Some Details on the Plan to Kill W3Schools

So I wrote a blog post Saturday explaining why I have been planning to kill W3Schools The post got quite a response after I posted it to Hacker News. I honestly had no idea it would strike such a nerve, and it left me more motivated than ever to get moving on the HTML and CSS Tutorial project.

As you can imagine, all the positive response was countered — to a much lesser degree — by detractors of the idea. So, I thought I’d write another post today to: 1) explain my ideas in more detail, and 2) address some of the criticism (much of it was constructive, by the way).

So here goes:

1) The post was juvenile

One commenter on Hacker News had this to say:

Juvenile language and problem statement. Off putting pitch to developers that found W3Schools useful. At some point it’ll have to switch to a more professional approach.

My response: Yes it is.

Taking a stand stirs up emotion and interests people in an idea. A “professional approach” is boring. The HTML and CSS Tutorial will always be useful, but it will also have character, take a stand, and just generally inject more “fun” into your job of web development.

I’m sure it’s off putting to some people, but those people will never really be interested in the core message anyway. It will never be professional enough for them, or they’ll scoff at the for-profit strategy vs a free, crowd sourced one. That’s ok. It’s a big web with plenty of other learning and reference sites out there. There is a place for everyone.

2) W3Schools is not really that bad.

Nope. It’s not.

The W3Schools information architecture and navigation is better than most of the other big reference sites out there. Most of the content is pretty good.

However, at one point, over 100 people per minute were clicking on a headline which read “Why I’m Planning to Kill W3Schools”. That says something.

Most of us (web developers) loath W3Schools. I think that is because it does not represent good web development. There is no pride in craftsmanship there, in a trade where quality is so important to us. One commenter in the Hacker News thread called this attitude towards quality, craftsmanship, and aesthetic “hipster”, and went on to say the the poor aesthetic quality of W3Schools had no bearing on the content.

My problem with that comment is that it implies there needs to be a trade off between usefulness, craftsmanship, and beauty. I’m saying, why can’t we have our cake and eat it too?

I like cake.

(I know, I know, the current design of The HTML and CSS Tutorial is not great. I’m only about 20% designer, and the rest of me is a code slinger. However, I’ve already rectified that with a very talented designer: See “The job is too big for one guy” below.)

3) Why Not Contribute to Effort XYZ

This Tweet came from a Mozilla employee whom I respect very much.

Christian believes the best way to create better content is for everyone to collaborate on a centralized, open source, content repository.

I disagree.

Building and managing a huge open source repository of words is like slogging through mud. The democratic, crowd sourced way of doing things means the whole thing moves way too slowly, and never really meets the demands of the market.

You know how a camel was invented?

A committee was put together to design the perfect horse.

The proof is in the pudding. W3Schools beats the Mozilla Developers Network on almost every search query because W3Schools is designed to meet market demands, not satisfy some ideology of its creators.

4) You’re just doing this to get rich off the backs of contributors.

Yes and no.

Yes, I’m doing this to get rich, but there is a lot more to “riches” than money. I talk about my motivations much more deeply in a post on my personal blog called Life Strategy. Also, see my comments in the section above and below to see why HTML and CSS Tutorial needs to be a profit oriented venture. If it were not for profit, it would not succeed.

Regarding contributions; I am absolutely not engaging in a strategy to make money off the backs of unpaid contributors. Most content will be created and edited by me. If other folks want to contribute, that’s fine, but I take responsibility for making sure the HTML and CSS Tutorial fits the needs of the web development community. So the burden of content creation and aggregation falls on me, not the crowd.

Just because content will be released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License , and hosted on GitHub does not mean I plan to outsource the work to the crowd. I believe that ideas, content, and code are never really owned. Profit is made by the successful execution and distribution of ideas, content, and code into a market which finds it valuable enough to pay for. There is no reason to tie profit to ownership. That’s why The HTML and CSS Tutorial will be licensed under a “copy left” structure.

So, you don’t have to contribute. The HTML and CSS Tutorial is going to happen, with or without you. If you want to contribute, then you are free to do so, knowing that your content is free for others to use. If you really wanted to, you could take all that content, and put up your own website. That’s the beauty of it.

5) The job is too big for one guy.

Yes it is.

But, one guy can get it started. One guy can make an online course and sell it for a few bucks. And, with the money I hope to earn from the paid courses, I can hire more editors, create more jobs, spin up more servers, and continue to grow the whole mess into something really audacious.

Somebody needs to start.

And, just to drive the point home, I was so thrilled with the response you all gave me, I went out and found a really talented designer to help get The HTML and CSS Tutorial whipped into shape. Jim is not doing this for free, I wouldn’t have asked him to, and if he offered to do it for free I would have insisted on paying him.

6) Come back when you’ve actually done something.

I wrote a blog post that got nearly 25,000 visitors in less than 4 hours, and filled a few pages of comments on more than one news aggregator site. Over 500 people have signed up to keep up to date with The HTML and CSS Tutorial through my email newsletter.

Through all that discourse over a single weekend I learned what the web development community is passionate about. I found out how excited newbies really are to learn this craft. And, I learned what is currently causing us some pain and how it might be solved.

What did you do last weekend?

The Near Future

I’m going to be releasing the first chunk of The HTML and CSS Tutorial soon. The folks on the mailing list will be the first to know about it, as well as get the inside scoop on the planning, strategy, and SEO tactics. So, make sure you’re signed up below:

Get involved
by dropping off your email address so that I can send an occasional electronic mail message to keep you up to date on progress. Then, the only thing you need to do, is spread the word about it.