Anne van Kesteren

Learning new stuff

There are a couple of ways to learn new things regarding subjects you like. (If you don't like them it still applies, although you might want to consider doing something else.) Personally I started with reading (technical) books. First about HTML (the book covered some basics of CSS as well), later about CSS (Eric Meyer, anyone?), Javascript, PHP, SQL (I really like this language, actually), XML, Flash, XSL-FO, XML Schema, XSLT, XPath, XPointer and various books with vague topics. However, that only takes care of the basics. You understand how it works, but you don't always know all the capabilities or browser hacks (in terms of CSS). Following weblogs is probably the best (next) thing you can do. And I don't mean to follow weblogs from a list of bookmarks. No, I mean to follow weblogs using a feed reader so you can do it efficiently without letting it take too much of your time.

If you don't do such a thing already I would like to recommend you to use bloglines. It supports every flavor of RSS (that is indeed one reason to stop using RSS) and Atom. You can view your weblogs everywhere online and if you not sure where to start it has a set of recommendations and tips ready for you.

Subscribing to weblogs is easy:

Or by using a bookmarklet: Blogline!

Of course, if you follow some sites already you will probably hear the most important topics (read: topics that well-known people talk about), since those are covered at multiple weblogs, but you will probably miss a lot of things that you are interested in. Subscribing to weblogs is easy and following them doesn't take that much of your time.

Another way of learning is probably through news groups and reading articles and tutorials on various subjects. Reading specifications is a good way to learn things as well, although you need to understand the technical language that is used. If a weblog covers that specification and gives you some insights it will be much easier to understand it although you always need to look out for possible mistakes the author can make. (Like talking about entities where you mean character references…)


  1. I learn about webstandards by reading your weblog ;)

    I've got a job as J2EE developer. To improve my knowledge of J2EE I frequently read articles at

    Posted by Kees at

  2. I only just started using an aggregator in the last few days, and it is much easier than what I was doing previously, with just visiting each bookmarked blog. Now I only have to go the ones that have actually been updtated. Since I wasn't using an aggregator previously, I hadn't set up a feed on my blog until now, which probably explains why I haven't been getting many return readers. (either that or my content is just no good :-))

    Thanks for the link the Mark's article on the RSS versions. The situations is worse than I thought — not only does the acronym have 3 different meanings (RDF Site Summary, Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) depending on the version, but each one has its own problems and is incompatible with all others. I'm using atom because that's what blogger provides, but AFAICT, it's still only a draft specification, and therefore probably shouldn't be used until it is fully standardised.

    The question is, which is the best format to pick given all of those problems? It seems to me that the whole RSS format has been extended just like HTML was with incompatible proprietary extensions, that each aggregator is now expected to support.

    Posted by Lachlan Hunt at

  3. Atom 0.3 is widely adopted (albeit only a draft, like you say). The next version will be Atom 1.0 (now discussed on atom-syntax), which needs to be implemented before it can be used (unless there aren't that many differences, which I doubt). I currently provide links to my Atom feeds, but I still have a RSS and RDF feed (/feeds/rdf, /feeds/rss).

    Posted by Anne at

  4. Staying in a third-world country, buying books is very expensive. All of what I've learned so far is from reading specifications and weblogs (including yours, Anne).

    Now I even proudly keep a weblog about it myself. :-)

    If I can do it in a third-world country, there is no excuse for somebody living in a first-world country, in my opinion.

    Posted by Charl van Niekerk at

  5. Nike has, by a mile ahead of Anne, the best tip of all:

    Just do it.

    Just keep yourself busy creating websites and pages. Best way to learn anything is by doing it and improving yourself every time you find your knowledge or skill lacking.

    Ever seen the movie Good Will Hunting? It has -the- best take on the vital difference between experience and knowledge. If you haven't seen it yet, watch it first, and then go plunge yourself in your favorite HTML/Text editor and start doing Web Standards. Don't read. Do.

    Posted by Faruk Ates at

  6. Reading specs, books and blogs is one thing. Combining them to something more than the individual parts is yet another. Specs and books on one side just state the dry facts. Blogs on the other hand often contain wonderous things you might not have though up yourself. The last option I really missed though, is finding out something new yourself, and by spreading the word teaching others. :)

    Posted by Peter at

  7. Faruk gets it. Eris was talking about it too.

    First gather, read, accumulate.
    Then do.
    Find optional ways.
    Then perfect it.

    And on a slightly unrelated matter: Your first book on html had css in it Anne? And there was me thinking you were in it a tad longer than that.

    Heh, my first book just had html (2 and 3), but already it had strong warnings about getting to know your browsing public and making sure it would work in their browsers. It's funny how history repeats itself.

    Posted by AkaXakA at

  8. Yeah, I'm doing this for two years now. Not so very long :-). Of course, doing things yourself works best, but you won't learn new techniques/tips/tricks/browser hacks et cetera others discover (discovering the same thing might be a useful learning process, but it also takes time).

    Posted by Anne at

  9. I do not like weblogs for various reasons, but I really do appreciate newsgroups in good old Usenet (one advantage is that you can read and write offline).

    There are many good groups with the “right” people discussing, for example the international ciwah (read with Google-Groups) and ciwas (read with Google-Groups), or our German dciwam (read with Google-Groups).

    Posted by Lars Kasper at

  10. I followed those newsgroups for a while (ciwah and ciwas), but I didn't really like them. The questions were quite boring and not really interesting. Explaining each time that people should use CSS and which techniques they should follow…

    However, sometimes there were (very) interesting markup/style related questions, maybe I should go and track them again.

    Posted by Anne at