I personally got into photography almost six years ago, I had always loved great photography but felt that it was out of reach. Until the day I met a professional photographer on my business trip to Tibet. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to professional at the beginning which saved a whole lot of time in learning the basics, but the crucial moment that made me want to commit myself to learning was the fact that National Geographic type shots was no longer out of reach.
Ideally, if you can find someone to mentor you the basic principles and functions of a camera then that is by far the fastest way to learn. Should that be unavailable to you, I can recommend these following publications and websites to point you in the right direction.
National Geographic was the publication that got me interested in photography in the first place. Their website also has a lot of great blogs on how to improve your photography by their contributing photographers.
Digital Photography Review is perhaps the most comprehensive guide to photography. You can find information about all the newest camera models, lens, gear, accessories. It also has a really vibrant community of photographers forum which is great for asking questions.
Flickr critique forums was where I learned the most by far and spent two years as a moderator to help other beginners. This is where you post up your photos and ask for critique by other members. It can be pretty harsh at times and certainly there are people who don't really know what they are talking about but the moderators are generally very experienced and can help you improve your technique and composition.
Another tool which helped me understand photography was shooting in RAW format. What RAW format basically means is that the camera captures your photo with all the available information that the camera sensor can retain without any processing. This allows you to process the photos on the computer without damaging the quality of the photo as well as giving you a much wider range of parameters to play around with.
By editing the photos in RAW I got to understand what Contrast, White Balance, Exposure, Saturation, Shadows, Highlights all mean by playing with the bars in a photo editor such Adobe Lightroom or the iPhoto built in editor.
Starting with these two major tasks will set you a long way into becoming a better photographer, hope this helps!