Archive for the ‘making websites’ Category

Interfaces

Although this blog has more or less gone on hold, it remains a record of my self-funding of an e-learning course, without any specific aim to end up as an e-learning tutor.

It complemented what I already found myself doing at work, and that remains somewhere between the techie who gets things to work, and the silver surfer  tutor who shows people how to surf (say) or email.

I still find interfaces interesting – the human-computer interface in particular, and the design aspects of both websites and e-learning courses seemed relevant to that area of study.

That doesn’t mean I adopt everything straight away. I still don’t have a lot of love for touch screens, for instance, still happy with the mouse and keyboard options.  the keyboard goes all the way back to typewriters (even the QWERTY layout) but the mouse remains one of the great innovations.

Having said that, I did some study with blind and partially-sighted people, and for the blind (at least) a mouse proved worse that useless, so I got a crash-course in keyboard shortcuts, and audio clues.

Nowadays I meander through the various options, depending on the context.  The touch typing I learned on typewriters (though never really up to speed) comes in handy, but I still find myself slowing down at times, to a funny kind of hunt and peck (when handling passwords, for instance, when I become slow and meticulous, pedantic, even.

Sometimes I’ll right-click to copy and paste, sometimes use Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, etc.

I quite like having a range of options, like speaking more than one language.

Anyway, and ahem – I was reading .Net magazine, and came across Liz Danzico, and her blog Bobulate.com, so in she goes as a resource to explore.

This blog remains my own little set of Favourites, and notes.  I hope you may find some of the links interesting.

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Creating work places

And talking of online activities of the pro-active kind, some of my friends have set up a Ning environment, as a social networking space we actually have some control over…including privacy settings, layout and look, and other tools.

Better than Facebook!

NoFit State blue tent in the 90s

NoFit State blue tent in the 90s

And I have been using Wikispaces to do some of my own online work, which I would like people to at least look at (as work-in-progress) and contribute to (although most people remain passive lurkers in Wiki environments, it seems). Here’s the History of NoFit State Circus workbook, archive, etc.

Waves of websites

I got very enthusiastic about getting online, whether for family contacts, or for business.

When you work as a self-employed person (doing something you enjoy, most of the time), the line between life and work and fun can get blurred…

Julie Shackson finally used Weebly to get her artwork online, and the website certainly has a nice look to it.
Julie's website

She has also got an ongoing  blog incorporated into that site –Juju’s Fybercafe.

Juju's Fybercafe

Now my daughter – Yolande Philpott – has used Weebly to create a website for her aromatherapy practice in Cornwall.

Yolande Philpott - aromatherapist

Yolande Philpott - aromatherapist - website

And I continue to find friends online who, for one reason or another, do not think they need a website…but I am working on them! 🙂

I have to say that, from my experience here, I still find WordPress a trifle confusing, although I gather it becomes very usefully flexible if you dig a bit deeper. I got so lazy with the ease of use I found in things like Blogger, that I find this tricky. But then again, I don’t like the Facebook interface, even though millions of people use it…

Let’s see Upload image then insert – Okaaay…it still seems to insert at the beginning of the post…
Aha! Julie's picture of Matilda, Yo and me in the Welsh Mountains!

Spring forwards

Time flies by, and I have received my certificate from the Net-Trainers course.

It’s official! I am qualified! 🙂

Anyway – I had been dabbling in using Google’s Page Creator (I like their new approach to things, like Gmail, for instance, so was willing to be a beta tester again). They caused a bit of a stir, by letting people establish themselves using Page Creator (although it was always a beta project) and caused an uproar when announcing Google Sites – and the necessary migration, etc.

Anyway. I have created a Google Site from scratch, for a holiday cottage my partner has poured time, money and energy into, and which can now be rented for holidays in the mountains of Wales.

I am still learning about Google Sites. I find it a bit tricky (it’s a bit like a Wiki, you don’t ‘Hide’ pages you are working on, but ‘Delete’ them (even though you can recover them, revert to earlier versions, etc).

It takes a bit of getting used to. Here is the Ty Cariad site

Slightly more relevant to the training – I have gained access to the Cardiff Council remote learning site, organised through Learning Pool (the public sector e-learning exchange), and based on Moodle, where I have put up a beta version of possible library training and communication channels. The experimental library section can be found under Miscellaneous.

So far, so good

Collaboration

I have enjoyed the stimulus of working on this e-learning course. It has already steered me to several collaborative tools, as well as some free web resources I can use for my own projects.

