One of the best things about having your own site is the absolute control you have over look and content. If I wanted to, I could make this site all about the mating habits of stinkbugs, or post nothing but pictures of clowns putting on their makeup. I don’t think I’ll do that. But the cool thing is: I could.
No one could stop me!
The necessary corollary of all this freedom is a tremendous amount of danger. With each abuse of this power — a busy widget here, an ugly font there — you push people away. Awareness of this danger has drastically toned down my natural impulse to tinker and change things here. Not only that, if I try something and it doesn’t seem to be a good idea, I get rid of it.
It might seem dumb to put so much effort and thought into little things that so few people will even notice, but for me that’s part of the fun of having this site. In the same way I’m glad to notice small improvements in my writing over time, I like feeling that I’ve made the medium in which they’re presented more pleasant.
Lately I’ve done a few things that I think have each made the site a little bit better:
Pruning and moving
I slashed a whole bunch of stuff from the about page, including a colophon and a bunch of biographical information. Some of it was just unnecessary, and it made the page too cluttered. I also took everything out of the sidebar apart from the ad.
There is now only one archive page. Instead of trying to cram everything I’ve ever written into the archives, I’ve moved a lot of it to something experimental: a sort of open notebook. This is where I plan on keeping the various hacks and technical stuff I want to write up. I don’t feel like that stuff really fits in with the kind of posts I’ve been writing recently, but I still want to keep it on the site. Some of the most popular posts on the site have been the technical ones. Although they perhaps don’t make for dazzling reading, I still really like solving problems and writing them up!
I’ve set up an author byline under posts, and mine goes to my new bio site, sidoneill.com.
More fun for the reader
If there’s a design decision that’s easier to second-guess than what font to use, I haven’t encountered it. I’ve finally settled on one that I think is the most readable. It’s called Skolar. I’ve also set it at quite a large size. Good news for the elderly!
You might also notice the new sharing icons beside posts. I’m quite proud of these, as they involve a bit of scripting trickery and some reverse-engineering. If somebody wants to share something I’ve written, I’d rather it be as easy as possible. This is the absolute classiest way I could think of to achieve that.
Another thing I’m proud of is the addition of an estimated amount of time it’ll take to read each post. I’ve whipped this up experimentally, but if it looks like it’s helping readers it’ll stay.
OK, OK, what’s the point?
I think that the top priority on a site like this should be the writing. Really good writing will stand alone regardless of its surroundings. Spending more time tinkering with your site than writing is practically clichéd in some circles, and should be avoided like roadkill on a tricycle.
That said, I think the way in which you present your writing is important. Just like wearing a suit to a job interview, how much effort you put into the presentation of something says something about how much you value it. I see more than a few sites where the writing is generally solid, but the dingy surroundings make me doubt how much the author really cares.
There’s a reason why any good publisher has a design department. On your own site, you are the publisher, and if you can’t take care of the design then you need to find someone who can. There are precious few excuses to have an ugly website these days. Even free blogging platforms are starting to look pretty great, and there are no shortage of people that will help you get set up for not very much money at all.
If you care about your writing, why don’t you care about the packaging it comes in?