Vera and Nadia, a couple of teachers doing their post grad studies approached me to help with their course project; an interactive website for primary school students. Unfortunately the course provides no tuition on the process of web building at all (unlike my Medical Radiations course at RMIT quite a bit of time was spent on website building) and to save a lot of grief they wisely sought some help.
Yola was the platform of choice; I tried to persuade them to use WordPress but they thought it looked too complicated and their lecturer may not have believed it came from them.
Yola is a “free” web hosting service. You sign up, select your template, add some content and you are online! If you chose one the supplied business profiles Yola even does a lot of the content for you. Very nice!
The catch is the free templates are a bit ordinary. You can select a better template, continue and add your content but when you go to publish it Yola asks for $13 or so per month! I noticed that some of the templates came from free template sites, including one I used for my business site.
Another problem too was the location of the menu cannot be changed on any given template. If you want a horizontal menu you need to select a template with a horizontal menu. It cannot be changed later. Initially a vertical menu was desired as it was felt that kids would be able to navigate it easier. But the chosen menu meant we were stuck with a horizontal one along the top.
For a beginner Yola is easy to use. You simply drag the page element you want and then add your content. There are different elements for different types of content (eg: text, graphics and file attachments) and they cannot be inserted into one another. This caused problems including images and links to documents (ie MS Word files) in the text.
Although simple, the Yola site editor is restrictive in places.
File attachments and images
Linking to documents was a bit annoying to do. The “file attachment” module when inserted on a spare bit of page provides a link for the user to download. But this is rather clumsy compared to the normal method of providing a link in the text.
As no FTP access is provided the only way files can be uploaded is to drag a “file attachment” module over to a spare bit of page, upload your file, copy the link, delete the module and then insert the link into the text. Deleting the module does not delete the uploaded file. The same process had to be followed for images within the text. But unlike the file attachment module inserting an image using the “image module” looks good on the side margin of the page.
HTML and CSS
Yola does provide a way to edit the HTML and site CSS. HTML editing was used to insert the Youtube videos into the text. CSS was adjusted to do the fading yellow background and to format the Youtube videos. It was also used to give the headings and text of the entire site a uniform look.
The delay between making a change and seeing it online after the site is published can be quite long, up to about ten seconds. This doesn’t seem much but with the many changes made during a site build it adds up. It’s probably best to plan well and reduce the number of design changes; easier said than done sometimes!
My contribution was relatively small, Vera and Nadia had done all of the content and sourced the images. The end result is very pleasing and I believe they did well with the website in their course.
The site was live for only long enough to get assessed. The live screen shots can be seen below…
Overall it’s a good way to start website building. The drag and drop idea for the modules works quite well and once you become more familiar with it you can try out editing HTML and CSS. But more advanced users will find the limitations annoying. For simple sites of only a few pages it’s great. The hosting charges are a bit high for what hosting and storage capacity you get, but you are paying for the ease of use, and it is very easy to use.
Well worth a try, just don’t get too ambitious.