Although I figure several of the students work either in the corporate world, or education, we seem to have a mixture of strengths and weaknesses that could typify a student group we might have to confront – complete with the limitations of access for some (or not enough free time), and different degrees of ability with computers, or with educational models, etc.

Hartmut and I study on different courses, but Net-Trainers has a forum for cross-over between the national study groups, and he and I agree that we don’t learn enough ‘just doing enough to pass’ – because we want to get into these tools in a bit more depth. As the course is not equipped to provide such detailed technical support and training, we intend to co-operate and play (and perhaps draw a few more people in).

This is partly ‘learning by doing’, as well as networking.  I consider it really important to face and deal with all the difficulties that could turn up later, if this turned into a job. I also prefer to try everything on offer, even if I do choose favourites later.

Integration

I personally think that Hartmut’s suggestion of a Wiki, containing a mind-map which lays out some elements of the course with hyperlinks to useful resources would be excellent. As we don’t own the course material we might want to keep it low profile, but it seems important to create something more substantial than simply drifting through the projects, ticking them off a list…

And a course index or map designed this way might prove easier to navigate…

Net Trainers

I have started a course on tutoring online, etc – Net Trainers from the Online College – studying with a small group for the next few months.

As well as my fellow students (scattered around the UK, Ireland, Portugal and Thailand!) this gives me access to parallel courses going on across Europe, so I have the opportunity to communicate with a wide range of people with the same interests. Many with far more high-powered jobs than myself.

As it happens, with my work for Cardiff Libraries, I do a fair amount of training material for staff, and have just started looking at Learning Pool (I took a two day training in developing modules, but the whole thing represents a pool of training modules that people can share, modify, and re-use).  We are also developing the Library’s online presence, digitalising the Local Studies material and making e-reference resources available to members remotely, as well as access to their own accounts, etc.

Real Life examples

Sophisticated websites 

Although I have been asked about making websites from scratch, using Dreamweaver, GoLive, Photoshop, etc  – and will happily do some research – I have more interest in content, and always have recommended blogs to people who don’t like code, and learning new software, etc.

 Simple websites

Now the same simple methods that blogs developed have become available for website building (like this one!)  Rather than the linear format of blogs, with a long string of posts vanishing into the archives (even though searchable), you can now make a cluster of interdependent pages (a website). Easily.

In terms of changing the ‘look’ I offer these examples.

  • For this WordPress site I have chosen a clean, bright, neutral look. 
  • Similarly, my cv /resume online as tutor, using Google’s Page Creator (beta) .
  • For my film work I have stayed with a characteristic blue-green range (Google Pages) as my ‘theme’.
  • Likewise with my creative writing site (Google pages).
  • The house style of my late night / world wide persona seems darker – a blog I contribute to chose black – so when I made a website to go with it I chose a dark tone – Only Maybe so that cross links don’t seem too jarring…(Google Pages)
  • I then chose red and black for the anarchic persona’s own ‘night site‘ (Word Press)

I don’t claim any of these as well-designed – but I can make and edit them quickly, they look fairly slick and professional, and I don’t have to think too much about it, but spend more time on the content, and intent…

Complex Systems

Where Do You Start? 

 Putting a website together from scratch seems really difficult. Where to start?  Learn this or that or the other?

 I did a fair bit of work with Front Page 2000, before getting into blogs (where the bulk of the work seemed done for you) and these kind of web-pages (I can use a template and get on with the content writing).

Still, what little HTML I know has come in handy for tweaking and fixing things the WYSIWYG systems don’t do right…so I have added a useful link to the Blogroll, for either finding just that one code you need, or for learning the basics. 

Where do you store it?

  • Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may include some webspace in your package
  • Blogs and online webpage makers like this already provide the storage space
  • You can pay for storage space, and an elegant domain name, etc

Note: If you want to find out whether a domain name is available, you can easily check at a site like this

Uploading Files to your website

If you have either paid for (or been given by your ISP) some webspace, you will need to learn just a little about how to upload and download files using FTP (File Transfer Protocol).  

  • They may provide software to do this, or
  • recommend something (perhaps with a 30-day free trial) – but
  • you can also find freeware online which will do the job fine.

Just me, I guess

I should make it clear that these posts represent an ‘ordinary person’ trying (struggling) to get to grips with web presence, the options available, and explain it to friends – and fellow lifelong learners.

I leave the door wide open for comments, advice and assistance – and polite corrections to my misunderstandings (or to my expressing something in a misleading way).

In no way do these notes claim to be definitive. 

