The right way to build a web site

Today marks the 5th anniversary of my first tornado, an F1 that struck Jamestown, Indiana.  It was a very exciting day for me, for many reasons.  One of which is that I felt like I finally had some legitimate content to put on my website.  By 2004, I had been making web pages for about ten years.  My first efforts were with AOL’s Page Builder (I think that’s what they called it).  It was  really simple and probably had a total of zero visitors in its entire existence.  By the end of the 20th century, I had discovered Angelfire.  My page on Angelfire was simply a place to store some of the crappy songs and stories I had written.   I had no intention of making it widely visited.  It was mostly a text-based site, including some pages that were made with Microsoft Word (yuk!).

It would only get worse.  In the final year of the millenium, I began developing my page on Geocities.  My Geocities page was everything the Angelfire page was, plus pictures of me and some random photos I took while driving around with my friend Erik.  Oh yes, and it was everything that you’d expect a Geocities page to be:  tiled background pictures, all manner of animated GIFs, superfluous exclamation points.  It captured the spirit of the age as well as any site.

Things began to improve when I went off to college.  I began hosting my site on the University’s servers, which meant I didn’t have all of the begging-to-be-abused site-building tools.  I also had marginally-interesting content, so the GIFs mostly went away.  Development in that first year was mostly done on Microsoft FrontPage (also yuk!), which forced me into a simpler design style.  The best was yet to come, though.  In the spring of 2002, I was hired to maintain my department’s weather data server.  One of the first things I wanted to do was add more products to the website.  I picked up a copy of HTML 4 For Dummies: Quick Reference and taught myself basic HTML.  From that point on, my design tool of choice was a text editor.  Notepad, PC-PICO, vim, whatever was available that let me get my ASCII on.  To this day, the majority of remains hand-edited.

The next big step came in 2005 or 2006.  Our department printed a CD every year to recruit graduate students.  I was tasked with making some provided updates.  The first thing I had to do was to convert the content from a series of PowerPoint files (okay, seriously?  Who does this?!) into HTML.  With some guidance from our department’s webmaster, I found that Cascading Style Sheets would cut down on a lot of the redundant work (and would make future updates much simpler), so I found some material online and learned CSS.  When I began re-designing last year, I had to re-learn my CSS, but it was well worth the effort.

So why did I start this post out by mentioning the Jamestown tornado?  It just so happens that yesterday I was driving to the very spot where I saw the tornado develop.  On the drive, I had the opportunity to consider many things, but what I ended up considering was my website.  My storm chasing exploits seem like they’d fit on a blog-type site rather well.  Would it be worth moving them?  WordPress also has static pages.  Could I just make my entire site contained in WordPress?  Or maybe I could make the whole site dynamically-produced.  That might be cool.

After some consideration, I’ve decided that I like how my site works.  It’s not the best, or the prettiest, but it works for me, and I think it works for the people who happen upon it.  I may not be a web designer, but I think when you can sit back and say “this site works”, then you’ve done it right.

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