Help me learn how to build a modern website
January 10, 2011 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Help me learn how to build a modern website. I have general knowledge of basic HTML, my own domain and host, and a number of ideas. Where can I learn to make my ideas into a proper website?

I learned HTML coding in the mid-1990s, having built a few basic websites by hand. Then I used Dreamweaver for it's hotkeys and instant previews, but all my content was hand-coded. But I stopped learning before CSS came into its own, and now CMS sounds like the way to go, but that seems even further removed from what I know.

My personal website, stuck in the late 1990s and last updated a few years ago, can be seen here. I have turned to *sigh* MySpace for posting my playlists, and have one stalled blog idea on blogspot, plus a tumblr blog that never got started. I have a free Flickr account maxed out, so now I post pictures to Facebook, which isn't ideal. And I'm not making use of the webhost (Dreamhost) that I am paying for, or the domain that I rather like. None of my ideas are attempts at anything commercial, just little projects I've been thinking about for too long without doing anything about them, and I figure I can do better than handcoding everything again.

In summary I'd like to build a new website that:
1. supports multiple, unrelated blogs (different designs for different ideas)
2. supports playlist entries (ideally being able to enter one song at a time, for a live update of my show as it's happening)
3. allows me to upload photos in a Flickr-like fashion (no need to build websites on my home system, then upload the lot to my server)
BONUS: offers my images for sale (or tips on working with Smugmug or other image hosting/selling site)

Where can I learn modern methods? I'd like to do this my self, on the weekends and such. The previous AskMe posts I've found are either from more basic than I want, or rather dated. Or are suggestions from 2007 still as valid as anything else?
posted by filthy light thief to Education (10 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
I always liked the CSS tutorial from WestCiv. You don't have to use their product to go through it. In fact, I'd recommend you don't and do it by hand, then try their nifty doodad.

A CMS does sound like the way to go, but if you want to do any customizing of it, knowing CSS helps.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:57 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dreamhost's one-click installs of WordPress would be the simplest thing. WordPress has a whole ecosystem of plugins, themes and hackers whaling away on it all the time. You can have multiples setup, to do unrelated, and photo blogs. I'm assuming there's a music set of things as well.

Also: Big props to if you want to dig in.
posted by DigDoug at 11:00 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

WordPress is a really good suggestion. It's the blogging software that grew up into the most popular CMS. Your odds of getting something nice looking quickly, and of finding plugins to do anything you want, and community support for anything complicated, are higher with WordPress than any other software out there.

You don't have to leave your HTLM skills at the door, either -- it's easy to start with a theme you kinda sorta like, and then create a child theme that you modify to your heart's content. If you pick a well-designed modern theme to start with, you'll also learn CSS etc by immersion.

(If you really were going to dive into modern web programming and design, there might be frameworks that are cleaner than WordPress, which is internally a little mangled by its bloggy past. But if you have ideas that you're trying to get out into the wild, I wouldn't get bogged down in all that. WordPress will get you 90% there in half an hour; if an idea takes off, you can always go back and do the other 10% the hard way.)
posted by jhc at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2011

Another vote for wordpress 3.0 (or wpmu)
posted by WizKid at 1:39 PM on January 10, 2011

There has been a huge amount of growth in web developed in the last year, more so than for nearly a decade before. From webfonts to widespread usage of HTML5, to mobile design, this is an amazingly busy time in web design. However, everything now is based on HTML/CSS/JS. As long as you want to do any sort of designing, you're going to have to learn CSS, there's no way around it.

On the development side, there are tons of really powerful CMSes out there with a lot of great (as well as terrible) extensions. As others have said, Wordpress is likely going to be the way to go for you, but don't get married to it yet, figure out your exact needs and then start comparing others as well (like Drupal, Expression Engine, etc).

While you can pick up all the new stuff by going all over the web, I've found that no single site/blog/magazine has covered *everything* in its totality. However, I'd say two of the most useful sites are: Recently, a lot of web folk have been publishing books, and many of them have been collimations of everything that has been going on for the last decade. For your level of knowledge, the books I would recommend (in order) are:
  1. Designing with Web Standards, 3rd Edition
  2. Hardboiled Web Design
  3. Smashing Wordpress (I have not read this book, but Smashing has been putting out some rather good stuff in the last 10 months and the table of contents looks decent.)
  4. The Zen of CSS Design (an oldie, but a goodie)
There were a bunch of other good resources in a couple select previous ask.mefi questions as well.

Finally, recently web design folk all over have started meetups for everything. Check Twitter, Facebook, etc for ones happening around you, sometimes the best source of information is still just sitting down and talking to someone else.
posted by thebestsophist at 5:30 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Another vote for wordpress from a fellow "learned HTML in the 90's" coder. ;)

Check out the two different options for WP on under Goodies/One Click Installs. I've used both the simple & custom installations and have been very happy.

I highly recommend setting up a simple one to play around with. You'll be surprised at just how much you can do!
posted by luckynerd at 5:39 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I'll poke and prod around more this weekend, and drop in some feedback.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:43 PM on January 10, 2011

I've used WordPress with some success for years, making the Wendell.Me blog as well as some other no-longer-available sites by starting with a simple pre-packaged theme and building onto it while self-training myself on the relevent html, css AND php. Right now, I have taken on a re-design-my-entire-web-presence project with a 'super-flexible' theme called Suffusion and am obsessively personalizing all the minutiae. I used DreamHost for years but when I wanted to consolidate several sites with their own domain names under WordPress MultiUser and they didn't support that so I moved to HostGator which does. I have also started using embedded fonts with the FontFace tools which are actually making it EASY. I have forgotten more about web design than some designers have ever known, but then, that's just my neurological problem.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:59 PM on January 10, 2011

Err, here's the link for Hardboiled Web Design.
posted by thebestsophist at 8:10 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My experience is nearly identical to yours. Years of tinkering with html and blogs, mostly on Blogger. I recently switched to Wordpress with much hesitation. At first the installation and moving my old stuff just seemed like too much to take on.

But for the most part the process was relatively painless, some parts were easier than expected, and and now and experiencing how versatile and powerful Wordpress can be. I think it can pretty much do what you are looking for. Also, there are a lot more great pre-made templates out there so you don't have to waste alot of time on your design (which I always do anyways. Give it a shot, pretty sure you'll like it.
posted by roaring beast at 12:41 PM on January 11, 2011

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