In many professional contexts over the past years I came to the conclusion that learning a little bit of web programming has become more important than learning a third language. I’ve seen once successful business leaders making total fools of themselves by not knowing at least the basic landscape of how the web, and websites, work; and in my view, the same goes for the likes of us – the independents.
Over the past few days I’ve re-written much of the code of my website, and the new site is now up and running at jenshaas.com. The goal was to get rid of any superfluous code, just as I always try to avoid any superfluous elements when I make a photograph. And I wanted to make the site even simpler than earlier versions – simple in the sense of a smart cocktail dress that does not distract from the person wearing it.
Except for my very first site in 1999, which was done by a friend, I’ve done every subsequent version all by myself. It’s a personal thing – the way one writes code tells you a lot about a person I think (I am someone who always looks at the source code of an interesting website, which probably is a little crazy). And from an artistic viewpoint, it feels wrong to me to resort to one of the many pre-configured solutions available – even those that are fairly acceptable in terms of functionality and design.
Between 2000 and 2004, I made all my websites entirely in Flash. Not because the “flashiness,” but because a Flash site looks the same in every browser that supports Flash (which is almost any). The absence of cross platform issues is still a major benefit of that approach. But Flash is quite monolithic, plus I dislike dependence of any kind (in particular dependence on software vendors), and at some point I realized that I basically hated every Flash site except my own, so chances were high that others must hate mine. Hence I dropped Flash, except where its use is imperative (in my case that’s the movies, and the books preview).
So, what tools do you need to code a non-Flash site? It is actually very simple. Get yourself Firefox, the Firefox Web Developer Tool to edit HTML files and Style Sheets, and FireFTP to upload the files to your server (all three applications are free, lightweight, and extremely well conceived). There are a plethora of functions, but you’ll mostly need the tabs for CSS and HTML editing, and the validation tools – that’s it. I also keep using BBedit, a Mac only classic, but for a simple site any text editor will do.
If you maintain a website of your own, always keep an eye on the monthly browser statistics (here). Further vital websites for developers and designers: browershots.org, to see how your site looks on different browsers and platforms (IE Netrenderer does the same thing, but for Internet Explorer only – I use them both); and Google always is your friend, especially for finding solutions to Windows Explorer related problems, or open source code for things like slideshow functionality etc.
I think that’s it. I’ll update this post in case I’ve forgotten something.