I consider this a ‘learning by doing’ experiment. I will try to leave a trail of what I learn in the next few months, for others to follow.

More musings on web-building

Looking back I don’t think I was very clear, so I’ll steal someone else’s words to clarify a little:

  •   Themes define the look of navigation buttons, page banners, fonts, font colors, styles, horizontal rules, bullets, and a few other features. By applying a theme to your web, all of these features will be changed. 
  • Page Templates, on the other hand, specify a specific page layout. They may incorporate Theme elements (for example, navigation bars), but have a pre-defined page design. It is then up to you to add your own content and create a web site with more pages. 
  • Web Templates help you to create a new web. Using a Web Template will create a web that has a certain navigational structure in place already, with several pre-designed pages. Using the Web Template will help you to get started; it is then up to you to add your content and add or delete pages.

 Home Page

 

Your Home Page will probably receive more hits than any, and may be the only thing people see before they surf on. 

 

It needs to

  • load quickly (not too many big images, etc)
  • be welcoming (so they know they have found the right place) 
  • be easy to navigate from (if they want to dig deeper).

 I like the sheer clarity of Google’s first page (which hides huge complexity, and assumes people mostly want just one thing).

 

For an example of a complex but well designed front page (which assumes you WILL want to dig deeper), I guess Amazon is good.

 

 

Consistency or surprise

 

Of course, if you aren’t selling anything then a website can be an art piece, and can have quirky attitudes (for instance, generally when you click on a thumbnail you see a larger version of the same picture – I occasionally break that rule for the element of surprise…for instance, if you click on the picture of me at the age of 4, you get a morpher image – 4 to 58 in a few secs!)

 

My front page is a mess, but invites you to rummage and browse, because my site resembles my den.
If you click on internal links, the next page opens in the same window, with the same navigation bar up the left hand side…so you can wander around…and not get lost…and either use the Back Button, or the Home link, etc.

 

Links to external sites open in a New Window, so that it is clear you have left my site, and can wander OFF, but when you finally close that side-trip window you’ll find mine still waiting where you left off.  Just my own idea.

 

Navigation

 

As well as some kind of navigation bar, or tabs, or buttons – it helps if the page has a name (I also add a note of when the page was last updated).

 

Without learning any code, you might want to consider adding a few details at the HTML code level (i.e. hidden). 
  • A page name here means that if people save a Link/Bookmark/Favourite, then it has the title you have given it. It is also the name that Google will display. 

<title>Toby Philpott’s Home Page</title>

 

  • A page description (which Google will display). If you don’t do that, Google samples the top of the page, which might be boring buttons, etc.

<meta name=”description” content=”Toby Philpott never settled for a straight job or a simple life, and made his living as a comedy juggler, then later as a film puppeteer“>

 

  • ‘tags’ with keywords people may search for. They got so misused (with people putting sex sex sex sex ,  to climb the Google charts) that they aren’t crucial, but I think they are still useful.

<meta name=”keywords” content=”Jabba the Hutt, juggler, juggling, puppets, Toby Philpott, magic, Sixties, NoFit State Circus”>

 

Contact

 

If you want (or need) people to contact you easily, you have to publish an email address, and this will get spammed by robots.
People sometimes try to confuse bots by putting (say)  toby at gmail dot com – but you can confuse the user just as much. 
I have used a simple (free) encrypter on my front page, so you see the email address, and it opens your email software when you click…You could even fill in a subject line (mine just says ‘Contact’ right now), but is secure from non-humans.
Or simply have a completely different address for the website, from your personal one…(Gmail, or Googlemail as it gets called in the UK, has good spam filtering.)

 

Site Counter

 

The (free) site counter is there because it amuses me to know where people come from (by countries, as well as by referring links that led to me.   It tells me the commonest browsers, screen sizes, etc that people use (if you can’t control all layout issues, you can favour the majority at least) It can imply business, although you can start the clock at (say) 2000, so don’t trust them! A useful tool, though.

e.g. On my website

 69% of visitors use Internet Explorer, another 18% Firefox

Most people use Windows XP, and have Java enabled (for fancy effects I don’t yet use)

They usually look through either a 1280×1024 resolution screen or 1024×768

  

People visit from all over but don’t (in my case) always come in the front door (the Home Page is always called Index, by the way) but they often find the Star Wars Jabba page first (when I am active doing interviews, for instance)

  

Miscellaneous

 

 Get a free website! (chatty but helpful)

 

Dreamweaver Templates (some free, some you pay for)

 

Another Dreamweaver tutorial

 

Dry but realistic assessment of users, and site usability