The personal website—your home on the Web
Issue 74: De-emphasizing social graphs and going back to our roots
As I was updating my personal website this week, I realized 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of owning my first web domain: davidhoang.com. I could feel my geriatric millennial bones aching as I made a connection that the first www I owned is old enough to be a sophomore in college. A personal website is called many things. The most fitting one is the homepage—the place where people visit you. Let’s reminisce (or learn) how personal websites came to be and why I’d love to see a resurgence of them.
How the internet manifested
1991 marked two historic moments in humanity: the release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Sir Tim Berners-Lee published a website called World Wide Web. It was the first time the public had access to viewing a website like this on the internet.
Contrary to what people believe, that day on August 6, 1991 was not the invention of the internet but the mark of public access to the Information Superhighway. The origins of what would become the internet started in the 1960s by the US Department of Defense. The purpose was to research packet switching to enable time-sharing (of resources) of computers. In the 1970s, only academic institutions had access to these networks.
I am of the last generation of kids who grew up with no internet and also the first generation that grew up with it. As the internet got older and evolved, so did I. At a young age, I learned terms such as text editors, markup, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), dial-up internet, and the almighty File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to get your stuff posted. In 1994, the game changed with Web Crawler, allowing searching on the internet. No longer did we have to enter website URLs and could begin searching what else people were putting out there. In this era of the internet, the majority of my website publishing was on Geocities and Angel fire. It wasn't until I went to college and studied art that I'd frequently create on the Web more.
The evolution of mainstream internet usage
My college experience comprised of spiral notebooks and carrying heavy textbooks around campus (probably where the back pain came from). If I wanted to access the internet it'd be in our computer lab in the art building. Instead of getting actual research done I’d often browse and update my MySpace profile. It wasn't until I went to visit a friend's college campus that I heard of this site called thefacebook.com. Is the era of the web focused more on social networks where people can create profiles to communicate on the internet? You didn't need a personal website. Heck, you didn't even need a screen name and used your real name—freaky. The emergence of sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube would later be coined by Marketers as Web 2.0. With this paradigm shift and the emergence of smartphones, interactivity on the Web moved more towards mobile and applications of social networks.
Throughout college and after graduation, I maintained a website primarily for application purposes. I was in the midst of applying to graduate school and working on my art. I figured maintaining a website would help me share my work when applying to shows and scholarship grants. At the time, most application processes wanted you to mail physical portfolios or send a CD.
My career odyssey took me a different path than art. In a series of many years of life events, I pivoted into digital design. Through maintaining a personal website, things happened in my life my younger self would not believe. I connected with friends, freelance opportunities, and collaborations with celebrities who were childhood idols.
Fast forward to 2022. In recent years I've grown exhausted with certain aspects of the Web, primarily with the overwhelming social graphs that Web 2.0 brought. Aside from Twitter (I can’t quit you, big blue), I don’t use any social media. I find myself having a strong desire to de-graph the Web, and it doesn't have to be on the blockchain contrary to popular belief. I want to visit people's digital homes on the web like how we used to ride our bikes down the street to visit our friends. This year, two decades after my first web domain and enduring both a Mortal Kombat and Matrix reboot, I find a renewed energy to publish on the internet to share ideas to connect, not for likes. I'd love for you to join me in doing the same, and if you don't have a webpage, let's talk about how you can get started.
Building your website
Publishing a website on the internet is immensely easier than in the early days. Back then, you needed to know HTML/CSS and technologies to get your content published. With the modern Web providing options, there are many ways to get started for free. I have a few key tips for you to get started.
Pick a platform and commit to it
You likely know I work at Webflow, and of course, I’m going to recommend it. However, there are many options out there for you can use for free. What's important is to pick a platform and stick to it. Don't get analysis paralysis on what platform you should use as it gets in the way of publishing and creating content. Hopefully, the platform you picked has an option for you to point to your web domain and export the content should you make the switch to another platform. It's like staring at the home screen on Netflix. Pick something and see if you like it. The majority of your time should be spent on the next tip, which is about content.
Content is always first.
Web platforms and frameworks will come and go. What makes your web presence unique is your content—the stuff you create that reflects your expression. This might be words, images, or multi-media experiences. Having a good web platform and mediocre content is like when the frame of an artwork is better than the piece itself. Publishing on the internet where everyone can see can be scary, but it's important.
Put yourself out there to grow
Whether you're a perfectionist or have concerns about how people will react to your content, push through it. The best way to learn is to put it out there and improve. The honest point is most people won't see what you post if you're just getting started, so who cares what people think.
The best signal for personal growth is being able to look back at your old work and laugh at it. There are many typos, designs, and terrible sentences that people can look up from content I created a decade ago, but who cares?
What you can do with a personal website
There are a lot of many benefits for keeping a personal website, and your goals may vary. There may be no incentives at all and you simply want to share stuff—incredible!
Writing to build a network effect and foster serendipity
David Perrell once wrote, "Writing is the best kind of networking." This is so true, and your website is the best place to write and collect your essays. In Perrell's essay, "How to Maximize Serendipity," he writes a section on building a serendipity vehicle:
"Maintain a website so people can find your bio, share your work, and describe you in a favorable light. Once your website is live, publish content to encourage people to visit your website, advertise your skills, and hype you up."
When you're asleep, your website will be up available to foster serendipity you might want in your life.
A dynamic CV
In addition to the typical requirement of a web portfolio for design jobs, I found that things outside of it spark opportunities. When people ask me how to build their leadership or management portfolio, I tell them to write. You may not have the experience of managing before. What you can do is share and express what that experience is like based on what you believe and how you would approach it. In many portfolio reviews, I look at the case studies and also click on every hyperlink I can find. There are many occasions I encounter links to side projects and writing that really showcase additional skills. Treating your website as a digital garden of ideas will connect you to opportunities you may never realize.
Sharing your passion and connecting with people
And finally, the most important reason to have a website is to share what you care about with the world. Having access to the internet is such a freedom to publish and share ideas on the open web. It's something we take for granted. Websites don't have to be for professional gains and simply for the love of what you want to do creatively.
Building your home on the internet
Going to Wayback Machine, I had a trip down memory lane on what the front door of my internet presence looked like in years past. I had a moment of great laugher when I realized in 2004 my website was essentially a Tupac Shakur quote. The internet truly grew with me, and I grew because of the internet.
If you have a personal website, please reply and share it with me. I want to spend more time on personal websites to get to know what you're into.
You can visit my website at davidhoang.com. See you on the Web.
Tweet of the week
How to build a website in 2021 by Ali Abdaal
Now pages. A great collection of pages of people’s personal websites with what they’re up to now.
The Corporate Playbooks Used to Combat Organizational Trauma (And Why They're Not Enough) ←This one is a must-read!