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Create a Great Personal Home Site - 2nd Revision

About this Document

This document explains why and how to create a great personal homesite. The text can be found below.

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Document Information

Written By:
Shlomi Fish
Finish Date:
19-Nov-2009
Last Updated:
19-Nov-2009

Licence

Creative Commons License

This document is Copyright by Shlomi Fish, 2009, and is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 Unported (or at your option any later version of that licence).

For securing additional rights, please contact Shlomi Fish and see the explicit requirements that are being spelt from abiding by that licence.

The Article Itself

Introduction to the Second Revision

It’s amazing how much has changed since I’ve published this article a few years ago. The most important trend was probably that personal blogs seem to have become much more prevalent than personal web-sites up to the point that some people referred to www.shlomifish.org as a blog. I have been annoyed at this to some extent, and even wrote an entire essay about the distinction between a home page and a blog and why this homepage is not a blog.

Nevertheless, as an active blogger, it’s not that I hate blogs or try to underrate them - it’s just that I think that I invest more effort and rigour in writing articles or essays on my home page, than I do on the various random stuff I post to my blogs. (Or to other similar public channels, such as mailing lists, web forums, comments on other people’s blogs, etc.). I also feel that it is easier to find posts on my personal web-site than on most people’s blogs.

In any case, in the new version of this essay, I also hope to give some tips about managing a personal web-site that is mostly a weblog, because this format seems to be popular lately.

The publication of the original story was disappointing to me because after I announced it on the Joel on Software forum, I received a lot of “Pot Calling the Kettle Black” criticism about my home-site, while people did not seem too interested in reading the original essay and commenting on it. Some of the criticisms I received were addressed in the after-the-publication note, and many of the problems pointed out to them were remedied after the fact. I hope this edition of the article will be better received.

This edition of this essay features many corrections, updates, additions, and general love. Like its predecessor, it is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution licence (“CC-by”) for almost free re-distribution, re-use, quoting and mixing. This time there are comments on this page (JavaScript-based and powered by Disqus, as I’d rather keep the site as static HTML), so feel free to let me know what you think about the article here. In any case, enjoy, and I hope this article will motivate and enlighten you about how to create a wonderful personal web-site (possibly in a mostly-blog-format), and that it will advance the state-of-the-art in the general quality of such web-sites.

Introduction

We’ve all seen it - the bad home site: flashy or non-standard colours, annoying animations, large text all over the place; too little content, obscure pages that no one knows how to get to from the reachable ones; no navigation menus, no site map, and no breadcrumbs trail; horrible markup and too little content to show for. If you want to have a good laugh, then DivisionTwo magazine has an insanely funny parody of the bad homepage (warning: contains a lot of explicit content).

Perhaps more prevalent than the bad personal web site is the not-too-good personal web-site. This is a site that seems organised, the design is acceptable and the mark-up is mostly semantic and valid, but there’s not much there to hold one’s interest for long. It seems that the originator created it and then mostly forgot to put interesting stuff there and constantly work on improving it.

However, occasionally in one’s infinite browsing, one can find some good personal home sites. They have a consistent style, valid markup, a common look and feel, are attractive to the eye, load quickly and have a lot of good content for hours of online enjoyment. The purpose of this essay is to explain what the elements that make a good home site are, for everybody there who have a home site or want to have one. It will also touch on some of the technicalities of creating and setting up one.

One note that is in order is that lately we’ve seen an inflation of online journals (also known as blogs or weblogs), that many people seem to think can be used instead of a more organised home page. The main problem with most blogs is that finding old information there tends to be much harder than an organised homepage such as mine: they do not have a good tree of contents, use by-date URLs instead of nested ones, their search facilities tends to be very bad (or they only provide a Google search that is often ignorant and is often “lying”), etc. If you want to use a blog as a homepage, make sure you read and implement the advice I give here as well.

Alternatively make sure you have a personal web site as well as a blog using a content management system (CMS) that is more suitable for one.

Why have a Home Site?

