Lecture 4, the Web – HTML

This is the first of 3 lectures looking at the Web and how it fits into our world.   We are starting off by looking at HTML as it is an important technology to understand and be familiar with for an IT professional. It is increasingly being used everywhere.  The ability to write,  manipulate and understand html and it’s philosophy is greatly beneficial.

There are certain ideas about information and how it should be managed that are illustrated nicely in looking at HTML.  The first is to do with the decoupling of information and it’s meaning.  You get flexibility and power when the two are linked but separate. (This will be further explored next week when we look at CSS)  The tags that make up your HTML document give the content meaning.  They define what are headings,  what are lists,  tables etc.  This added meaning gives you the ability to manipulate the information in new ways.  Search has been greatly improved through exploiting this characteristic.

An appreciation of HTML will improve your ability to structure and present information. Anyone can write HTML but it takes real skill to write good HTML.  It really is an art. With HTML you can easily explore different ways of presenting the information to the end user.  At the same time you can explore different ways of structuring the document under the hood.  HTML is great as you can view the code used to render any web page you visit,  so you can easily study others and find out new ways of doing things.  You will soon learn that a skillfully crafted HTML document will have code that is not only simple,  clean and elegant but is also easy to modify and very flexible.

Given a certain visual layout there will be hundreds of ways you can write your code in order to achieve it.  It is a very creative process and the insights you gain while improving at this will serve you in many other aspects of your work.  Oranising,  manipulating and presenting information is one of the key tasks of IT.

Unfortunately in this course we only get time to look at the very basics.  We only get to introduct you to HTML.  But you are on your way to becoming an IT professional so you should be eager to take the initiative and further your ability in your own time.  So let’s look at how best to go about this.

The first thing you want to do is check out w3c,  in particular their page on the official spec for HTML.  The World Wide Web Consortium looks after a lot of the standards for the web and is a source of many useful resources.  You want to start off by becoming familiar with this site.  It may not all make sense at first but over time it will.

Next you want to start looking at how other people approach things.  This is easy as you can view the HTML of any page you can view.  Over time you will learn what good and bad code looks like.

Practice,  practice,  practice. Like many things in IT,  you really have to learn by doing.  You’re going to get a lot of problems in the rendering of your pages as you go.  At first they are probably going to have you stumped as well.  But you can’t do any damage so just keep experimenting.  In the process you’re going to lean many different ways of doing things and why you should and shouldn’t do things in certain ways in different situations.

Reflect on what you are doing.  Take the time to look at the result and appreciate why and how it turned out the way it did. Think about other ways you could have achieved the same outcome.  Try some of them.  Be aware of the implications your decisions will have in terms of flexibility,  elegance,  maintainability and so on.

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