Hi there.

I'm a student. I've dabbled in a number of programming languages, written small desktops apps and done simple stuff for web in javascript (and html/css).

I want to (eventually) learn to build social webapps -- I'm interested in chat and instant messaging especially.

My problem is I don't know where to begin. I'm confident in my ability to learn, but I don't know anything about network protocols and web databases or even really the name of the topic I should be looking for resources on.

Can anybody recommend some books or resources aimed at beginners that deal with developing web applications specifically -- regardless of language?

Or should I just start learning a web application framework like Ruby-on-Rails from a class or a book?

If my goal is just to build neat little proof-of-concept apps that aren't necessarily optimized for massive numbers of users, what theoretical topics should I try to learn about and which are overkill?

Any ideas of where to start would be appreciated -- I've googled and googled and I just can't figure out the steps I need to take. Thanks for reading this.