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Matt Wilcox

Web Development

Notes Mar 10th 2013

A Fresh Start

Retiring my old website (circa 2002-2012) late last year has given me time to think about the changing uses for my personal corner of the world wide web.

My personal website has played many roles over the years, but content updates stagnated as it became less and less suited to me over time.

Prior to 2002 this site was all about being a gallery to share my Bryce/Rhino 3D renderings and join the nascent online digital-art community. Later it became largely a forum to talk with my real life friends. Later still it became a journal to help record my daily life. And lastly it became a place where I talked about things loosely related to my job (i.e., web development).

More recently, it's been largely abandoned. I asked myself, why?

The fact is, I don't have anything like the spare time I used to have to devote to the multitude of things I like to do. As other things have taken priority the time-expense of keeping up with the changing demands I placed on my site became too much. A clunky, old, inflexible self-coded CMS certainly didn't help, and the numerous attempts to re-write it to match my grand ideas each fizzled out after a month or two.

A resentment of the site for no longer reflecting what I wanted to do with it, nor even vaguely reflecting my abilities as a developer, led me to stay away – how can you talk about recent or cutting-edge design and development from a website that's six or seven years out of date in those particulars?

Outsourcing the code

Learning to rely on third-party code frees me up to concentrate on what matters more: content.

I don't like relying on third-party systems that host my content elsewhere, and I've never liked the idea of outsourcing my blog system either. I've always believed in hosting my own content, and if you've not learned to do that yourself yet I can only point to InstaGram, Posterous, and half a dozen other third-party services that bit the dust or screwed users over during the last few years as fair warning to you. If I'd relied on third party solutions like those I would not have an archive of my past content like I do today.

I prefer having full control and therefor a full understanding and responsibility for the things I create. So I've never been happy with the idea of using third party CMS's for my personal content either (regardless of self-hosting benefits). Third party software by necessity are things I won't fully understand and they're not fully customisable to meet my whims either. Or so I'd always felt. I've realised having total ownership and control of the CMS is not as important as I thought it was. The reality is that if a third party CMS is going to be easier to use and easier to maintain then I'm much more likely to use it; and to hell with the theoretical benefits of a bespoke CMS.

And if a CMS I didn't build from scratch doesn't spit out exactly the optimal HTML/CSS/JS as I see it? Well … I'm not happy about it, but it's a price I'm willing to pay. Maybe if I like the CMS enough I'll learn how to wrangle it to my requirements.

So this site is now running WordPress. It's not a great blogging platform, but is surprisingly (depressingly) the best I could find for my needs right now. I'm eager to try Ghost once it's available. Regardless, now I'm running a CMS someone else is responsible for developing, it feels like I want to write again. The process no longer costs so much time and effort, nor irritates the aspects of myself that see old work; no longer up to my standard; and bridles at it. Part of the pleasantness of using third-party software is being comfortable with letting go of that demand for perfection. Right now I'm even running a stock theme!

I can't wait to write some more. And now, I won't have to.