It's more than just the words

It's more than just the words

“In order to expand audience awareness and redefine Possible, there have to be places where these new capabilities exist; and lacking a client willing to take the chance that the audience will be equipped to do so, we need to provide the environment so the audience equips itself and creates that demand to use newer standards. I propose, therefore, that the environment already exists and it lives in the collective personal sites that don’t give a damn about return on investment.”

– Lance Arthur Redefining Possible January 22, 1999

Personal sites, our blogs, these were once our playgrounds. My own site was the first place I added rollover images, CSS for fonts, tried out a “table free” design. I wrote about the web, surrounded by my own experiments with the web. We all did, and it was only in reading those words from 1999 that I realised there was more to owning your own content than simply not publishing your words elsewhere.

As we move our code to CodePen, our writing to Medium, our photographs to Instagram we don’t just run the risk of losing that content and the associated metadata if those services vanish. We also lose our own place to experiment and add personality to that content, in the context of our own home on the web.

I had already decided to bring my content back home in 2017, but I’d also like to think about this idea of using my own site to better demonstrate and play with the new technologies I write about. It’s more than just the words.

Michal M. Maslowski on the 05 Jan 2017:

Hi Rachel,

Happy New Year, 2017!

This article is so spot-on; personally, I’ve always seen diversification (as it initially appears), as mainly good thing. However, when it comes to housing one’s own content, you cannot go wrong with your own website. It is your content that you should be entirely in charge of – this goes without saying.

In the whole discourse of using someone else’s services, the most important aspect is often overlooked. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have your own playground to experiment with, especially when one aspires to call oneself a web developer.

Thanks fort sharing your thoughts; love your work, and commitment. Cheers!

A fan from East Kootenays in Canada.

Trace Meek on the 06 Jan 2017:

I love these ideas, and have been planning to do more with my own personal website as well. It’s interesting how the personal website entered a little “winter” phase when social media sites came along and essentially gave everyone a blog (albeit a homogenized one, littered with ads).

Don’t get me wrong—-I do enjoy some social media communities, and some of those services get a lot right, demonstrate how easy publishing can be, and show how much good UI design can help. But I think there’s still a hunger for content on the free and open web, and folks with independent sites can help lead the way to that renaissance. Commercial media sites certainly aren’t going to do it.

One thing, though, is that when I die, I will no longer be able to pay my web hosting bill, and my website—-including all the content going back to the beginning—-will simply fade away. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but it’s something to consider. On FB, people who die may be memorialized forever (or for at least for as long as FB remains an entity). I wonder if some web hosts would consider offering “hosting for eternity” for an up-front lump sum, or if an organization would ever emerge to subsidize such a service. Something like Archive.org’s Wayback Machine comes to mind, but a service that would archive at the original, canonical URL.

Keep up the great work!

Greg on the 06 Jan 2017:

Hi Rachel! Would be nice if the list technologies you want to play with included Microformats2 and Webmention :-)

Megan on the 09 Jan 2017:

I agreee, and I also have a bunch of other jumbled thoughts that go along with it. Like how social media + smartphones have moved people away from writing longer, thought-out pieces that require a proper keyboard to compose.

Back in the early days, internet service accounts usually came with a bit of hosting space. Or you could get a Geocities account, or some web space from your college or university, and you could start creating your own website. I thought that was so empowering back in 1997. It seems like most of the people who use the internet now just consume it, or maybe produce tiny bits and pieces on social media. I think back then we interacted via internet in much more meaningful ways. Remember those long debates on usenet, or mailing lists, or early discussion boards? What happened to all of that? Are we too busy sharing crap on social media? How do people even get started in web development now?

Or, there’s also all our convoluted development methods that seem so essential. We don’t pop static HTML files up on an FTP server anymore. We need deployment processes, and development environments, and CMS’s. (Which is why my personal site has been dead for a year and a half!)

For me I was also scared off by commenters. The kind of people who comment without reading, or trying to understand what you’re saying. Or that time I vented about a certain operating system and it got onto the front page of Digg.

