The HTML is Easy Myth

January 17, 2008

by — Posted in Technology

For years there has been a myth going around online.  The detrimental  myth that hurts many and makes them feel inferior.   The myth that HTML is very easy.  I read many books on the history of technology and most of them going into the HTML revolution.   The fact that HTML allows everyone to participate online and create their own content.    The fact that it is so easy that even the family dog can do it.

Before I get much further I would like to say that I know enough HTML to get myself by.   The learning though has been more from the sense of need then actually looking at a book and having it all “click”.  Usually I’m looking to do something specific and I find the answer.   There is a few commands that I know about that I haven’t even used.   I prefer CSS though over HTML.

Most people that interact online use very little HTML.   They use WYSIWYG editors that do all the formatting.  Adding links is as simple as highlighting a line, clicking the link button, and typing in the destination of the link.   I don’t use HTML for this.   For some reason all technology books and classes preach the long lasting myth that HTML is what you have to learn.    This unfortunately is a lie.

Web Architects – they do have to know HTML, but content providers have been long past the time where HTML skills were required.   If my sister wanted to start a blog, she wouldn’t bother to learn html.  If my grandmother got the point where she decided that she wanted to post her recipes online she would be discouraged by ever looking at HTML code.

Knowing HTML is a benefit but not a necessity.  It also is not simple pie publishing that anyone can learn and understand.   It’s understanding the logic and taking the time to learn the codes.   This time takes away from the ability to actually create content for a creator (if there creation is not strictly or primarily HTML).   People waste time on things they don’t need too when learning a good CMS system would  be sufficient.   The next step if you had to learn something would be CSS to style the CMS system the way you want it to look.   Then at this point learning HTML may be a benefit.

The teachers however train you that HTML is the first thing you have to learn.   They waste time for skills that may never be relevant.   Unfortunately these skills are a complete waste of time and are lost in relevancy immediately when they start to put those skills into practical use.   The similar scenario that I can put into the educators false belief in this system is similar to how programming was when I was in school.   When I went to college in the 1995 school season the major programming language at the time was C++ for the computing community.   The highest level of programming my college taught CS majors was PASCAL.   PASCAL was on the way out as a programming language at the time.  Already it had seen it’s hey day and was in decline.   I’m not arguing that it wasn’t an important skill to learn, I am however wondering how that skill would have gotten me a job.

Needless to say I never took a computer programming at college.   I also have never taken an HTML class, but I’ve used the web successfully and created varying levels of content on it since 1994.    These skills are also not in my skill set for work either.   Though I work in computer security I’m not a programmer nor do I ever plan to be.    I started programming with the origina “anyone can learn it” programming language, BASIC.

I hated BASIC on my VIC-20 with a passion.  Anything to do with typos took hours to correct after taking hours to input in the first place.   This early interaction made me hate programming with a passion.   My brother however at least embraced HTML and web design technologies.   This will help make him a web architect, but not a content provider.   HTML is for the rigid people that like order.  They make sense out of the chaos.   Content creators on the other hand learn enough web languages to make their content viewable.   Creators are much more chaotic then designers.

I am a creator and I say HTML is overhyped.   It does allow me to be more flexible in some areas, but that’s only to bring some order ot the chaos.   I prefer to start with the chaos and work from there.

We could always  go back to the myth that you need to understand math to use computers, but that’s a rant for another day.

6 thoughts on “The HTML is Easy Myth

  1. I learned my HTML basics from WebMonkey tutorials and from building an Angelfire webpage back, way back…in the day :) I have NO clue what CSS is, and it frightens me but someday I'll probably meander into learning about it too. Why not. I already know I don't WANT 2 b a web architect, but learning about what it takes never hurts! :)

    My son's doing the whole programming/game design thing at college. He has an exponentially larger amount of patience than his mother :)

    I missed out on alot when the internet began….we didn't get it til 99. Always behind.

    You rock as usual :)

  2. CSS is so much easier then HTML since it is more human readable (even though they say HTML is human readable). If you manage to ever get over to the wordpress platform you'll be doing alot with CSS in themes (you also do it in blogspot themes).

    I managed to first get online to the “real internet” back in 94, but I didn't do any HTML for years. After moving to a CMS (content managment system) or blog platform I can say I would never move to static pages done in HTML ever again.

  3. An interesting post. I do concur that with the introduction of GUI front end web editors, the needing to know the ins and outs of HTML has become somewhat redundant. It's particularly telling when you see these days how much a web designer now gets paid (a pittance). The real knowledge and skill is web development, moreover the development of web applications.
    I do use web editor, but I'm one of those people who likes to look at the code to see what it's doing (I'm a bit anal that way). I'm far more impressed by people who create the wonderful web applications.

  4. An interesting post. I do concur that with the introduction of GUI front end web editors, the needing to know the ins and outs of HTML has become somewhat redundant. It's particularly telling when you see these days how much a web designer now gets paid (a pittance). The real knowledge and skill is web development, moreover the development of web applications.
    I do use web editor, but I'm one of those people who likes to look at the code to see what it's doing (I'm a bit anal that way). I'm far more impressed by people who create the wonderful web applications.

  5. Not to disagree, but I think HTML is generally fairly easy. There are a limited number of tags you really need to know to get started, and you can learn those in a few hours. HTML is not a programming language, it is a formatting language. It’s like writing a Word document, but more precise.

    To me, the statement that you “prefer CSS to HTML” is very strange. It’s not a choice, they only work together. HTML determines what elements on a page are (are they headings? paragraphs? tables?), and in what order they are organized. CSS determines how those elements look, what color they are, etc. A CSS file contains only style information, no content that a user could read.

    It’s true that complicated things can be done with HTML and CSS, but I think that the basics are easy, and I frankly think that anyone who is doing content management for a living should have at least an understanding of HTML for text formatting purposes: headings, strong, em, anchors, paragraphs, lists, tables, etc.

    I found this post because I get frustrated when I come across horribly mangled HTML done using a WYSIWYG editor. WYSIWYG editors and Microsoft Word teach bad habits and (usually) generate messy HTML. HTML itself can (should) be very clean and simple — if it is, it’s easy to read and understand.

    I do agree that some people won’t be bothered to learn, but I also think that markdown or something like that might be a better solution than WYSIWYG editors. WYSIWYG editors make it seems like “anything is possible, you just make it look the way you want” but in fact, a lot of times this causes problems. A person using a visual editor can only guess at how the computer is formatting their content based on what they see. They can’t understand why their text keeps turning blue (for example) and they can’t solve the problem because the HTML is invisible to them. In fact, this might be caused by something like a blank anchor tag “” which the visual editor failed to completely remove when they took out a link. Markdown is more readable than HTML, but much more precise and less deceiving than a visual editor.

    I guess i get on a bit of a tear about this kind of thing, but I’m passionate about making it simpler for people to write content correctly for the internet, because as a web developer I spend a lot of time cleaning up messes that could have been avoided simply by not using a visual editor and having a small amount of knowledge of HTML. Maybe Markdown is the answer.

    Edit: even for CMSes — WordPress, etc. entering text content in HTML is more effective than using the visual editor, I think.

  6. When I mentioned prefer CSS (and this post is 5 years old) – I have dealt with many sites back then and since – that did not use CSS – pure .html files only. Up until the last few months the company I work for used straight HTML instead of a CMS.

    I understand and I’m comfortable with the basics – I just don’t believe the majority of people these days will ever need to even know those. I remember back in the late 90’s that they stated everyone will know html – those days have unfortunately passed and that belief never made it to fruition thanks to CMS systems.

Leave a Reply