This WebsiteMay 4, 2014
This page was created to give insight on my influences, ideas, and frame-of-mind while I was creating this site. It also serves as the site’s “slash purpose” page, which you can read more about here. In fewer words, this page tries to answer the question, “Why?”.
Killing The Internet Me
I’ve maintained a personal website hosting my “identity” for years. It’s cyclically taken form as a portfolio, a splash page, a résumé, a rebellious statement, and a cop-out. The website was always shallow, and it mainly served as an introduction to the “internet version” of myself, who is quite different from the “IRL version” of myself. Fragmenting my identity started to cause me some serious anxiety and frustration, and it needed to stop.
The internet-me lived on websites like Twitter, Medium and Hacker News. I let the constraints, customs and attitudes of those “places” shape that identity. At best, maybe, I looked internet-cool (the opposite of IRL-cool, for those keeping track). At worst, I’d get caught up in worthless debates, product cycle speculation, and opinionated online blathering that had nothing to do with real life. It was just making me unhappy.
I’ve realized that the technology industry, or at least the one covered by today’s pop-tech media, is a lot like a sport. It can be fascinating to follow, and it can be rewarding. But it can, if you let it, suck you in to its ugliness, misdirected hate, and almost-religious fervor. The internet-me got sucked in.
The primary goal of this website is to kill internet Aaron Grando. This website will be the definitive representation of me online, and it will be the center of my attention when I need to put words on screen. I am my honest self here, now.
At the end of 2012, Anil Dash started an excellent discussion with his article The Web We Lost. When I first read it, it hit me pretty hard. And since reading it, I’ve gone through some periods of extreme angst against technology and the web wholly. Anil Dash refers specifically to the “social web”, but I'm trying consider the web all-one. Otherwise, I'm back at the fragmentation that I’m trying to avoid.
In the article, one specific paragraph calls out the dying personal website.
In the early days of the social web, there was a broad expectation that regular people might own their own identities by having their own websites, instead of being dependent on a few big sites to host their online identity. In this vision, you would own your own domain name and have complete control over its contents, rather than having a handle tacked on to the end of a huge company’s site. This was a sensible reaction to the realization that big sites rise and fall in popularity, but that regular people need an identity that persists longer than those sites do.
Truth, and also, dang. Where did we fall off?
With that, another goal of this site is to take back complete control of the content that I put online, including my identity. Having the skills to do so makes this a no-brainer imperative.
This website was designed for reading and writing. I wanted the best reading experience for the user and the best writing experience for myself. It’s a little cliché to talk about writing in the web industry, but it’s something I enjoy doing, want to enjoy doing more, and want to get a lot better at doing. This is a good opportunity for all that.
The most obvious design lesson I learned while working on this site was to try and stick with what’s natural for the reader. The single-column look that dominated the last iteration of this site was pretty ugly. It didn’t fit a comfortable use case - the text was always a little ungainly; there wasn’t a comparable natural reading experience—except maybe a billboard or an ad, which this site is not. Smaller text in roughly the size and shape as a book you’d hold in your hands wound up feeling best.
I wanted the writing experience to be as simple as possible, while maintaining full control of everything. There’s plenty of tools and methods I wound up deciding against. There is no CMS, no Markdown parsing, no RSS publishing. The site is basic HTML rendered in some really basic Rails layouts. HTML is a second language, and I’m super familiar with Rails – that’s all. I’m writing this post in Textmate just as I’d be coding, and it’s going quite nicely.
You can see exactly what I’m talking about by taking a look at the code for this post on Github. I’m tracking the source for this site publicly for reference, but please note that this website is not open source. The code and contents of this website are licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0. This license allows for sharing with attribution and disallows redistribution of the source or modified versions of the source. These restrictions are help me maintain control of my work and identity.
The purpose section at the top of this post (and a few other pages on this website) serves as an explanation of my intent. I like the concept of the “slash purpose” page and thought it could likewise work well with even more granular content.
Everything we do online, we do with intent. The intent is important. If the intent of a blog post is clear and honest, it can help the reader empathize with the author. The web needs a lot more empathy. When the intent of some content is unclear, it’s easy for readers to jump to conclusions or feel like they’re being tricked or sold (because, actually, there’s a good chance they are). Explicitly declaring my intent with Purpose statements helps readers know where I’m coming from, and hopefully leads to a more understanding conversation.
Also, from my perspective as the author, if I can’t form an honest purpose statement before I start writing something, I know that whatever I’m thinking of writing needs a check; reality or empathy or priviledge or otherwise. That helps me write and be a good person.
Another, simpler, benefit of the Purpose statement is that it acts as an abstract for my opinion. I think that might help fight the TL;DR-ism we all sometimes suffer from.
Influenced and Inspired
I’d like to call out my biggest influence for this website, Frank Chimero. His website is the best, and he wrote about homesteading, and his own site, here and here. One of the main reasons I concluded that a non-stream, non-platform-based website is still viable in 2014 is because I found myself returning to his website often to just check for new stuff. Thanks, Frank.
Also, my absolute favorite website since who-knows-when has been Kottke.org. It wasn’t an explicit design objective, but I’m not surprised that this site wound up looking pretty similar to Jason’s. I’ve always admired the simplicity and focus on Kottke.org.
More To Come
Thanks for reading, and welcome to my new site. I’m glad you came.
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I hope you enjoyed this blog post. It’s not the only one! Please enjoy reading another from the list of selected posts below. You can see all my posts here.
Looking at the current state of consumer ecomm fees.November 11, 2015
Introducing a new tool for Responsive Design.October 24, 2014
Mental overhead from our digital social lives is getting us down.July 2, 2014
Company retreats, client projects and babaganouj.May 27, 2014
A love letter to the endangered visible URL.May 20, 2014
Reminding myself that the internet is what you make of it.May 13, 2014
Consider this my "About" page.May 4, 2014
Motivation, cold weather, and moving to New York City.November 17, 2013
The journey can be so addicting, I might never arrive.May 31, 2013