One thing I noticed about building websites in 2020: despite all the social networks and publishing platforms craving our content, our stories, and our attention, people are somehow still building personal websites. Over the course of the year, many of you have launched or relaunched your website. It indeed feels like the personal website is experiencing a little revival.
To me, this comes as no surprise. The benefits of having your own personal site are enormous and appealing. As a creator, publishing on your own website might even be the single best thing you can do, both professionally and personally.
On your personal website, you own your work. You decide what and when to publish. You decide when to delete things. You are in control. Your work, your rules, your freedom.
Your personal website is also a wonderful playground to tinker, prototype, experiment, explore, and learn about web standards and new technologies by experience. Want to improve your accessibility skills? Want to learn CSS Grid or try out variable fonts? Want to implement your first Service Worker or fine-tune the performance of your site? Your personal website is the perfect place for that!
But the prime reason to have a personal website is in the name: it is your personal home on the web. Since its early days, the web has been about sharing information and freedom of expression. Personal websites still deliver on that promise. Nowhere else do you have that much freedom to create and share your work and to tell your personal story. It is your chance to show what you stand for, to be different, and to be specific. Your site lets you be uniquely you and it can be whatever you imagine it to be.
So if you have a personal site, make sure to put in the work and attention to make it truly yours. Make it personal. Fine-tune the typography, add a theme switcher, or incorporate other quirky little details that add personality. As Sarah Drasner writes, you can feel it if a site is done with care and excitement. Those are the sites that are a joy to visit and will be remembered.
Two things are crucial if you want to get started with your own personal site.
- You have to start. You can totally start with something small and basic. But start. Start a blog with WordPress, use a static site generator like Eleventy, a lovely flat-file CMS like Kirby, or code everything from scratch. That’s up to you. The tech stack doesn’t matter that much as long as you start.
- Be aware that your site is not “done” once you launch it. After the launch is when the journey begins. Many creators forget that and struggle with the fact that you have to maintain a site and publish work there. That’s why it is important to be really clear from the beginning in deciding what you want to publish and then build your site around that. Do you want to write? Great! Then focus on the reading experience and create a blog section. You want to post photos or illustrations? Amazing! Then make sure that the layout and structure of your site are built for this and it is easy to publish new images. If you know what you want to publish, it becomes much easier to make creating the work a habit and publishing it on your website part of your practice.
Remember, you don’t have to consider yourself a writer to write on your site. You don’t have to be a programmer to write code on your site. You don’t have to be a renowned expert to have an opinion. Document your process and share the things you learn. Try out different formats, different styles, and different topics. Write about one concept or one idea at a time. Or, if you love tricks, publish your best tricks. The journey is the destination and there might always be someone who benefits from even one of your smallest posts.
Publishing your work can be scary, especially in the beginning. It might feel like you are being judged. Everyone can inspect your source code, see your tiny mistakes, and notice when you get things awfully wrong. But that’s part of the process, too. And it’s this process that makes building, maintaining, and growing your personal site so worthwhile. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, push beyond your fear, and hit Publish. When you publish regularly on your personal site, it will inevitably grow. And so will you.
There is a community of creators out there, eagerly waiting for you to contribute your point of view. We are implementing Webmentions on our sites, adding blogrolls to our sites again, and we might even bring webrings back. We subscribe to each other’s feeds and we are sharing and quoting each other’s work and articles. In 2021, and in the years to come, we need you and many more to keep the Web open, independent, and diverse. Hidde de Vries recently shared this quote on his personal site which he had read on Jeremy Keith’s personal site:
If you have something wonderful, if you do not defend it, you will lose it.Zeynep Tefepkçi (via adactio.com)
Personal websites are such a thing. If you don’t have a website yet, come join us on the other side where the web is (still) personal. It’s worth it.