So why should you bother with having a personal home site? There are several advantages to have a great one. Here are some:

  1. More people will know about you.
  2. You’ll receive a lot of feedback from other people, and often engage in interesting conversations with them.
  3. You can bring in a lot of publicity to yourself, and your business.
  4. You can make money from advertisements and donations.
  5. You’ll be able to practise and improve your writing skills, artistic skills, etc.
  6. You can link to your favourite pages and resources on the Web.
Photo of a Park in Northern Tel Aviv

Elements of a Good Site

The elements that make a good home site are divided into two: content and presentation. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

Great Content

Filling your home site with a lot of content takes a lot of time and requires quite a lot of work. It is also a process that requires one to invest more time working on the site into the future. It is, however, very fun.

Here is a list of items you can put on your web-site in its early incarnations if you don’t have any good ideas of your own:

  1. Information about yourself: resumé, biography, etc.

  2. Hyperlinks to pages and resources you like or are related to.

  3. Photographs you took.

  4. List of recommended books, movies, artists, etc. Note that you can benefit from such items using the Amazon.com associate program and similar associate programs.

  5. Fan sites for Music artists, T.V. shows, Movies, etc.

  6. Archives of favourite quotations and collections of jokes.

  7. A weblog (= online diary), or at least a link to it. [Interesting Weblogs]

  8. A PayPal donate link, a link to wish-lists on online stores and web-based ads, and a merchandise store (e.g.: one based on Cafe Press). All of these may bring some revenue from the site.

Once you’ve set up a home site you’ll probably find that you have more and more ideas on what to put there. But you first need to overcome the first obstacle and actually get a web-site.

Good Presentation

Now for the second aspect of a great site: a good presentation. This involves a very large number of different elements. The list below aims to be as encompassing as possible, but it is possible some points are missing or some will need to be added in the future.

Security

A website needs to be secure. The most possibly secure web site is a static HTML one where the HTML is served directly from the server, without the server processing it. This is adequate for the needs of most web-sites, especially personal home sites.

Alternatively, if you want to have a server-side generated web-site you need to make sure it doesn’t have SQL injection attacks, Cross-Site Scripting (or HTML injection or XSS) attacks, privilege escalation, comment or wiki spam (see the rel="nofollow" attribute for instance), or any other security problem. This requires much more conscious effort and discipline than a plain HTML site.

A server-side Content Management System (CMS) of some sort allows one to edit the pages using a web browser, and also allows web page visitors to add comments or even extra content to the pages. (With all the other implications of such interactivity). One possible way to have such a CMS is CMS hosting. Essentially, a CMS hosting provider manages many instances of the same CMS on its servers, allows one to register his own instances, and maintains and upgrades them all at once. That way, you can have your own CMS without much of the maintenance headaches.

Of course, if the CMS host neglects to install an update in time, then you still have a security problem. But it is still probably a better idea than deploying your own CMS on a normal hosting account.

Navigation Aids

In my previous article “Building Navigation Menus” I gave a list of common patterns in web-site navigation. They appear under the heading “Common Patterns in Navigation Menus and Site Flow” in the article. Here is a list of them without too much explanation:

  1. A tree of items
  2. Next/Previous/Up links to traverse a site
  3. Breadcrumb trails
  4. hidden pages and skipped pages
  5. A site map

A good site should have a navigation menu, and possibly the other navigation aids mentioned here.

One thing that was omitted from the article (due to being too new to be included) is a Google Sitemap. This provides a list of interesting pages in the site for Google and other search engines. Note however, that it is only necessary if these pages are not directly accessible from the main page, for example if you’re using JavaScript for navigation or to generate a common navigation menu, or if you’re using a content management system that manages the pages internally.

Visual Appeal

A good site has good visual appeal. It is pleasing to the eye, interesting to look at, and isn’t intrusive. A central element to such a design is a common look and feel of the site. Generally all pages should contain a navigation bar or two, some common icons, a footer, etc. If the general display of the page changes from page to page, the site’s visitor will feel confused. If the pages are plain HTML pages, with no dedicated blocks, then the site will be harder to navigate and also look unprofessional.

