Yet there is one primary obstacle to realizing this dream of a universal web which is fully accessible for everyone. The obstacle is that even WordPress and Joomla, in their current form are highly limiting. It is still very difficult for the average person to build a truly interactive and effective website. All of the current website building options suffer from serious problems. If you want to build a website, these are your current choices:
1. Paying a computer expert to build you website, may result in a “custom” and “functional” website. But many folks cannot afford to pay a professional website builder. Even those who can afford to pay a pro typically find that they cannot change or even control important aspects of their website as their needs change over time. They either pay again for more changes, or stay with a static website incapable of changing and unable to adapt over time to meet their actual needs.
2. Building a simple Google Site results in a website which is not truly interactive. It lacks the functionality needed for commercial applications and lacks a content management system (CMS) function of platforms such as Wordpress or Joomla. It also lacks the creative design options of Dreamweaver. It lacks the Community Relationship Management (CRM) functions of platforms such as Sugar CRM.I am grateful that Google offered my daughter a chance to have her own website. And hopefully, Google will continue to build on this good idea of free websites for everyone. But for now, free Google Sites are pretty limiting. Other free and low cost ”Click on a few buttons and you are done” options, such as Websites Tonight suffer from this same problem.
Figure 1: Google Web Building User Interface
3. Learning Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Expression Web (or some other commercial web building tool). Dreamweaver offers the promise of infinite creativity during the design process. But its User Interface is not User Friendly and its requirement that the User be able to know both HTML and CSS puts Dreamweaver well beyond the ability of the average person. There is also a cost problem in that Dreamweaver costs $400 per person (over $1,000 per person if you combine the cost of PhotoShop and other software needed to make it work). If you have a 10 person non-profit organization, such as an Elementary School PTA, a cost of $5,000 to $10,000 is simply too prohibitive. The free and commercial “extensions” available for Dreamweaver either cost a fortune or fail to work as advertised. Worst of all, Dreamweaver fails to provide a true content management system (CMS) or community relationship management (CRM).As with the other options, Dreamweaver sites often fail to meet the actual needs of website owners – even after years of trying and the investment of thousands of dollars.
Figure 2: Dreamweaver Web Building User Interface
4. Learning a Content Management System, such as Joomla. If one only wants a simple blog, Wordpress does an excellent job. If one wants more, such as commercial applications, then Joomla with its thousands of functional extensions offers a better alternative. Both options are great for managing content. Both options offer User Interfaces which are much easier to learn and use than Dreamweaver. There is no need to learn either HTML or CSS. It is therefore not surprising that in the past two years, Joomla and Wordpress have taken the lead from Dreamweaver as being the world’s most popular web building platforms. But both Wordpress and Joomla make it very difficult if one wants to also manage and control the APPEARANCE of the website.
Figure 3: Joomla Web Building User Interface
Thus, all of the options available right now are very primitive and none provide a good foundation for the future of website design and development. But imagine if all of these current obstacles to change and innovation were removed. Imagine if a simple system existed which allowed the average user to design the appearance and control the content of their own website without having to pay anyone anything and without a steep learning curve. I believe that such a technological breakthrough is now possible – or will be possible in the next year or two. Such a tool would open the doors to website design and development to everyone – not just computer programmers. If this tool were free and Open Source, it would lead to a historic expansion in the ability to share and transmit information - a Web 3.0 Revolution - which in turn would lead to an explosion in innovation.
How can we develop a more User Friendly web building tool?
One of the purposes of this website (springforwardwebdesign.com) is to explain how to use current options, such as Google Sites, Dreamweaver, Wordpress and Joomla to build and improve websites. We will also explain how to use free Open Source web editing and image editing tools such as Kompozer and Photoscape to build custom web pages. And we will explain how to use Extensions to improve and expand web sites. But a more important purpose is to present a path forward towards the development of more User Friendly Graphical User Interfaces (GUI). Below is one of the many Graphic User Interfaces of the Joomla Cloudbase 2 Template. This one uses COLOR PICKER programs to control the color of various parts of the web page:
Joomla websites come closest to the website building system of the future. Joomla already has the capacity to allow end user refinements of its template system through the addition of “parameters”. Parameter functions can be used to modify the template merely by the user making selections from a series of simple forms. While this function has existed for more than two years, its potential has been sadly under-utilized. The “core” capabilities of Joomla templates have also failed to keep up with the pace of change and the hopes of website builders. As a consequence, it is very difficult for end users who lack coding skills to modify the appearance of their Joomla websites.
Figure 4: Adding Parameters to the Joomla Template – Edit screen
The intention is to move away from a small number of Complex, High Density Information GUI screens which use languages foreign to the general public, which rely on long term memory and a long period of training (such as Dreamweaver) and move towards a greater number of GUI screens which use:
1. A step by step approach based on a consistent logic process for building a webs site (much as modern “western platform construction” makes it easier to build a custom looking home based on a series of simple, but important home construction steps.
