Traditionally, technology has scared me. A bit of a late bloomer when it comes to all things IT-related, my heart has always belonged to books, magazines and newspapers, the feel of paper between finger and thumb, rather than websites. Computer programming, with all its terrifying-looking codes and numbers, seemed like a secret language that I would never be able to get my head around, like Double Dutch, Mandarin or those funny noises Röyksopp make.
But then recently, something inside me switched. Now cyberspace no longer seems like a geeky ghetto – but rather a world of opportunity. Why? Because of four hours spent one Saturday afternoon at Eton Institute with a man called Pierre Abou Aad.
This may sound a little hyperbolic. But, during the institute’s new DIY web design and development courses, Pierre finds a way to make launching your own site on the internet seem not only easy, but also, dare I say it, quite fascinating. No, really.
‘First things first, you need to think up your domain or website name,’ he begins, suggesting using the site whois.net to see if that ‘mynewwebsite.com’ idea is already taken. I tap mine in to my PC (each desk has one): www.beckylucas.com. It’s still there! That crazy Becky Lucas in Alabama with the frightening MySpace page hasn’t got there first! (Not that I type my own name into Google often. Ahem). We’re only 15 minutes in and already this class is a little bit exciting.
Pierre then goes on to explain how you should go about creating the various aspects of your site, from the very basics of layout to fancy design ideas such as hiding tabs inside images. During the four-hour session (with a couple of breaks), my classmates fire endless questions at him, which he doesn’t tire of answering. We’re a very typical cross-section of Dubai, one English woman (me), one Filipino, a couple of Arab ladies, three Indians and a Russian. Stereotypical, apart from the fact that – bar the one Russian man – we’re all women. Maybe men have already sussed out the web? Perhaps men don’t like being taught about technology by other men? Or maybe it was just a bit of a freak group. Who knows?
What we do all learn in the classroom is that web design is very much an ongoing process. We learn that even after you’ve finished putting together your masterpiece and it’s up and running (or, rather, cursors are running all over it), you need to keep an eye on the competition. If that American Becky Lucas should get her act together, I’d need to think up new ways to guarantee traffic continues to head towards my website.
‘Identify 50-100 key words and add them to your website html tags to make sure you get picked up and indexed by Google,’ Pierre warns in his calm, British-Lebanese lilt. ‘Otherwise your site will miss thousands of hits.’
He makes it all seem so easy, explaining things with simply a pen, whiteboard and a projector. And in case you forget everything the minute you leave the room, Pierre gives out a handy manual to refer to when you begin work on your own site at home or in the office.
Because, as part of the class, we are all given our own sites for a year. At the end of the session Pierre invites us to email him three potential domain names in the next week, which he will then set up for us. Not bad for Dhs490 per workshop.
‘We pay people so much to set up sites and they take so long!’ one businesswoman in an abaya exclaims as we file out. ‘It’s so empowering!’ Surprisingly, that’s how I felt too: empowered. I came out feeling like
I’d learned more about the world’s most powerful information medium in four hours than I had in the past few years. The thought that, rather than passively read the web, now I might be able to get something out there, with my own hands – outside of corporate engines such as Facebook and MySpace – was hugely inspiring. Perhaps, in future, learning to use the internet will be the equivalent of learning to read and write. Quite a bold statement from someone who, until a month ago, used to have the fear.
The next workshop is October 10, 10am-2pm, Dhs490. Call 04 365 2772. See www.eton.ac for more info.