Why I’m Killing W3Schools (and you can too)

“Kittens are Dying”

That call to action was an overly dramatic portrayal of the stabbing pain I feel every time a web dev newbie searches the Web for help. The search results for anything related to beginner level web development flat out suck.

Where I hate on W3Schools for a Moment.

W3Schools has been hitting the top of Google search results from seemingly day 1 of the search engines. Well, since 1999 anyway. Any one of us would be lying if we said we didn’t learn plenty of web development from that site when we were getting started. However, without any comprehensive learning material to back up all that search engine fodder, much of what I learned from it , I had to unlearn later. I never really understood how a browser worked, and got confused while stumbling around on my own for a few years.

And, with all the advertising, the use of Microsoft ASP, and the tight layout, it just feels “icky”. They don’t seem to be making an honest effort to move the craft of web development forward.

Why Hate

I began learning web development during my senior year of college in 2000 - 2001. At that time web development was not a “real” focus of study, and I had to learn it through the Adobe flash tools and Dreamweaver as it was taught in school at that time.

I quit building websites for a while, and didn’t get back into it until 2007 when I finally learned PHP, on my own. A large part of my education came from that pile of crap at the top of the search results page, and yeah, I am still resentful.

After getting a few years of web development experience under my belt I discovered the Mozilla Developers site. I got involved in building Firefox addons, which really pushed my front end development capabilities in a good way. And, I learned what open source software development was all about besides “free”, which was a huge leap forward for me.

W3Schools and friends don’t do any of that. So, I hate on them.

State of the Union

There is a healthy movement to learn to code, even for people who don’t plan on being developers as their primary career. Basic web development is getting recognition as a powerful tool to have on your belt. Some recent, good reading includes Code, the newsroom, and self-doubt by Noah Veltman, and Why every entrepreneur needs to learn to code (something) by Joelle Steiniger.

And supporting the “learn to code” movement, online tools and courseware have improved dramatically since I first got started. Like, night and day. These days, when I ask where to send a newbie to learn web development I get answers like:

These are really great resources, and I highly recommend them, however, they don’t rank high in the search results. Like it or not, the googles is the gateway to the craft of web development, and anything more than an incremental improvement in learning needs to rank well to have an impact.

Where We Invent the Future

So the plan is to create a site, which I’m calling The HTML and CSS Tutorial, with the goal of winning the search engine battle for beginner level web development material. To do this it needs to have the best learning material on the web (or close to it), along with comprehensive HTML, CSS, and JavaScript reference material. It needs to provide high quality content coupled with an information architecture that will get a beginner up to speed, meeting their immediate needs, while allowing them to go through a comprehensive course of material when they are ready.

When I started working on it, I thought The HTML and CSS Tutorial would just be a big HTML “book” which anyone could read online. However, as I’ve seen the power of video, especially for people who learn better visually, I’ve decided that it needs to include video as well. So, it’s going to end up being an online reference book (in HTML), a collection of cheat sheets, use case specific guides, and a catalog of courses including video. There will be no paywall in front of the core content, which will be hosted on GitHub, and it would be great to include links to all the great courseware I mentioned above as well.

I know this is starting to sound like another labor of love, where I now ask you to hit the donation button at the top of the page and contribute to a GitHub repository. Actually, I hope to make a living by selling high quality video tutorials and other material outside of all the awesomeness you can get for free here at The HTML and CSS tutorial. I plan on making a living at this someday; with your help.

It’s going to take a long time to get there, but waiting is not going to do anything to help the current situation. We’ve been waiting for too long already. So, I’m going to get started publishing and promoting now, and I’m going to need your help to do it.

I’ll have much more detail about the short term strategy and tactics for launching this project in my next post sometime next week. Until then, tell all your developer friends to come check it out.

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.