book meme passed on to me by Nathan at SonSpring. As it turns out, I'm not much of a fiction reader; pushed aside by an almost obsessive desire to read every blog post out there. Blogs, however, are the embodiment of why I got into web development.

Learn by Example

Back in 1995 when I first started to learn HTML, I'd learn by example. Scouring the web for examples or clicking View Source on that site that had a really neat trick. Newsgroups (alt.html anyone?) were the blogs of their time with people offering their own expertise to help others. Some imparted their knowledge with a little more tact than others.

I would take those examples and piece together something until it worked. And so I would move on to the next trick. Each one building on top of what I learned before.

While the technologies have changed, my techniques for learning haven't. I still look for online examples and experts imparting their wisdom. Experts these days have blogs and I invariably find what I'm looking for there.

It's all Free

I often find myself in the book store staring at all that knowledge sitting there. But every time I flip to see the price tag on them, I'm flabbergasted. $40, $50, or even $80 for a book is a good chunk of change. So I leave that book on the shelf and return home to browse the web.

Blogs, as it turns out, are like mini-chapters in a book. They're written by authors all around the world, each hoping to make life easier for someone else by sharing what they've learned. They share because they can. They share because they want to.

It's been for that reason that I run my own blog: to share what I know with others. For free.

Published July 21, 2005 · Updated September 17, 2005
Categorized as Opinion
Short URL: https://snook.ca/s/387

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Callum Mcleod said on July 21, 2005

I agree. After purchasing a few books on varied web development topics, I find I am much more likely to pop online to locate the material I need rather than open a book.

Kinda makes me wonder why I bought them in the first place.

fabien. said on July 21, 2005

I rarely bought any books about web development & computing in general, finding easier & quicker to search through the web - and that makes saving a lot of money obviousely.
But sometimes it feels like it is nice to have a 'real' strong knowledge base in the shelves with books, like bibles you know you will find chapters about this or that topic & not spend a lot of time browsing the web.
But some book prices are really daunting.

Nathan Smith said on July 21, 2005

Well put sir. Though I have quite a few web / graphics books, rarely do I refer back to them, preferring to go somewhere like W3 Schools for a quick answer to a CSS question.

Occasionally, when working my way through a book for class, trying to find something to add to a paper, I feel frustrated because I can't just Google it or Find within the page (Firefox has a great find feature).

I agree with Fabien, that sometimes it's nice to have a solid, physical book in your hands, but for the money, nothing really beats the web.

Jeff Hartman said on July 21, 2005

A book is a lot more portable than any laptop...but is out of date much faster.

One drawback of the web is that, in some cases, you have no idea if what the author spews forth is the best way to get something done. An author of a book has already been recognized as having advanced skills in the topic and is good at translating that to an audience.

I'm glad that we at least have options.

fabien. said on July 21, 2005

But Jeff, 20 PDF are more portable than 20 books ;}

said on July 21, 2005

What's scary is the sheer volume of web design books that are flat-out wrong or outdated. The worst offenders are textbooks used in schools. Many K-12 schools in the US don't use regular books (like Zeldman's, any of the O'Reilly books, etc.), but instead use books pushed by textbook publishers. They have "teacher editions", and lots of glossy pages with pictures. I know, because I work for a K-12 district.

These books, used to teach high school web design curriculums, go something like this:

Chapter One: The FONT tag
Chapter Two: The Layout Table
Chapter Three: Single Pixel GIF's - A Neat Trick!
Chapter Four: The Joys of MS FrontPage
Chapter Five: Where to Find Animated GIFs, Fancy Backgrounds, Lines, and Bullets to Enhance Your Web Page
Chapter Six: Frames Rule!

Nowhere to be found is anything at all to do with navigation, page layout, site organization (information architecture), color theory, usability, readability, or (god forbid), CONTENT.

Teachers are required to have formal training in order to get single-subject certifications (math, English, history, etc.), but anyone who volunteers can teach a web design class...absolutely, positively, no experience (or knowledge) necessary.

It's scary. Worse, those teaching these classes now consider themselves experts.

Leita said on July 22, 2005

Kudos for the high school sample chapters in the previous post. Higher education tomes are no better. I never got much from textbooks simply because I couldn't sit still long enough to get through the newbie sections. Boring, yes; wrong, often; outdated, always.

Years ago when first learning Photoshop, I spent a lot of time on the web soaking up all the info I could but it was a book pubbed by Peachpit that finally turned on the mental lightbulb and my images greatly improved.

I'll always spend too much money on hard copy, but chances are it's because something I spotted on the web sparked my interest enough to learn it and there was a book that could speed up the process.

Mark Douglas said on July 22, 2005

Learning and teaching web design, I find myself torn over books. My students don't like to buy them (or read them), but most of them don't often use any source other than myself. (I hope I'm right...) I own, and use a lot of O'Reilly books, mostly for looking up something that's not neccessarily easy to find on the web, or that needs more explanation/example. For example, I use the php.net manual, but also have three (php) books on my desk, with lots of bookmarks.
I think the biggest difference is those things you find flipping through a book while you are looking for something completely different. The web does this, but I tend to get off-topic when clicking around.

said on July 31, 2005

I find myself in the situation of searching for something, finding a book on Amazon that seems to have what i need. I just close the Amazon page and continue to google for what i want (and if i would not find what i'm looking for on the web i would probably on DC or eMule). Until now it never happened to me not to find what i need, and even more interesting stuff. In my opinion the internet is the hugest library aveilable, and mostly free, so why not use it.

Chris Campbell said on August 02, 2005

Most of my information is found on the web. That being said, I also believe some books are worth paying the price. Especially when you can buy used ones for a reasonable amount. Many of the O'Reilly programming books have been instrumental in my learning process. After reading a quarter of the O'Reilly Javascript The Definitive Guide, I've already found some tips and tricks which aren't easy to find on the web.

While here, I'd also like to say your site looks great.

Grant Palin said on August 03, 2005

I'm the type that prefers to read from a book. That way, I have a hard copy to reach for when I need to look something up, instead of spending a lot of time searching for the same thing on the web. Sometimes I get what I need from the book right away, and sometimes I need to use Google for more information. I always use the book's index first, to quickly see if what I need is in there. I've found that the O'Reilly books are usually quite useful.

The prices can be daunting, but I've gotten lucky a few times and gotten some good books on sale. And the ones I do buy have almost always been worth the price.

jro said on August 08, 2005

It's been for that reason that I run my own blog: to share what I know with others. For free.

AND WE THANK YOU!!

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