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Rethinking a personal website

Read Time 5 min.

Rethinking a personal website

My domain name renewal last month caused me to reflect on what to do with this very neglected online space. I don’t have a firm answer yet. But some serendipitous internet encounters have set my wheels spinning.

Here are some thoughts and useful resources should you be thinking about the same thing.

Digital gardening

The concept of digital gardening isn’t new. Maggie Appleton summarised the history and ethos of digital gardening. The approach has gained traction lately, perhaps due to social media fatigue; just me?

Based on a first read, digital gardening is an approach to personal websites that is iterative and ongoing. It seems less about publishing finished thoughts and pieces, and more about thinking aloud or learning in public. People tend to their digital garden in the way they would a regular garden: a seed here, plant there, some cutting back here, weeding over there. Over time, a garden reveals itself.

Annika Hansteen-Izora talked about some values in digital gardening on Deem Journal.

Perhaps because I am now gardening IRL with gusto, this idea really appeals to me. It strikes me that digital gardening lets you:

  • share stuff without having an answer
  • break from perfectionism, since you can revisit, refine and edit
  • work with how learning happens; slowly
  • embrace serendipity, as you link and connect ideas
  • follow what make sense to you – your garden, your rules.

Now, like many people, I do some form of ‘mind gardening’ in private with paper notebooks and sketchbooks, and digital notes and files. I don’t see that changing. But approaching this website in a similar way appeals, as a way to rediscover what I loved about blogging circa 2006-2010. Namely personal expression alongside connection with others.

I am not a developer though. I know enough html/css/php to edit templates for this site and for digital content jobs. But that is it right now. Maggie Appleton has a good list of digital gardening options for non-technical folks. Worth a read if you’re curious but put off by lots of coding like me.

For my case, Obsidian is an option, since I use it for digital notes. But the designer in me wants slightly more control over look and feel. WordPress makes sense for now, since it works fine and I don’t want the extra admin of migrating content and designing a whole new website. Besides, I can always change in future.

The IndieWeb

I stumbled across the IndieWeb community on Tracy Durnell’s website, which I think I found through a newsletter.

In my mind, the IndieWeb is tied to digital gardening. Many of the websites I’ve seen so far have that eclectic note-taking feel to them. But the difference is that IndieWeb feels like it’s about building a online ecosystem of digital gardens. To extend the nature metaphor.

Ana Rodrigues‘ article on Smashing Magazine is a useful and well-written rundown of why you might want to look at the IndieWeb philosophy. And IndieWeb site has a list of the key principles.

The philosophy is one that resonates with me. Owning and future-proofing your content and identity shouldn’t feel radical. But it does in the internet landscape of 2023. IndieWeb seems like those early blogging days, but better. For a personal site, the focus feels like it’s more on connection and self-expression. With less emphasis on popularity or personal brandingTM – since, let’s face it, you are likely your primary reader. I also appreciate that the approach is not anti-social media though. Many folks crosspost on their website and social platforms, so you can do what works for you.

The IndieWeb documentation is almost certainly written by and for highly technical people. I found it overwhelming (yet interesting, clearly) with my medium technical knowledge and skills. The non-technical people I know would likely get quite confused.

The plus side is there are IndieWeb WordPress plugins, so you can use those to start.

However, many themes aren’t set up to include all the features. That means if you already have a theme, you may have to:

  • wrangle with some code to get it to look nice and work smoothly
  • change to a different theme that does work with the features you want to use
  • add things in slowly and accept some quirks in the meantime, or
  • go to a community meet-up and get some help.

It feels a bit niche at the moment, but it’s a really interesting approach that harks back to founding concepts for the Internet.

What I’m thinking for this website

Moving past a creative and emotional block has felt hard. Thankfully I’m now feeling less stuck than before, and much more able to face things again. Since leaving fashion, I haven’t quite known what to post on here. So much of what I shared before felt tied to that. Even though, I’ve never really subscribed to a one-trick-pony outlook. Creativity comes in many forms, and I’m enjoying exploring different approaches.

For this website, my aims currently are:

  • to start a more regular writing practice – with the longer-form space of a website
  • to follow interests more freely, allowing for the tangents I naturally have
  • to document more things I make – failures and successes, paid and personal projects
  • to share and note interesting or inspiring things
  • to have a place for digital experimentation away from jobs (though probably useful for my current line of work)

I might not publish everything. But now I see why the digital garden and IndieWeb approaches intrigue me. Because I’m trying to shift to a practice and process mentality, and feel less shame about who I am and how I do things.

Anyway, it’ll take some time to adapt this site to work more frictionlessly with these new concepts. But I’m feeling more enthusiastic than I have about the Internet than I have in a while. Let’s hope it lasts!

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