For a web guy, I've got a pretty rubbish website, part 1

Lately I've been applying for jobs, and as a web guy, I've been rather on the fence about including this website on my CV. It's usually on there, because it would be easily googled anyway, but I'm slightly aware that it's not really doing me any favours.

So here, with an obvious eye on potential-employer-readers, is a little rambling on the topic. Here's hoping that if I can't have an amazing website, a few words on how and why this website is kind of rubbish, revealing along the way a bit of my approach to "web stuff" - specifying and gathering requirements, information architecture, technical choices and so on - may prove at least a different kind of professionally convincing.

What's wrong with it?

For starters, prior to this entry, I've not published anything since the end of 2014. A year and a half ago, which is basically decades in internet time. Even then, if you actually look at the content from 2014 and before, it's almost all not really there. Headline, placeholder fragments. Only a couple of features are actually written up. To add insult to injury, there's no way to actually distinguishing the written-up features from the skeletons, short of opening every one and being annoyed that it doesn't really exist. I'm hardly showing off on the content or user experience side then.

The technical side fares little better. A cursory examination by someone with a clue will quickly reveal a more or less stock drupal site, cobbled together from just a couple of content types, some Views, simple menu and tagging stuff running pretty much out of the box, a lightly hacked vanilla theme with basic responsive css. Nothing truly bad about the stack or its output -- you could certainly argue I haven't trimmed drupal's bloated markup properly, but I've seen worse fluff spewed on corporate production sites -- but nothing truly impressive either. The sort of thing you'd expect an experienced drupal developer to whip up by lunchtime, really.

What's the point?

The point of this website probably seems quite obvious: a kind of blog, to showcase my photography and travel.

Really, though, the point of building it several years ago was something else entirely: to have a sandpit / playground to learn drupal development. To that end, I only "pretended" to want a photoblog, and for my true purpose, this site succeeded. I figured out how to build custom content types, displayed via views, tied together with taxonomies, styled up through the theme system... all the drupal basics covered.

As a photoblog though it was/is rather less successful and that can really be traced back to the fake purpose or motivation. I not only chose the technology before considering the business (or in this case, personal) needs, but I proceeded to build things along a technological line of least resistance (to learn "the drupal way") rather than to deliver on requirements for my supposed project.

Because my supposed aim ("I want a website to showcase my photography and stuff") wasn't taken seriously, I never really thought about it, and picked the statement apart. In fact, I never even seriously decided if it was true at all!

Do I even want or need want a website at all?

I thought I did, but on first efforts to write up my backlog of excursions, I found maybe I don't have as much as to say as I thought I did.

For some of the "trips" I've attempted to write up, I strung the photos out with a few subheadings and captions, and then found myself struggling to come up with much to say to fill in the substance. I don't have a narrative, except "I went to this place and took some photos and then went to this place and took photos..." Even where I do have stories beyond that, I'm not terribly minded to share them. I'm not a here's-what-I-had-for-breakfast kind of guy when it comes to living publicly online. Now, I can quite easily string together blogspam/content farm grade articles by gluing this together with liberal helpings of Wikipedia'd history and trivia, but really what's the point in that?

OK, if I went full SEO/clickbait about how I crafted my pages, and covered them in ads, I could make a few pence, but even after abandoning all principles and self-respect I'd not make a decent living, so forget that. Clearly my "success factor" is not measured in money but in simple "engagement". Really I just want a way to throw my stuff out there, see that a few dozen, or hundred, or thousand people looked at it, make the occasional "small world" connection to someone who's been to the same place, or knows a lot about a subject, or simply receive some encouragement of "nice shot".

My stuff is better off on other websites than my own

In such circumstances I'm probably better off just sharing the images as images, on social sites, rather than my own site. On flickr itself, where I host my photos: despite having the image (ha!) as a hosting site rather than a community or social networking site, you can follow people and post to groups and all that stuff, and I get a moderate amount of activity on there. I post pics to theme and/or geography-specific forums like skyscrapercity. I post pics to reddit, particularly the safe-for-work-despite-the-name subreddits like EarthPorn and CityPorn. Sometimes I post things on facebook. If I were truly motivated to "drive views and engagement", in a corporate sense, I could also bother to systematically (cross)-post to instagram, tumblr, twitter, pinterest and so on.

