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The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Sun. May 04, 2008

This Personal Site

Recently Jeffrey Zeldman wrote about “The vanishing personal site”:

Our personal sites, once our primary points of online presence, are becoming sock drawers for displaced first-person content. We are witnessing the disappearance of the all-in-one, carefully designed personal site containing professional information, links, and brief bursts of frequently updated content to which others respond via comments.

Zeldman is talking primarily about the outsourcing of content, as people leave their links at del.icio.us, put our photos on flickr, and post our shortish random thoughts at twitter.

Increasingly, to the best of my knowledge, there are people who follow me on Twitter but do not read zeldman.com (and vice-versa). This is good (I’m getting new readers) and arguably maybe not so good (my site, no longer the core of my brand, is becoming just another piece of it).

...but it made me think about the other side of the vanishing personal site. By “personal” site, I mean a site where a person writes about the full range of their interests (online and offline), about the events going on in their life, the people close to them, the places they go, etc.

Today, you can only be “successful” starting up such a site if your name is David Byrne or Wil Wheaton or someone else who is already established as “an interesting person.” Today, if you are Joe or Jane Average and you want to start a “successful” blog, your starting point is much different than it was a mere five or six years ago.

Back then there were maybe 99,999 blogs as opposed to the 99,999,999 there are today. My traffic now is perhaps one quarter of what it was during this site’s “hey day,” as a thousand times more blogs “compete” for a piece of the traffic pie. But that’s only part of the reason.

Today, you first want to choose a niche topic for your blog, stick solely to that topic, and pound out a dozen or more posts per day on that topic. You probably want to have more than one person contributing to “your” blog, for the sake of volume and so you can take a day off now and then. And when there is a breaking news story within your niche topic, you need to post a pithy 800 word column on it within an hour of it breaking.

Then you have me, the Anti-Blogger. I post about anything and everything that’s on my mind or going on in my life. The only other person you’ll ever see posting on this site is my wife … to tell you I cannot move my fingers to do so myself. And as for that “breaking news” bit, well, Mr. Zeldman posted his article last Sunday, and seven days later I’ve finally gotten around to writing about it.

I’m lucky if I make a dozen posts in a month, never mind a day. It wasn’t always that way. Five or six years ago I seemed to be a lot less busy with Real Life than I am today, and there were often multiple posts per day. Today, any late night energy I might have goes instead to ticking off another item on my nightmarish “To Do” list.

I no longer feel as compelled to comment on ongoing news events in the way I once did. Unless they truly outrage me. Which in turn can make this site seem “angry” much of the time, though that’s not my intent either. I was recent told in e-mail that I “write precisely-worded, well-researched opinion pieces.” Which, frankly, made me think I need to do more drunk-blogging. But since I had just told him “You’re like the formerly constipated man who finally accepted his Depends, and just let go,” I suppose I had it coming.

I think maybe I spend too much time writing about things I think I need to tell you, or things I think I need to get out of my head, rather than just telling you things for fun. Which is truly the deepest root of this particular personal web site, begun in January of 1997. A palette for creative expression. Fun.

But nearly a dozen years on, the landscape has changed mightily. Back to Sir Zeldman:

If your goal in creating a personal site way back when was to establish an online presence, meet other people who create websites, have fun chatting with virtual friends, and maybe get a better job, well, you don’t need a deep personal site to achieve those goals any more.

No, you don’t. In March of 1996 when I wanted to put my first page on the web, my options were to [1] pay someone to do it for me, or [2] learn HTML. Today, an order of magnitude more people want to put their first page on the web and chat with virtual friends. And have no desire or time or capability to learn how to hand code HTML. And today they have a host of options; MySpace and Facebook, or with a pinch more complexity, Blogger, Typepad, Wordpress, etc.

MySpace and Facebook in particular, I think, have become the places people go to “have a web page.” With a few clicks and some widgets, they can quickly have their own personal page, at a place where many of their friends already have accounts. They also become part of a monetized audience, but I guess that’s part of the trade-off for ease of access.

But the end result is that, as time goes on, fewer and fewer people will buy their own domain and create a truly personal site, one that isn’t a pre-fab templatized portion of some large business.

There will be those who fight the trend, and try to pass it on to the youngsters, but I think our days are numbered.


Peanut Gallery

1  Paul wrote:

I think ease of use and social networks are what’s driving the current online fads. The traditional personal webpage came from a “Look at Me!” perspective while right now the idea is to “Come Join Us!”. I liken one to being a street-performer trying to grab attention and a few minutes passers-by time, while the other is like hanging out with some friends at the tavern.

2  Scott wrote:

I think our days are numbered

Weren’t they always?

Besidesthe (supreme) ease of adding gadgetry, I don’t see any functional difference between a Facebook or a MySpace and those Geocities pages we built, or SiteBuilder templates we used on our ISP account that started with a tilde.

What I find cool and energizing is the connectedness of it all.

3  Reid wrote:

Paul: “The traditional personal webpage came from a ‘Look at Me!’ perspective while right now the idea is to ‘Come Join Us!’.”

Well, there seem to be at least a few who want to you “Look” at the number of friends they have, and “Look” at all their widgets, and “Look” at all the comments people have left about how sauve and debonaire they are, etc. There seems to still be a whole lot of “Look at Me” in these pages. I mean, why do bands create a MySpace page, because they need to have more friends? Or because they want you to “Look At Us”?

“the other is like hanging out with some friends at the tavern.”

But … but … I see that you come to my “tavern” to have a drink every day, whether I[‘m here or not. And when I am, we have a chat like this. People like you, Scott, Richard, Todd, MC, and others are “the regulars” in this joint.

Scott: “I don’t see any functional difference between a Facebook or a MySpace and those Geocities pages we built”

The similarities in visual appearance and design sensibilities (or the lack thereof) are indeed compelling. I suppose we should be thankful that Flash was not as prevalent back in the Geocities days. The trade-off for that: the “blink” tag was still in usage.

“What I find cool and energizing is the connectedness of it all”

I agree, but I mainly see it through the eyes of others, because it’s just not compelling to me. I have enough places to “check in” and see what’s going on with my friends, family, clients, etc. But I see relatives who are as comfortable in that environment as I am in mine, and who obviously enjoy that connectedness. Different strokes…

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