welcome mat Welcome to My Website

About every two years I look at it, clap hand to forehead, exclaim, “What was I thinking?” and completely redesign it. There are a few reasons for that. One is that everyone, I think, is a bit embarassed by their old work. Another is that two years, in Web time, is long enough for a site to become horribly dated. And the last, most important reason is in that time my needs have usually changed drastically, as have those of the folks who are likely to be visiting my site (Where are the other five of you, anyhow?).

So, what’s changed this time around? And what does that mean you should expect from this site?

I’m hitting the job market

Update: I will be joining the faculty at Quinnipiac University. You can read more on my blog.

Yes, it’s true. It’s about time for me to begin applying for post-docs and faculty positions, and many of the places I’d like to work value the ability to teach Web development. They’d like a bit of proof, I’m sure, that I actually know how to use PHP, MySQL, Javascript, jQuery, AJAX, and so on. And so I figured it was long past time to build a homepage that actually employed a few of those skills. I also wanted all the information about my professional life—my CV, work experience, teaching resumé, publications, media clippings, and so forth—to be the easiest things to find on the site. Now they’re front and center. As I say further down, I’m totally unaccustomed to (and not entirely comfortable with) being this self-promotional, but I’m also keen on the idea of continuing to draw a paycheck this time next year.

Simplification

My old WordPress-based site was replete with blog entries and random thoughts stretching back to 2005, and there was no longer any common theme tying them together. A Website, to be usable, should have an identifiable point to it and sometimes that means starting over. This latest redesign gets rid of all the clutter in favor of usability and simplicity. The WordPress-powered site is still live (people’s old links will redirect there accordingly), and I’ll eventually turn it back into a normal blog, but that brings me to an additional point, which is that...

My day-to-day Web activity takes place elsewhere

I’ve come to the conclusion that the value—for me, anyhow—in keeping a self-hosted site is different than it once was. That’s because blogging is becoming an increasingly social activity. More and more, people are using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to share their day-to-day thoughts. And smart people have suggested that the value of sharing stuff online is not always so much in the content itself, but in the way content comes to life in a good social network. The network adds value to what would otherwise be a siloed product. I’ve come to recognize the worth of writing in a social network, and these days, while I blog regularly, I do it mostly through Google Buzz. I’ve made the new front page of my site a jumping off point, from which you can find my activity from everywhere on the Web, including a feed of my academic publications, presentations, and announcements. All this is also available in the form of individual and combined RSS feeds, so you can be elsewhere, too, and still keep up with my posts if you’re interested.

Update: While I still love Google Buzz, I have also redesigned my own blog and am posting there frequently now. Please do stop by. :)

From CMS to landing page

At some point I realized that, just because WordPress could run my entire Website didn’t mean it should. As I say above, I find keeping a standalone blog less appealing today than I used to, but I do still see a great value in keeping one’s own site.

Social network feeds are ephemeral. They’re good for everyday discussions in a way that a non-destination site can never be, but they also have a short memory. My posts may be archived on Facebook or Twitter forever, but no one looks at them after the first week. Here, I can exercise a bit more editorial judgment and preserve those posts and bits of writing that I think deserve to be featured in a permanent home, and especially those that stand to change and grow in value over time. That’s the content I’ve tried to feature here on this site.

Graceful Degredation

These days you never know what device people will use to access a site. Unlike my previous homepage, everything on this site degrades gracefully, meaning you can turn off Javascript in your browser, or use a gadget that doesn’t work with Javascript at all, and all the content here should still be accessible and behave normally. Try it, it’s fun!

Discontents

Overall, I’m happy with the redesign, and yet...

I’m not used to “tooting my own horn,” so to speak. I liked the idea of a homepage as a conversational space, rather than an interactive resumé, but since part of the motivation for the redesign is my encroaching job search, I figured it best to err on the promotional side. Nonetheless, everything feels just a touch too self-promotional to be homey right now, and I expect that—with my next redesign—I’ll reintroduce the far more casual tone this site has always taken in the past.

From a technical standpoint, there’s also some work left to do. In particular, I need to clean up a lot of the CSS. Right now there are unnecessary ids and classes sprinkled throughout all the pages for use in styling and jQuery scripts. Those need to go in favor of some more sophisticated CSS selectors.

Moreover, the goal was always to eventually put together a version of this site in HTML5. However, HTML5 and its cousin CSS3 aren’t fully supported yet by all major browsers, and since I believe in graceful degredation, the proper way to proceed seemed to be to first write a site in universally compatible XHTML and CSS, and then to practice what the folks at Newsvine call “progressive enhancement,” creating HTML5/CSS3 features that can be delivered selectively to modern browsers, while having the fully functional older code ready for the browsers that aren’t there yet to fall back on. I’m halfway to this goal, meaning that the fallback site—what you see here—is ready, but I haven’t written the HTML5 or CSS3 enhancements yet. In the coming months, I’ll be replacing some of the jQuery animations with behavioral CSS, redoing rounded corners and drop shaddow with CSS3, and so on and so forth.

Also, part of the advantage of not using a huge CMS like WordPress is the ability to do extensive customization of the layout of various articles. See Dustin Curtis’ site for the best example of this I can think of. Right now, most of the pages here look roughly the same, and in the long run, I’d like to design for the unique content in each.