Why Knowing HTML Matters
Aug 24th, 2009
Thinking of starting a Website to publish your thoughts, promote your business, provide a service, or connect with friends? “It’s easy,” uh-huh, “It’s free; No HTML necessary!” Yeah, right.
Well…, yes, that is right. Easy because services exists that create usable websites using templates and wizards friendly enough for the Internet illiterate. And free – or at least it’s free in the sense of approaching zero initial software cost. But, in order for your website to grow, you’re going to need that technical knowledge, HTML, to keep your content publishing costs under control.
How amazing it is that we can create and globally distribute content, on zillions of Web pages, to inform and entertain ourselves without moving physical stuff anywhere! The Web page is irrevocably becoming the World’s most common form of communication. It’s the lowest cost replacement for articles, pamphlets, brochures, manuals, directories, flyers, commercials, letters, announcements—almost any kind of document you can think of. The Web does this instantly, adding interactivity, links and searching as a bonus!!
But here’s the problem: By doing so much for so many, the Web has become irreducibly complex. It’s also rapidly evolving. The learning curve never gets any less steep and climbing it is not easy. There just is so much to know about and we all know that even just knowing about what to know ain’t easy.
Content Is Kingdom
For many small website owners, creating and maintaining their own content is paramount. So Web editing tools are the keys to the content kingdom. There are two choices: using a wysiwyg editor on a local PC, downloading and uploading files; or using a Web-based editor to edit content directly on a webserver. The former approch allows you to create Web pages rich in structure and interactivity. The latter is easier by far and can be done anywhere you browse the Web. Unfortunately Web-based wysiwyg editors are rather puny and often frustrating to use when the content has any structure or is already marked up with HTML from another source like Microsoft Word. Knowing HTML helps you avoid many of problems and resolve others before they frustrate, no matter which editing method is used.
When Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web about twenty years ago, he thought that most HTML would be written by software programs. How did that work out? You might ask. Not very well, actually. One of the Web’s great strengths – a dictate that browsers must gracefully tolerate crappy code – is also a weakness. The early browsers; Mosaic, Netscape, AOL and Internet Explorer, went to war competing for market share by introducing new elements into the HTML language. The people writing wysiwyg editors couldn’t keep up with the rapid pace of HTML development, delivering mediocre products that generated bad code, while competition among Web designers to create unique and compelling pages encouraged advanced HTML techniques beyond the capabilities of the wysiwyg editors.
The Rise Of The Robots
It’s 2009 and although they look much like their counterparts of a dozen years ago, Web pages are coded quite differently in this century. For one thing, good cross-browser support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) make it possible to code Web pages with far less HTML markup. Also, a large proportion of Web pages are dynamically generated using HTML templates. These templates are bits of code that may be reused millions of times a day so there’s high value in using the cleanest, leanest HTML markup possible.
By far the biggest change is the rise of search technologies and the role that today’s search platforms: Google, Yahoo, Bing and others, play in our experience of the Web. A modern Website seeks to increase its find-ability and raise its search engine ranking. These requirements has spawned a new business practice called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Companies providing SEO services specialize in writing HTML that’s very easy for the search engines’ automated scripts (the robots) to understand.
This is Web 2.0, where websites continually exchange information with other websites and where what other websites “know” and “think” about your website can be as important as your site’s content. Knowing the basics of HTML, how it works to add semantic information to page elements and how that information is gathered and used by robots will give you an edge in meeting your online goals.