Monday, March 30, 2009

web presence

I need to figure out what to do with my web presence. I'm not necessarily opposed to having a bunch of different faces updated a bunch of different ways, but I think mediocre user interfaces and ho-hum appearances are cramping my style and decreasing the frequency of updates significantly. So far I've got:

  • Homepage: - made with iWeb, which produces okay-looking output but is no fun to use, and loses points for being WYSIWYG. Also, iWeb's directory and file structure is a dog's breakfast.

  • Blog 1: The Sequential Philosopher - That's this. Handles line breaks fairly poorly, such that I can't compose entries in Markdown without either (A) ending up with tons of extra line-breaks in the posts or (B) deleting all the line-breaks in all prior posts. Pages look okay, but configuring appearance is a bear.

  • Blog 2: Livejournal - Ugh. Acceptable for keeping track of livejournal friends, posting semi-private entries and junk I don't want to post on my more "serious" blog.

  • Twitter - Pro: Super easy to update. Brevity is the soul of wit. Con: few users of Twitter (though twitter facebook app helps).

  • Facebook - Insert old man grumblings about interface updates and applications. I actually kind of like facebook for lots of things, except that it isn't good for professional stuff. Something about navigating facebook makes me unlikely to update it if I haven't recently been updating it a lot.

  • - Pretty cool academic social networking site. Tuned for making professional-looking pages and posting papers and such.

  • Flickr - Last updated July 2008. (Probably as much for my lack of picture-taking as anything.) Irritating restrictions on service if you're not willing to pay.

Is that it? I hope so.

Anyhow. I'm not afraid of PHP, CSS, or hand-coding HTML, and in fact I far prefer it to using programs like Frontpage and Dreamweaver, and I kind prefer it to using iWeb. Except, I'm not so confident in my ability to make pages that don't look like crap, and I'm not sure I've ever had one that didn't. Besides, who has time to design webpages? Also, I've been burned by things like Movable Type and Wordpress in the past, and I'm overall not sure that having big hulking blog software on my own server makes any sense. Here's what I really want, in order of importance.

  1. An attractive personal home page containing easily accessible information like publications, course info, CV, and such which is also easy to update and not beholden to finicky and irritating WYSIWYG editors.

  2. A blog that is easy to update, preferably in Markdown, easy to read.

  3. Somewhere to post pictures that is easy to use and will let me access all my pictures.

  4. Reasonable integration of all these things (which a possible exception of my Facebook-Livejournal un-professional space).

(1) is really my major concern right now. Help?


Erik Peterson said...

Well, if you're looking for search engine optimization, your first step would be to include your full name in the title and h1 tags of every page. Right now you're on page 3 of the Google results for "Matt Brown". I bet you could get on the first page with just those two simple things.

What you're looking for, I think, is a CMS. There are a ton out there and all of the popular ones suck. A lot. Do not even try Drupal, it will only end in tears.

I use Radiant (, which is a CMS written in Ruby (a language I am fluent with), to host the website of my girlfriend:

She doesn't know much other than basic HTML tags, and was able to put that site up together mostly by herself.

You'd need a host who supported Ruby and allowed you to install your own gems and who gave you access to a MySQL database. It isn't trivial, but it is only a few commands to set up if you've got those prerequisites.

If Radiant isn't an option, you could always go with Wordpress. Use their "pages" and you can have a pretty good site with almost no effort at all.

! said...

I've been meaning to come back in here and give input. I keep forgetting. I blame the new job, which is keeping me very busy at the moment.

What Erik said. You're looking for a CMS. Don't roll your own. You don't have time for that. You want too many toys to reinvent their wheels, especially if web programming isn't what you want to do with your spare time. I've used Drupal and Joomla and Plone, among others. All have their quirks and issues. Generally speaking, one [Given CMS] site will look a whole lot like any other [Given CMS] site, so pick one by crawling a few sites that use the app before you go to the trouble of installation and configuration. If you're using a behemoth like Drupal, make sure your shared hosting plan allows it and can handle it at a reasonable amount of traffic. An art festival I help organize had major problems running a Drupal instance with relatively low traffic on Dreamhost.

I hear you on the "big hulking blog software on my own server" thing. At the same time, it's nice to own your content and not have to worry about losing all that data if a software as a service site suddenly gives up the ghost. It's also nice to not be explicitly granting copyrights on all your work to some MySpace-like organization.

I also agree with Erik on SEO. If you're specifically trying to optimize on google, there are a host of free tools here:
I've had good luck with their sitemaps - it helps to have them know exact locations for all the files you want indexed.

Linking your multiple sites/pages to each other is a good thing too, it improves your rankings and, you know, helps people find out more about you without trawling the web themselves.

Andrew said...

So, I'm not familiar with any CMS, although it sounds like they might do the trick.

Sometimes, though, it is fun to reinvent wheels that are just what you want.

If you do want to reinvent some wheels, I'm game to participate in a coding project.