webSavant: Why Do You Think They Call it Savant?

"Even if you have no prior Web experience, webSavant will give you the necessary skills to create world-class Web sites." The program claims that all you need "is a computer and webSavant" and you'll be designing your own Web site in no time. I was interested in reviewing this software for two reasons: (1) I had no prior experience with Web sites, except as an occasional surfer; and (2) I've been thinking about designing my own site for some time.

The four CD-ROM disks include "training movies" covering everything from "What's a URL?" to using JavaScript. The coverage is comprehensive, the lessons easy to follow, but the best thing about webSavant is the wide range of software included on the CDs: programs that write HTML script, convert graphics into GIF or JPEG formats, determine "Web safe" colors for your graphics, create animation or movies, edit audio files, design tables, and more. At least 28 different software programs, each addressing a particular aspect of Web page design, are included in the $199 price tag. Registration at the webSavant home page (www.websavant.com) provides additional resources and upgrades. In all, it's an impressive and welcome package, especially for the Web page novice, like me.

A Beginner Learns

I began by working my way through the CD tutorials one-by-one. The training movies (QuickTime clips explaining each step in the process) are easy to follow, entertaining, and—best of all—you can stop, rewind, fast forward or skip any time you please. But the amount of information is daunting. The designers have wisely provided summaries at the end of every chapter, as well as in a document that can be printed.

The folks at Savant Interactive have given a lot of thought to their product, and it shows. webSavant includes 130 lessons, divided into 18 chapters, comprising—by their estimate— "11 hours of instruction." I spent more than 10 hours just working through the first 11 chapters, at which point a reference to some technical term covered in one of the first lessons eluded me. I realized that just listening would do me no good unless I designed a Web page of my own right along with the lessons.

Learning It All Over Again

Once I had a project in mind, I started again from the first lesson; this time webSavant's materials made more sense. Without practical application, the training movies are like beautifully organized lectures: easy to sleep through, tough to remember.

webSavant invites users to "Click. Watch. Listen. Learn." Such passivity yields little learning. I had to struggle to use the software before I could grasp how it worked and why. If I hadn't decided to design my own Web page, I never would have discovered how essential programs like BBEdit (included on the CDs) are in writing HTML code. With the help of BBEdit, I was able to get a very rudimentary version of my Web page designed in a couple of days. But, just when I was boasting about my success, I ran smack into webSavant's most glaring omission.

What They Don't Tell You

In chapter 12, "Getting Your Site Online," the instructor claims Savant Interactive offers Web hosting, a way to upload your finished Web page. I searched their Web site but found no such service. I needed the kind of detailed, step-by-step help webSavant had provided through the first 11 chapters, but the 12th offers only the most basic discussion of posting files to a Web site, directing users to locate a Web host, pay the usual fee (mine was $35), and follow the site's instructions. I found a Web host, but still haven't successfully uploaded my site. (The directions offered by commercial Web hosts are not as easily deciphered as webSavant's well written lessons.)

I listened to the remaining lessons on the webSavant CDs and visited the Savant Interactive Web site. My Web page is ready to launch, but I need help figuring out how to do it. Those with more expertise at uploading files will likely find ways to upload their files, but I was overwhelmed. And discouraged.

Final Assessment

I learned more from webSavant about HTML and Web sites and tables than I expected. And most of the time, I enjoyed myself. I would never have tackled designing my own Web site without webSavant. webSavant could benefit from more written materials, especially a searchable index, for text-based learners, but the design of the lessons is elegant and the pedagogy behind the training movies sound.

In the end, though, this well-designed software package fails to meet its own objective: to give novices the tools to launch a Web site. Perhaps the folks at Savant Interactive have already realized how to improve on the assistance offered beginners in webSavant: their Web site is advertising a new product, Guide for Newbies, described as "perfect for beginners." I think next time, that's where I'll start.

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