Valid and Semantic Markup
Cat Walk by Piez

There are definitive standards for HTML and related technologies as set by the World-Wide Web Consortium. By following the standards, one can make sure that present and future browsers will know how to handle the page correctly. See the designing for compatibility section in my “Web Publishing Using LAMP” presentation for more information.

A good site master makes sure the markup of all or most of his pages validates. It leaves a better impression, is much easier to maintain this way, and would make sure your web page is displayed correctly in the future (barring some surfacing web browser bugs). Note that the valid markup does not affect how the page is presented and you can easily style it in very attractive ways, while still adhering to web standards.

Refer to the Web Standards Project for more information.

Aside from being markup, your markup should be semantically correct. So, for example if you want to make a text larger, you should use CSS instead of designating it as a heading (<h1>, <h2>, etc.).

Colour Choice

Aside from looking attractive, the choice of colours in a site needs to be non-intrusive enough, and correspond to how people read the page. For example, flashy colours are too hard to see through, and should not be used as the backgrounds of titles. The body of the page itself should be distinguished from the main page layout somehow.

I admit that I am not an expert in this area, and some of my designs are bad in this regard. Someone once pointed me to several problems with one of my designs, which he and I thought were relatively OK. I must say, what he said simply made a lot of sense, and was perfectly obvious, yet I thought the design was OK beforehand.

A different issue with colour choice is making sure one’s page is accessible to people with the various types of colour-blindness. The problem is that are three such types (Red-impaired, Green-impaired, and Blue-impaired) and making a good colour choice for that is hard. Most colour blind people can be expected to customise the page layout using custom CSS stylesheets, so it may not be much of an issue. And if all the important content is in text, it will always be accessible enough.

Responsiveness

The pages of a good web site load quickly and the web site as a whole feels responsive. Putting an excessive amount of images (especially large and poorly compressed ones) on a web site is guaranteed to cause it to load more slowly. Other culprits are a bloated markup, an excessive amount of JavaScript, and a slow connectivity of the host.

Good web-sites heavily optimise for limiting the bandwidth, because it affects broadband users, and people with a slow connectivity much more so.

Various Annoyances

There are many common annoyances in web-sites. Some of the most common ones are:

  1. A horizontal scroll bar, that prevents the entire width of the site from being visible. A webmaster should realise that it’s not enough to make sure there is none when the browser is maximised in a large screen. By all means, many people use much lower widths, and the web designer should accommodate for them.
  2. Frames are evil, and should be avoided. If you want a common look and feel, you should generate your pages from templates, either off-line or on the fly.
  3. Most JavaScript is incredibly annoying and often useless. It also many times makes the site much less portable across different browsers and accessible. It is often added either because people want to demonstrate their JavaScript skills, or because broken site-generation programs insert it there.
  4. Animation on web pages is incredibly annoying and distracting. Some people claim that a web page should only have at most one animated image. I think that usually even one animated image is too much. (If you want to display a movie demonstrating some action, then an animation on an isolated page is naturally an option.)
  5. Pop-ups are annoying and should be avoided. Plus, most browsers give mechanisms to prevent them from appearing anyway.
  6. There shouldn’t be any excessive dependency on Macromedia Flash, and no Flash animations on the front page. Flash is not open-source, often causes accessibility problems, can be very annoying, and most people quickly grow to hate it. Some people completely disable Flash on their default browsers.
Nice URLs

Imagine the URL http://www.myhost.tld/index.php?section=about&subsection=personal&page=bio. Such URLs that contain an excessive amount of CGI parameters are hideous. A good site is served on the root, and uses nice URLs with slashes. Something like http://www.myhost.tld/about/personal/bio/. Assuming you’re using a server-side scripting technology, you can easily implement it using the PATH_INFO environment variable. (You should avoid using Apache’s mod_rewrite and friends for that, because they cause a lot of trouble for such things).

