What is the point of html? by Matt Holland

There are few practical skills that last through your professional career.   Touch typing would have been one.   Sadly it isn’t a skill that I have mastered.   Writing basic html (hypertext markup language) is another.   This is a skill I did master before the days of HoTMetaL. and that is a very long time ago!  It’s also something I use at least once week.   I say basic, because I wouldn’t write a web page or resource from scratch in raw html now.  I would use an html editor provided with whatever software I happen to be using.   I don’t think I could write that much html anyway.  However, it does have it’s value.  If you want to learn a new skill writing html is one that I would suggest.

What are the benefits?  Well here are a few.

< h2 > #1 Editing < /h2 >

Two of the web based services I currently use have editors to format web pages and eMail messages. NHS Networks and MailChimp.   Both editors have a What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) and html editor built in.  Like a lot of WYSIWYG editors, when things go wrong they can be very hard to fix. Indents you don’t want,  headings that are odd sizes, links that won’t format, spaces you can’t get rid 1and so on.   If you know the html you can switch to the html editor and see what’s wrong and fix it.   If you are interested, the usual cause text inserted outside the tags you can’t see unless you do switch to html.

< h2 > #2 Structure < /h2 >

Structure is something all documents have but you can’t always see or understand.   Using html teaches you the structure of web pages from < head > to < body > and headings < h1 > to lists < ol > and by extension can be applied to the structure of documents in Word processing software.  To make Tables of Contents work,  to have structured headings that work and number correctly, to be able to use automated indexing you need to ignore style and apply structure.   Just like using html or any other markup languages.

< h2 > #3 Reading web pages < /h2 >

There are two views of any web page.  The one you see with your web browser and the one you see when you view the source code.   It’s a good way to find information you can’t see otherwise.   Typically finding missing metadata or hunting down URL’s.   More difficult to do now that most web pages are written using scripts, but still useful.    The view source option moves around depending on the browser you use. Under the < strong > View  < /strong > menu in Explorer 11 or in Google Chrome look under < strong > More Tools < /Strong >.   I am guessing anyone working in the NHS is not using Firefox, you may not even be using Explorer 11!

< h2 > #4 Copying and Pasting into web pages < /h2 >

This can be messy.   You may think you are copying text from a Word document into your web page.  You are not.  Yes, you are copying text,  but in addition you are copying information about fonts, font sizes, font colours, spaces, line breaks, formatting and lots more.   You might find that trying to standardise the text to Normal there is just too much going on underneath.   So if you have to copy text from one or more sources, knowing html can help you to strip out the surplus tags to create something that is consistent and will render well in any Browser.  A move from dogs dinner to cats whiskers.

< h2 > #5 Simple can be elegant too < /h2 >

I wouldn’t like to say how many html tags you need to know to write simple pages.  It isn’t that many.  Understanding the basics about opening and closing tags, simple page structures and attributes together with the help of the many online reference tools should see you through.  You can then start to configure a proforma that you like and just drop the text and links into it.   This is how I built the library MailChimp template.

< h2 >  #6  Copy and paste the code into the HTML of your site < /h2 >

No, this isn’t a hard sell for the NWAS LKS Twitter Feed.   You can see the link in the code below, if you can read it.   It’s the instruction that goes with it < i >  Copy and paste the code into the HTML of your site < /i >  that catches the eye.  It’s another good reason to be able to use html,  to drop these handy little widgets in your websites and blog posts.

< a class=”twitter-timeline”  href=”https://twitter.com/NWASLibrary&#8221; data-widget-id=”619338265016037376″ >Tweets by @NWASLibrary</a>
< script >!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+”://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);< /script >

Alternatively, if you find an irritating widget you want to get rid of you can just delete the relevant script without destroying your webpage.

< h2 > #7 … but it isn’t coding … < /h2 >

html is simple, logical and useful but it isn’t, to use the current buzzword, coding.   That’s a bit harder. Highly recommended is the Coursera MOOC lead by Charles Severance AKA Dr Chuck form the University of Michigan,  Programming for Everybody (Python).   A programming course for real beginners.   I am not saying I passed the course and got a certificate.   I didn’t.   But like the best of education I learnt a lot, including re-acquainting myself with the Windows Command interface. That is another story.   The next course starts in October 2015.   Courses on html are many.  This one looks like a good one W3schools.com.

Note that html tags have no spaces.  They are included here for decorative purposes only.  Spaces avoid them being rendered in whatever browser you are using!

Matt Holland, Librarian, NWAS LKS
@NWASLibrary
NWAS LKS is supported by HCLU NW

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