Fifteen Megabytes of Fame
...or 'how to get on the Web right now'
Andy Warhol said in the future everybody would be famous for 15 minutes. The Web has changed that. Now you can count your fame in megabytes, not minutes... if fame is something you really want!
Maybe you just want to write a "how I spent my summer vacation" essay and publish it so that your far-flung family can read it on the Internet. If you want more people to read it ("fame"), you'll have to tell them it's there... and that gets more complicated.
No matter how many bytes of fame you want, you'll need a Web page, which is easier than you think. If you're reading this online you probably can have your first draft up and running today.
How? Easy! Five years ago you could buy a book promising to teach you to build a page in 30 days. Then it became a week. Now it's 3 days, 24 hours, or 1 hour. America Online and other services make it even easier with fill-in-the-blanks page-creation wizards that turn out a simple (or simply silly) page in minutes.
Even easier: Today most word processors (Microsoft Word, Word Perfect) have a "save as HTML" function which turns any document you create into a Web page--not a fancy one, but good enough to share your term paper about summer in Ireland with all the O'Briens in Boston.
So here's what to do:
- Write a simple page of text with your word processor. DO NOT attempt to write any HTML codes in the file; just get the page so that you like its looks on the word processor screen and on paper.
- Go to the "File" menu and choose "Save As" or "Save As HTML"
- Pick "HTML" from the list of available file formats.
- Name the file "mynewhome.html" (no spaces or punctuation marks in the first part of the file name; period and "html" at the end)
- Save it on your hard disk or a floppy disk.
Now open Netscape or Internet Explorer, go to its File menu and choose "open file" or "open page" (but not "open location," which takes you out onto the Web), and open that file you named "mynewhome.html"
Congratulations! That's a Web page you created!
If you tried to do fancy formatting on the page (lots of tabs or indentations, or several different fonts and font sizes) the Web page version may not look right with one browser or another. Word processing programs aren't perfect Web page editors, but they're pretty good with simple documents.Right now your page is only visible on your computer, but here's all you have to do to publish it to the world:
- Ask your college or Internet Service Provider if your e-mail account includes free Web space. It probably does.
- Find out how to put information into that space. It may mean using a file-transfer program like FTP or Fetch, or it may be as easy as dropping the file into a public folder on your networked computer's desktop.
- Here at Emerson College, for example, everyone with an e-mail account has space on a public file server called "Pages". Inside "Pages" there are folders called "Faculty," "Students," "Courses" etc. To create a home page, all you have to do is open your personal folder inside "Faculty" or "Students" and drop in the HTML file you made (name it "index.html")
Your home page address on the Web will be like mine, but ending in your name the way it appears in your e-mail address.
For example, mine is
"http://pages.emerson.edu/faculty/bob_stepno" (because Web browsers take it for granted that "index.html" is the home page file's name).
Remember to always use the "Save as... HTML" routine when you create Web pages with a word processing program. Include a period and "html" as the last part of the file name, but don't use other punctuation marks or spaces in the name. The main page in any "folder" or "directory" on the Web is called "index.html"; you can create many Web pages in one folder, but it's a good idea to get them organized into sub-folders.)
About this "HTML" stuff
HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and its basic "markup" codes are quite simple, just a few letters in brackets. For instance, the HTML to make text bold is <b>something bold</b>.
Web publishing has another secret: Learning By Borrowing! You can look at the source code behind most Web pages (see the "View" menu on your browser), make a copy (see the "File/Save as.." menu), and study the codes to see how the page is put together.
The original way to make a Web page involved using a plain text editor like SimpleText on a Macintosh, Notepad on Windows, or their enhanced cousins, BBedit (Mac), Arachnophilia (Windows) or Emacs (Unix). Even if you prefer to use today's easier page-building tools like Dreamweaver or GoLive, understanding the basics of HTML can help you "debug" a page that doesn't come out quite right.
(For the record, this page started out as a Word Perfect document. I saved it as HTML, opened it with BBedit to add the background color and a margin around the edges of the page. I also put in the hypertext links with BBedit, although I could have done that Word Perfect too.)If you want to learn enough about HTML to see how it works, there are plenty of books and Web sites to teach you. I'm an old fan of Paul Lutus's simple HTML tutor. (Paul's also the author of Arachnophilia, an HTML editor for Windows that you can download in exchange for a simple promise to care.) Since I first discovered Paul's pages, bigger companies have started selling Web page creation tools like Dreamweaver and GoLive, and bigger, advertising-supported sites have gotten into the tutorial business, including howstuffworks.com and webmonkey.com, with lessons on HTML and much more.
Advanced techniques...Of course there are fancier things you can do with Web pages: adding graphics, tables, multi-part pages and all the bells and whistles you see clanging and tooting online. Programs like Dreamweaver are a big help there, as are image and animation programs like Photoshop and Flash. Eventually you may want to explore more technical Web design issues, including database-backed "dynamic" Web sites. Database programs can allow visitors to "sign-in" at a site, and they can manage large sites that change frequently, such as online shopping catalogs, online newspapers, or user-created information in a discussion forum.
For more information on dynamic sites, see Philip Greenspun's 21-minute Web intro, which begins with an overview of HTML, but leads to a discussion of using his database tools, and his book and courses about them.
Wherever you start, remember that you are a publisher now, so you should use that power responsibly: Tell the truth, don't bore people, and have fun!
(Online since 1994, still not very famous, barely up to 10 megabytes.)