From the limited 'spamming' of my photography on these sites I do do, and even more occasional instances of other people doing it for me, I already know that such activity generates far bigger, quicker, easier returns than trying to build up my own website. I'll get more views, more likes, more comments and feedback.

Partly this is a matter of where people want to consume their content. They want to open flickr and see the latest shots from all their followed photographers, not remember to go to double-u, double-u, double-u, dot, s, t, e, v... (etc) to see if I've posted anything lately. They want to seamlessly tap to upvote/like/favourite/comment with their reddit/facebook/whatever account they are logged into constantly, anyway, not write me an email to say "Nice content".

Worse is better: scrappy fragments of content outdo polished website content

Partly this is a matter of the type of content people want to consume and share.

I've noticed some patterns on reddit (and this section is admittedly very biased toward Reddit, and even within that, biased to the subreddits I use, but I'm sure applies in modified form to other comparable communities and aggregators). In many cases, people seem to actually prefer "low budget" content presentation (e.g. an album of pics on imgur) to a link to someone's website, which has the same images presented in a slick custom layout. Part of this may be a continuation of the previous point - the technological / user experience "least resistance" such content delivery gives them. imgur albums or bare images load quickly, most reddit apps and extensions like RES handle them specifically. You know what you're going to get, whereas a link to some random website may not be properly responsive in design, or otherwise work well, let alone familiarly, on the user's current device.

Part of it I think is slightly more 'cultural', in that a collection of imgur pics, or a reddit self-post with basic markdown formatting, seems like "grass roots authentic UGC", while a polished website seems like "blogspam", "self promotion" or /r/hailcorporate. This is even if you don't have adverts or sell anything, as such. You might think you're merely trying to improve your content by delivering it in a custom, bespoke format. But simply the fact that you're trying to sell your content via a 'personal brand' ("hey, come to") rather than a just-like-you member of reddit ("self-post by /u/stevekeiretsu"), counts as a subconscious negative weighting.

The other "strangely inverse" thing I've noticed is that more detailed content typically does worse than fragmentary snippets. If I see a post on /r/travel called "Just got back from Fiji, it was stunning!" linking to a .jpg (singular), I'll look at it. If I see a post on /r/travel called "Just got back from an 18 month round-the-world trip, here's 400 photos" I'll almost certainly scroll past it. If I do open it I'll phase out and close tab way before the 400th photo.

So I'll get more "engagement" by posting one pic of Valletta to /r/CityPorn, (and one to /r/churchporn then maybe another one to /r/travel a bit later, then maybe drop some links in a related /r/europe thread months after that, and meanwhile add some shots to flickr pools like Streets in the City, etc) than I will writing up all my Valletta shots into an "article" and trying to flog that blog(spam) piece around the internet.

I'm actually disincentivised from creating "better", longer, coherent, centralised website content as compared to throwing relatively decontextualised, incoherent, decentralised content fragments into the grand UGC soup.

So, I've essentially taken an awful lot of words to explain that for an Average Joe Bloggs like me who wants to generically circulate their stuff on the internet, using "the major sites for that sort of thing" are better than building my own homepage. This would be a very insightful thought if I were writing when building your own homepage were the default thing to do, and sites like facebook didn't yet exist. You know, 15+ years ago.

Now -- it's not really that interesting a conclusion. (Although I do think there's probably a somewhat more interesting article to be written on how many corporates are more like Average Joes in this regard than they like to admit. I've seen plenty of microsites, or attempted requests for them, where you just think, why bother, who's going to care to come to your crappy site, this development project is/was a completely pointless waste of money, get a twitter feed and get on with distributing your message that way, for heavens sake.)

But it does raise the question, then, of why this site is still here at all, and I haven't just mothballed it.

However at this point I think I've rambled on long enough that I should continue that thought in a "part 2".