Maybe I should get that personal site going again so I can ramble on about this some more :)

Craig on the 13 Jan 2017:

I absolutely agree. Beyond the loss of autonomy and design flexibility; these ‘conveniences’ dilute our personal brands — if not used correctly.

Beyond my own ‘brand’ (which always needs work) I help clients develop their brands. And they normally want to start on Facebook and LinkedIn. It takes a serious conversation to help them understand that those platforms can support their brand but is not where they should build their brand and identity. Create a great site with great content and eye-catching visuals and cross-promote to the various platforms. But you should (almost) ALWAYS be driving people to your site: the place where you have the greatest latitude and options for showcasing who you really are. Otherwise you are building Medium and Facebook’s brand.

And to @Megan: there are still lots of clients who want super fast and ultra-configurable websites. And for them only HTML/CSS will work. But, they also need the ability to ‘blog’. For some, we keep it all HTML. If they aren’t going to post themselves anyway this also removes headaches associated with security vulnerabilities and ensures the fastest possible site. But for most, it’s an HTML front-end with a matched-design CMS backend. This allows incredible speed (important in a mobile-first world) for front-facing pages, while still providing back-end flexibility. And, if you are afraid of the commenting trolls, set your CMS so that all comments must be approved. Or, alternatively, set very strict guidelines for all comments (banned words, # of links, etc.). And throw in a CAPTCHA for good measure: that stops most of the bots.

All-in-all a personal site, thoughtfully developed and carefully curated, is the best place for a designer/developer/writer/whatever to create and curate their personal brand and credibility.

Great job Rachel.

Xavi Blanch on the 13 Jan 2017:

Nice post! Can’t agree more BUT. For me the hard part is to keep writing and stop goofing around and testing stuff.

I mean, you could be playing ad eternum but there’s always a point where you feel comfortable with “the experiment” or you have the feeling that is over, or concluded.

In late 90’s we were kinda pioneers in the medium, and talking about it was exciting. Now I don’t feel like this anymore. I’ve built a career around it and there’s no more alchemy.

Also, young people is growing up surrounded by tons github repos, stack overflow answers and techie posts solving their doubts. They don’t need a playground, they just need a search in google. Can you remember that time without google?

The positive is how easy to publish your thoughts and reach some people nowadays, if you want to, in just minutes. And that’s also great.

Warm regards!

Fredric Gluck on the 14 Jan 2017:

So perfect and right to the point.

In our “modern”, technological world, we continue to grab the benefits of technology without understanding and appreciating how it works.

How can you call yourself a car mechanic if you don’t understand how an engine works? How can you call yourself a musician if you only listen and never experience the process of producing music?

Same thing with the Web. My personal sites may not be perfect but they are an exercise in learning and experiencing what all this technology can do.

At least when the Web breaks or it’s ugly or hard, I can understand why it is and not just accept it and maybe even make it better.

Thanks again for great insight!

Stefany on the 17 Jan 2017:

Exactly. I was always opposed to using PHP & CSS frameworks for that very reason – they kill creativity!

Also, if you do all that stuff in your own website, the sky is the limit – nothing stops you from inventing and be creative. While in the services you are confined within the TOS and the website functionality and whatnot.

Primoz Cigler on the 03 Feb 2017:

It’s true and I agree, but what are the reasons that we move our code to CodePen, our writing to Medium etc.? It’s easier to publish there and not worry about all the nuances that hosting and maintaining your own site brings down the road.

Even more importantly, it’s easier to get exposure – one of the most difficult things today. I think this is one of the main pain points that these platforms are addressing.

Erin Lynch on the 20 Mar 2017:

This is so perfectly said Rachel. I think ignoring the opportunities to leverage our personal sites for personal/professional growth and experimentation is a mistake. You’ve hit one something that needs to become a major trend for designers and developers. Bring it back home.

Erin Lynch on the 28 Mar 2017:

This is so perfectly said Rachel. I think ignoring the opportunities to leverage our personal sites for personal/professional growth and experimentation is a mistake. You’ve hit one something that needs to become a major trend for designers and developers. Bring it back home.

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