Web Design Mailing Lists
The amount of knowledge that you need to produce a good Web site can seem daunting. Even when you have gleaned the basics, the world of Web design is moving at such a great pace, you have to be running just to stand still. There are new technologies and new software programs coming out every day, a lot of them fall by the wayside admittedly, but you have to, at least, know what they are and what they do.
Sure, there are books and magazines to help keep track of all this stuff, but they are always that little bit behind - and how do you ask a book a question?
The best way to keep your finger on the pulse of Web design is to subscribe to a Web design mailing list. A mailing list is a forum of people with similar interests to your own. You can send an email to the list with a tricky technical question or request a review of some site you are working on to see if you have made any blunders or to find out what happens to your pages on a vast variety of browsers and platforms. Or, you can just 'lurk' and read what other people are discussing, and learn from that.
Some lists are very active and send out a hundred emails every day. That deluge of email might sound intimidating but you can usually tell from the subject line if there is a topic of particular interest to you and just ignore all the rest. Some people prefer to receive a 'digest', which is a single email containing multiple messages, but I find it easier to scan the subjects of individual emails than to wade through a digest.
Although you will pick up a lot of knowledge from 'lurking', you will learn much more from active participation. The big advantage of a mailing list is that you can 'ask', and the chances are that you will have one, or more, answers within the hour - I've done it myself countless times.
The Web Design List
This is one of the original Web design lists originally started by Lynda Weinman about five years ago and later continued by her brother Bill. It is unofficially called the WebMonster List because of Bill's 'Monster' sense of humour. It also helps to distinguish it from another similarly named list - see below. Bill Weinman also runs more specialised lists such as Web Programming, Web Artists and Web Business. http://www.webmonster.net/lists/
The Web Design List has about two and a half thousand subscribers who read the messages every day but luckily, they don't all post at once. Nevertheless, traffic is quite high. The sign-up site says there is an average of 26 messages per day, but it seems like a lot more.
As this is the most established Web design list, people go there first so you get a good proportion of (though not exclusively) 'newbie' questions and topics. There are still enough experts on board to answer the more demanding questions and nobody ever flames you for asking what seems like basic queries.
If you are new to Web design, this is the ideal list to start with.
Run by the irrepressible Steve Champeon, WebDesign-L is less likely to discuss newbie topics, most of the members being practising Web designers and programmers with many of them being leading lights in their particular fields.
Discussion here is at a very professional level with none of those 'my computer is better than yours' stupidities. Subjects are as diverse as typography, usability, XML and some of the finer points of server configuration - although, not too much of that!
Web design philosophy is just as likely to crop up as the nitty gritty technical stuff, which makes it all the more interesting and stimulating.
WebDesign-L has over a thousand members and traffic is now on a par with the WebMonster list.
If you have some Web design experience under your belt and you want to keep abreast of what's happening, and what's going to happen, in Web design, sign up for this one.
A List Apart
Even though it has a high membership, this is a relatively low-traffic list tending to focus more on professional and philosophical issues with a heavy 'design' bias. Published and moderated by Jeffery Zeldman and Glenn Davis, it takes a slightly different form than the other two lists mentioned.
The list motto is 'A Magazine and Mailing List for People Who Make Websites. From pixels to prose, coding to content' - which pretty much sums it up.
The postings are not two-liners but more like articles specially written about their particular subjects. You will see quite a few 'famous' names on the postings. There is a good mix of new postings (articles) and follow-up threads all of an extremely high quality.
Jeffery Zeldman also heads The Web Standards Project. This is a group of people who tell Microsoft and Netscape that their browsers suck and don't conform to standards laid down by the W3C. Not the most fulfilling of pastimes admittedly - but somebody has to do it!
A List Apart is experiencing some technical problems at the time of writing but Jeffery assures me it will be back to normal shortly.
I'm not going to attempt to 'rate' these lists with bar charts and points. They each cater for a slightly different audience, although there is inevitably some overlap. Depending on your areas of interest, you should sign-up for one or more of these lists. They cost nothing, except for a little time to sort the wheat from the chaff, and you will learn a lot.