The sections in the site should be properly nested. If something belongs under something else it should follow its URL with a slash and with the new component. So for example, graphical art created using Inkscape should be under “/art/graphics/inkscape/”, etc. It will be a good idea to browse other people’s homepages and see what kind of things they have there to see how to appropriately section and sub-section your home site.

A good site shouldn’t have any links like http://www.mysite.tld/some/place/ within the site, as they will break if the site moves to a different place. Preferably, no links that begin with slash, should be present, either, because they will break if more components are added or removed to the beginning of the site. Coding a logic that will calculate the relative link to an absolute path within the site, is not very hard using with some rudimentary programming skills.

E-mail for Giving Feedback

A web-site should have a meaningful E-mail at the footer for giving feedback. Many web-sites have a form for submitting feedback. This is less comfortable for many users (including most power users, which you should really cater for), and often also breaks in many browsers.

Some people believe one should not mention his or her E-mail on the web so he won’t receive any spam. So let me assure you of this: spammers will eventually learn of your E-mail address whether you like it or not. The best way to battle spam is to make sure you filter it on your side using a good spam filter. (I’m using SpamAssassin and am very happy with it, but there are many others).

On the other hand, preventing legitimate users from sending you mail just by pressing a link at the bottom is going to make everyone annoyed. So make sure you have a link like <a href="mailto:webmaster@myhost.tld">webmaster@myhost.tld</a> at the bottom of all your pages.

It would be a good idea to also have a contact form, so people can contact you just by browsing the web. But it’s not a replacement for an E-mail address.

For further discussion see this thread that I started on the Joel on Software forum about “E-mail at the bottom of every page”.

Usability, Accessibility and Portability

Usability, accessibility and portability are related topics that are all very important aspects of a good web-site. There are several aspects of them:

  • Accessibility for People with Disabilities - not everyone can view the web site in with full colours, in full page and clearly. Some people are blind, or even both blind and deaf. Some people are colour-blind. Some people can’t see rapid flickering properly. And so forth. A good web-site uses semantic markup that accommodates for all of them, and enables viewing the web-site in any medium.

  • Portability to Different Browsers and Platforms - not everyone are using Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 on a Microsoft Windows machine. Some people are using Linux, Mac OS X, or a different version of UNIX. Some people are using Mozilla Firefox or a different browser, and their percentage is significant (about 30% as of November 2005) and growing. Plus, they are a very important minority, because they tend to know better than the masses who use Explorer.

    A site should be compatible with as many browsers as possible. This should be done by adhering to web standards, and using portable markup.

  • User Interface Usability - a web site should have a familiar and intuitive user interface, which people would be able to know their way around very easily.

Site News

Visitors who frequent the site would probably like to know what has changed in the site since their last visit. Unfortunately, many web-sites don’t have an accessible feed of news items. Generally, the front page of the site should display the most recent news, with all the old news items archived somewhere for posterity.

Recently, news syndication technologies such as RSS or the more modern Atom have emerged that allow users to concentrate the news items from various sites. A good web-site should have such feeds for what has changed there.

A search engine for your site is a wonderful enhancement for your site. You can easily set up such a search engine using the Google Search Code and similar services from other online search engines.

Publicity

Nerium Oleander Flowers in Tel Aviv

When you publish an exceptionally good feature on your home page or blog, you would probably like to publicise it on news sites, various types of Internet forums, weblogs, social bookmarking services, and other venues that can give you publicity and drive traffic to your site. An incomplete list of such sites of general interest are:

And you can find more using a web or Wikipedia search.

One thing to note is that if a page on your site is featured highly on one of these sites, then you are likely to receive an increase in traffic. You should make sure that your site can handle such a load so it won’t suffer from the so-called Slasdhot effect.

Search Engine Optimisation

One aspect of making sure your site gets a lot of traffic is white-hat Search engine optimisation, whose purpose is to increase the position of various pages on your site higher in the results returned by search engines. There are various resources about how to rank highly on popular search engines. Here are some that I know about:

  • Michael Crawford’s “White Hat Search Engine Optimisation” provides a useful introduction for some basic techniques and the general need for them.