2. Much greater use of pre-defined forms which offer simple choices.
3. Much greater Use of default CSS values wherein the safest choice is used if a form field is left blank rather than leaving the form field itself blank.
4. Much Greater use of plain everyday language rather than specialized language.
5. An optional more detailed interface to permit direct access to manipulation of both the HTML and CSS files – without the need for the end user to see the files or know HTML or CSS.
A key component is improvement in the Editing software. Currently there are commercial editing applications (such as Dreamweaver and Photoshop) and free Open Source editing applications (such as Kompozer and Photoscape). None of these options have a User friendly interface. By User Friendly, I mean a User Interface which is capable of changing both the structure (HTML) and style (CSS) of the website without the user knowing or even seeing the actual code.
In short, what is needed is the functional freedom of Dreamweaver and Photoshop (or Kompozer and Photoscape) combined with the simplicity of Google Sites combined with the Content Management of Joomla combined with the Community Relationship Management abilities of Sugar, Community Builder or other CRM’s combined with an ability to expand websites through the use of compatible extensions, similar to the Joomla Extension Directory. All of these changes will increase the movement towards greater user confidence, quicker website development, fewer web building errors and an explosion of website development by the general public.
In the next few months, we will offer specific ways to move towards Web 3.0 and build this new broader foundation for the future of the web. There are also thousands of others working on solving this problem. I am confident that there will be a solution in the next year or two.
One problem with many website building “tutorials” is that they are usually written by computer programmers who have no background in Education or Learning theory and thus fail to explain things in non-technical terms. I have Master’s Degree in Education and I have taught adult education courses in Problem Solving for more than 20 years. I understand the importance of organizing information into small enough bits so that most adults can understand complex topics without becoming overwhelmed by the complexity. I will do my best whenever possible to stay away from technical computer jargon.
We will also use a linear sequence to present topics in the order that they are needed to build a website. Too often, web tutorials are presented in an almost random fashion which only serves to confuse readers. Building a website is like building a house. We will start with the foundation and work our way up. Put another way, building a website is like writing a book. The order in which the chapters are presented is important.
Equally important in achieving an effective solution is an understanding of the problem. The problem is that current Interfaces are not user friendly. The key in opening up website construction to more users is the creation of a user friendly interface which permits users to do what they actually want to do. The interface therefore is the foundation of the website building house. A better foundation will make it easier for more users to build their own web houses.
Where to go from here?
This website, springforwardwebdesign.com, is likely to run thousands of pages (which is why I am building it using the Joomla CMS). I am not expecting you to read the whole thing. Beginners might get what they need for now using just the first few articles – which deal with how to build websites using the options which currently exist. We will begin with sections on Google Sites, Joomla Sites, and Dreamweaver Sites. I will include many of the handouts I use in my web design course at Seattle Central Community Colleges. Those more familiar with Joomla and/ or Dreamweaver should feel free to skip these Introductory sections.
The ultimate goal is the creation of a mythical “blank Joomla template” with a greatly expanded Parameter Forms section which the end user can fill in to create a web site structure of their own design and capable of meeting their own needs. It is my goal that this template will be controlled with one or more User Friendly User Interfaces which do not yet exist.
For those interested in the coding challenges, we will present the complete code as it is being developed. One challenge of Joomla is that the structure is not controlled via HTML, but rather using PHP and Java Script. This is not a bad thing because Joomla is driven by a hidden data base, called MySQL. PHP is the language used to control the data base. Data base integration is a huge advantage of the Joomla system – perhaps even more important than their Content Management System. This is especially important for business and social applications using and managing data from interactive forms. PHP also is a “server-side” script. Unlike Java Script (which is a client or browser-side script), PHP displays output consistently (typically as XHTML) even if the user has Java Script turned off, and even if the user is using a browser (Internet Explorer) which has trouble with Java Script. Thus, for those interested in the technical challenges, we will cover how to set up a local server, called an Apache Server, using a WAMP (Windows – Apache – MySQL –PHP) program - as well as an XAMMP program for those who prefer a non-Windows option. We will also include some basic tips on reading and using PHP, Java Script, HTML, XHTML, XML and CSS files so that you can follow along with what we are trying to do.
Another key issue is integration of Joomla data base manipulation with Dreamweaver and/or Kompozer. So we will also review how to integrate these programs. Keep in mind that all of these are fairly primitive programs which were not really made to work together. Kompozer in particular is still in the developmental stage. So some changes will be required to make things actually work. But I am confident that a solution is possible as I have been working on a rough draft solution to the problem for the past 2 years. The actual work will involve using the Parameters system in Joomla to permit greater user control over both the structure and style of the website template(s). My hope is that, in posting this work on line, others will join in and help me complete it. I will be adding a public forum to this website in the coming weeks for those interested in sharing their ideas.
Alternately, you can skip the development problem and simply wait for the finished product. I am hoping to complete this project within the next year. In the meantime, I encourage you to go ahead and design you own website using the Introductory articles. Building your own site is the best way to control your own future!
Regards, David Spring M. Ed.