The Personal Web Page

Having a Personal Web Page is how everyone starts. You have that one idea, for whatever reason, to publish one web page out there for your own personal reasons. I know my first web page was back in the 1990’s and it was certainly exciting to have a web page out there with some links to other sites I liked. However in today’s Internet, the personal web page has now evolved beyond the simple index page into multiple page volume sites that could easily expand to thousands of pages of content and still be referred to as a personal site. This has largely happened because of the weblog revolution which allowed many people for the first time to publish easily and without the necessity to worry about the technology and code behind it all. In a sense, the pen and paper letter was replaced by the wordprocessor and email, and now the blog. The blog is instantly a personal site, or a publishing column, or even just a modern business card which is digital and constantly changing.

As a web designer, one has to see the blog not just as a trend but as the new standard for personal web sites.


Presentation:

If we install WordPress 1.5 and use the defaults, we can already see what the standard Kubrick template does so well for the personal web site. Namely we get a title for our site, a description for our site, a sidebar for easy navigation, and a layout that has a very presentable use of white space. There are also features for the site that are available immediately, like Search, RSS feeds, and even user commenting. If you were to create a web site from scratch you would have to include each of these features and you would have to implement that as well as WordPress or better.

This poses quite a challenge since even if you coded your site with these exact specifications, WordPress and other blogging software is usually expandable by way of plugins, which makes it harder to keep up with such a successful site design as WordPress. At this point we are only really discussing the front end of WordPress, what the site looks like and does, not even the backend which makes a WP site very easy to update with new content!

Dreamweaver v/s CMS:

The traditional way for novice designers was to use Dreamweaver (or Nvu) to design simple web pages and then learn html by editing the code that Dreamweaver would create. Eventually after designing enough pages and looking at the code, you eventually switch to a text editor for making most html changes and even designing. This is still a good way of learning html, but learning CSS really requires you to look at stylesheets and WYSIWYG editors are not really meant for CSS design. In Dreamweaver’s graphical view, the idea is to drag and drop elements, to create space similarly to a wordprocessor or drawing program. CSS positioning is hard to visualize in this mode. To see how CSS works, you really have to work in a text editor and render the web page in your browser to see the immediate effects.

This is where a CMS (Content Management System) takes over what Dreamweaver does well, namely adding new content to an already designed layout. The backend of a CMS takes care of adding new content, and it is faster and more efficient than Dreamweaver or a text editor, since it immediately adds your content to your site and even links it throughout your site. Blogging programs like Textpattern, WordPress, and Blogger don’t really offer full CMS features, but concentrate on fundamentals which work well for personal publishing.

The New Personal Web Page:

Essentially today’s personal web site is really about dynamic publishing presented inside a CSS based template. You can write the dynamic publishing system but why reinvent the wheel if you do not have to. Most people would be satisfied with just modifying the default CSS template and tinkering with some of the default publishing features. What I suggest is a hybrid of both static pages and dynamic publishing. The most popular personal publishing system is undeniably WordPress, and there is good reason for this, mostly because it is mature now and easily expandable for most experienced web site designers. But even if you just started coding your own pages in Dreamweaver you should start looking at WordPress and other blogging systems to see what they offer.

Once you have decided what the blogging system can do best and what it can not do very well, it is time to either add plugins to the blogging system or to use an outside static page or different program altogether to complete the web site functionality. However as you add external features or pages, make sure that you retain the same presentation throughout as much as possible. This does not mean that adding a forum to your site has to completely integrate with your dynamic publishing, but it all has to navigate well and be accessible from your main page. Without a doubt, trying to maintain the presentation of your site, is the most time consuming and hardest part of having a personal web site.

Blogs And Static Sites:

Personal sites are rarely static, but perhaps you do want to create a static site for some reason, then a personal publishing system may be overkill for your needs. In these cases, you do not have to abandon the whole blogging personal publishing concept, you may in fact need to choose a different blogging program, perhaps a simpler program would suffice. The whole idea with using a blog presentation may still apply, you may still want easy navigation, a template that provides a nice layout, etc, but comments and other features may need to be disabled. After learning to rely on a blogging program you may find that even if you do not use a blog for all your web sites, you may still find yourself imitating the layout and navigation features that you have now grown to appreciate.

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