  • Jennifer Slegg’s blog about Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing provides a useful read. While she doesn’t go very deep, and often gives advice that seem obvious or common sense, it is still useful to follow and read about.

  • SEOmoz is a blog by a company that specialises in search engine optimisation. I used to be subscribed to their RSS feed, but was overwhelmed by the amount of traffic there and by the lengths of the posts. They also seemed to cover a lot of minutiae and micro-optimisations. I felt that implementing all of their suggestions would give me much less time to work on good content to put on my site.

How to Build such a site?

By now, you probably have a good idea about what to put and not to put in a good personal home site. However, you may not know how to do it. So here’s a step by step explanation of how to build a web-site for people who are completely new to programming and web-design.

  1. Learn HTML According to the Standard. The first thing you need to do is learn standard XHTML (an XML-based dialect of HTML, which is cleaner and more powerful than standard HTML). I recommend the HTML Dog HTML and CSS Tutorials, which are very good.

  2. Learn to Use a Web Site Generation System - complex and good sites are impossible to maintain by editing a large number of separate HTML pages. For example, you want all the page to have a navigation menu and a common layout and you’d better maintain it all in one place without keeping a lot of duplicate markup. Here is an overview of several alternatives:

    • Latemp - what I’m personally using for most of my sites. Based on Website Meta Language, which has a relatively steep learning curve. Latemp and Website Meta Lang are very powerful and capable, and one can create very good sites with them, with very little redundant markup.

    • A Templating System - Perl’s Template Toolkit is an extremely powerful and capable templating system. HTML::Template is not as powerful, but easier (and, in my opinion, much lamer). The Python programming language has a templating system called “Cheetah” which I did not look into yet and so cannot comment on further.

      Clearsilver is a cross-language templating system, that can be used from several common languages, and combine code from any of them.

    • Other Web-site Generation Systems - I’m aware of WebMake, and you can find others in the list of Open Source Content Management Systems.

    • Rolling your own - once you learn programming, you can naturally roll your own framework for generating your site. This will not be hard at first, but you may find that you may need to constantly enhance it, fix bugs, etc. As a result, it will be a better idea to use an open-source framework, that is already quite usable, and will be maintained into the future.

    • A Note about WYSIWYG Site Creators - some web workers are using WYSIWYG (= “What you see is what you get”) site creators to maintain the content of their sites. Among the most-prominent ones are Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia (now Adobe) Dreamweaver and the open source Mozilla-based KompoZer. There are a few facts that you need to know about them.

      The first is that they often have generated markup or server-side code that is often non-standard, non-semantic, or non portable across browsers. Hopefully, it’s better with more recent versions of them, but possibly still not perfect. The second fact is that they often have a “lock-in” behaviour, in which you only get the final output, and not the actual internal templates used to generate them. Reverse-engineering them is possible, but less trivial than with the programmatic site generation frameworks that I described.

      Finally, another problem with them is that when writing HTML one has to write a semantic markup for the pages, and then decide how to style it appropriately, rather than design a page visually, and then generate markup.

      Whether you use such tools or not, you still have to learn HTML and CSS beforehand, to have a good understanding of what the tool does behind the scenes. I personally had little experience with such tools, as I find writing markup by hand to be very quick, fun, and like the fact that it produces optimal results.

  3. Write the Code - now comes the fun part: write the markup. You can start from a very minimal site, and gradually expand it, and, if necessary, clean it up. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough content at first - you can always add more later, and you can refer to my earlier ideas for content you can always put on your site.

    You can use a web server running on your local machine to serve the files on your local host and test that everything works. Apache is a very nice cross-platform and flexible web-server, and it is probably included in your Linux or Mac OS X system assuming you are using one of them. If you’re using Windows you can always install it separately - it’s open-source and gratis.

