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Web site update musings

2021 March 6
by Matt

My freelance practice web site, modernalchemy.biz, is now on its third incarnation. This one is new in a few fundamental ways. It’s an acknowledgement that clients hire me, not the LLC I registered 15 years ago. It brings back an image-forward concept which I used in version 1.0, while for the first time adding a section on writing.

This low-key relaunch is also, very likely, my personal “positively final appearance” for web sites made by composing html documents and style sheets from scratch. I have not created a new web site by this means for many years, at this point. But modernalchemy.biz 2.0 was my last holdover from the olden days. It was really long outdated, and its lingering this long only excusable because it really hasn’t been that important, either. This winter I finally got on with clearing out the World Wide Web equivalent of wind-up gearing and springs, replacing it with yet another WordPress installation.

This, too, is probably not of great import, so much as a kind of years-deferred “Spring Cleaning” which needed to be done. As such purges can, it has stirred reminiscence.

I started building web sites my first semester at college, nearly 25 years ago. That’s nearly the entire history of the World Wide Web.

I have never really been cutting edge at any point during that time—it has never been a primary specialty—despite which my plodding with html and later CSS delivered its share of web sites. In the early years the industry average was just not that high to be honest and modest “handmade” web sites compared credibly with many a garbageheap exported from e.g. Microsoft FrontPage. The early sites with their own content management systems could also be dreadful, and some of those ungainly relics linger on yet.

Nowadays is is mostly a much different Web, though, even outside the walled gardens of big social media platforms. Even for a very simple site, installing WordPress again is a sound way to go, and usually a fast process despite the complexity bundled within. How many documents are in the stock WordPress installation, how many lines? I have no idea. Sites can still become a buggy nest, also, with too many plugins creating something like the precarious environment of Classic Mac OS extensions. Oh well.

One other interesting observation on the winding path from frames and blink tags, to liquid layouts and three-line menus, is that I have no idea if much in the way of formal training has ever caught up with the technology. Iowa State University offered none in the 1990s, and aside from maybe a short seminar or two and Zeldman’s excellent (though now long obsolete) print book designing with web standards, I have essentially figured it out as I go along, this entire time. I would not be surprised if this approach still prevails. What’s interesting is how much that reminds me of political campaign running, except that political campaigns are a much more static art.

It really is bewildering at times that complex civilization functions at all.

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