  4. Set up a Good Hosting for your Site - once you have a basic site ready, the next step is to set up a good hosting for your site. A good hosting has a good connectivity to the Internet backbone and the rest of the world, does not display any ads or pop-ups, and allows one to have an unlimited bandwidth (possibly while paying for more bandwidth as it is generated). It will also probably cost you money, but not too much.

    One can use various mechanisms to update the remote copy from your local copy. Some of the most prominent ones are:

    1. FTP - short for File Transfer Protocol is the oldest. It is commonly supported, but transfers passwords and data in plain-text. Many hosts are likely to support it, but there are already better alternatives.

    2. SFTP - short for SSH File Transfer Protocol is similar to FTP, but provides full encryption and a secure authentication and transfer. As such it is more recommended.

      Many popular open-source file transfer clients such as FileZilla and LFTP also support transferring using SFTP.

    3. The Files transferred over shell protocol can be used instead of SFTP, if you only have an ssh account.

    4. rsync is a gratis and open-source program that allows one to transfer files over a secure shell connection incrementally. I.e: if you changed a word in a file, or changed some text, it will only transfer the modifications. It is also smart enough to avoid transferring files that haven’t changed since the last time again and again.

      rsync is especially useful for incrementally uploading data on top of a home connection with a limited upstream bandwidth.

  5. Use a Version Control System for Maintaining your Site - as you work on your site and revise it, it is possible you’ll break something. A version control system, allows you to keep the entire history of the pages, view the difference between two versions, and easily perform rollbacks.

    The various ad-hoc ways of version control like keeping .bak, .bak2, etc. files or keeping periodic archives, are not as robust, or failsafe as using a true version control system.

    The Better SCM site contains a lot of links and information regarding the various version control system. I am personally using the Subversion version control system, which I can wholeheartedly recommend.

    In any case, note that you must eventually use a version control system, because otherwise the integrity of your work would be at risk.

  6. Get your own domain - as Jakob Nielsen notes about Weblog usability, you should get your own domain, instead of relying on that of a blogging service, or a free web-space provider (such as googlepages.com). Your own domain allows you to relocate your site, to and to leave a better impression and to have more control over your destiny.

    There are plenty of domain registrars out there. I like DomainSite.com which offers a fast and cheap service, and accepts PayPal, and offers many options for a top-level domain.

Trail Corner in Tel Aviv University

Now you should remember that your homepage is a process. Make sure you add more content as time goes by, refactor it, adapt it for more modern styles, fix problems, and in general give it some love. The more you care for your home site, the more popular it will become , the more visitors it will attract and the more fun you’ll have.

Critique of some Home Sites

The purpose of this section is to review some prominent home sites which I’m familiar with, and see what their originators have done well, and what they have not. All these web-sites have these things in common: they all belong to people who are not close friends of mine, they are all famous people in the software world, and they all have great content. I will conclude by reviewing my own personal site.

Paul Graham’s Home Site

Paul Graham’s site is beautifully designed, and contains a lot of interesting essays and articles. It has a navigation menu to the left, made out of images, but it does not expand or change from page to page. What’s worse is that all the pages are present on the same top directory - /arc.html, /faq.html, /books.html, /nerds.html. Let’s suppose you end up at this page, called “zero.html”, what page does it belong to? Even the Google back-links feature is no help today. (The spoiler is that it belongs to this page).

Graham routinely adds new essays to the site but he does not maintain an RSS feed by himself. Instead, the RSS feed is maintained by someone else, and often lags behind the dates in which the actual essays appear.

The URLs of the various pages are often not semantic enough. For example: /hp.html. Without accessing the URL, what do you think of when you see “hp”? My immediate guess would be Hewlett-Packard and Google agrees with me. I might also think of “Harry Potter”, but in the case of Graham’s site it stands for “Hackers and Painters”.

The Joel on Software Site

The Joel on Software site hosts Joel Spolsky’s weblog about the software industry, as well as articles he routinely publishes. The site uses the XHTML 1.0 Strict DOCTYPE but does not validate. The web pages look fine in the lynx browser, and so they are most probably very accessible.

The front page contains a navigation menu and some site branding to the right, which is nice. The other pages such as this one do not. The book reviews section contains only the books Joel thinks are a must, and not others that he read and reviewed in time, or mentioned. (That’s not good.)

Some of the URLs contain long numbers: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000069.html. This is quite user-un-friendly. It has been fixed in newer articles, but there are still some leftover articles like that.

The site looks great, and is very aesthetic and pleasing.

Eric S. Raymond’s Site

Eric S. Raymond’s Home site contains a lot of software Raymond has written, documents he wrote, and some information. Most of the pages on the site validate as XHTML 1.0. Most of the pages contain a rudimentary navigation menu to the left, but it remains static, and doesn’t change from page page. The pages are quite plain looking and boring from this regard. The site contains a site map which is a good thing.

The pages in the site are arranged hierarchically. So for example the essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” is below the Writings directory. This is also good. Sometimes this hierarchy as far as the URLs is concerned has been broken, due to historical or other reasons.

Daniel J. Bernstein’s Personal Site

Daniel J. Bernstein’s Personal Site is probably the worst best site on the Internet. It uses plain HTML pages without any style or eye candy. Similarly to Paul Graham’s site, almost all the pages are found under the root directory - “/qmail.html”, “/djbdns.html”, etc. There is no navigation menu, or any other organisational or navigation aids.

Critique of my Own Personal Home Site

My home site has a common look and feel, a navigation menu, a breadcrumbs trail, and a site map. Most of the pages there validate as XHTML 1.1, It has a news feed that mentions what has been updated in the site, and old News items are preserved in their page.

The old style of the site was a bit “Web 1.0”-esque, with some plain colours and boring (it’s still for reference as an alternate stylesheet). A few months ago, I switched the style to a style based on the “Smoked” WordPress theme, and then heard several complaints that the text was too narrow. This was fixed a few days ago, when I tweaked the style, and its accompanying images to make them wider.

Some of the sections of the homepage, contain their own navigation menus, in order to make the main navigation menu less crowded.

The layout of the site is mostly hierarchical, but often there are pages or categories outside their containing categories (for example my MathVentures section is at /MathVentures/ and is contained in /puzzles/ , due to the fact pages were originally placed at certain places, and I’d rather not move them, so they won’t break in the results’ pages of search engines. The breadcrumbs trail and the section navigation menus compensate for part of that, but it’s still a problem.

Conclusion

Having a good web-site is a lot of hard work, but it’s also very fun and rewarding. It is my hope that this article explained how to get on your way in creating a wonderful web-site. Alternatively, if you already have a home site, then this essay may have given you many ideas on how to perfect it.

I’d be happy to hear about what you think of this article, your experience with setting up a web site of your own, and may be able to evaluate your present and future web sites.

So until then, happy web-authoring!

Eric S. Raymond has written the HTML Hell page, which makes a pretty good read. Jakob Nielsen’s site about web usability has a lot of good advice. Especially of note is his series “the worst Web design mistakes”.

The Joel on Software site has an excellent online book called “User Interface Design for Programmers”. It’s a very recommended read and also incredibly amusing. Finally, Michael Crawford has written a very good essay about White Hat Search Engine Optimisation.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Sagiv Barhoom, to the Freenode IRC network people b0at, cochi, intrr, Pete_I, Windrose and kaitlyn, and to the OFTC IRC network’s JasonF for commenting on earlier drafts of this essay.

Footnotes

[Interesting Weblogs] - one note about weblogs - they should be both interesting and as single-topic and specialised as possible. Hardly anyone reads people’s personal blogs, where they tell boring stories about their life and friends. Such blogs are OK for family and friends, and feel free to have one, but it shouldn’t be your only blog.

If you want to write about several different topics, then start new blogs or at least create separate categories with separate web feeds.

Coverage and Comments

For the First Revision