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A Love Letter to Personal Websites (vanschneider.com)
204 points by devbas 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

One of the downsides to having a personal site, as a developer, is that some people will expect it to be a professional portfolio and showcase. So, there's pressure to keep updating it, to at least hint at your use of the latest Web frameworks, awareness of SEO/promotion, etc.

My own personal site's current look is pretty much an early CSS approximation of my old `table`-based layout, and is now mainly to preserve URLs for some open source contributions. It's also personal, with none of my professional work on it.

I'd bet the vintage look has cost me a few business opportunities, but not every aspect of my life has to follow this year's commercial fashion. Shoot me if I ever give my little personal site a stock React look, or a big dynamic anti-Web framework, or third-party CDNs to mitigate bloat hosting costs, or something like that. :)

Cheers on the note “my professional work isn’t here”. Makes me wonder if I should be more explicit like that.

I have to side with you on this.

And I do use those modern frameworks at work.

My goal was to keep mine working coherently in Lynx, but uses some JS for syntax highlighting and a click event or two that degrade well enough.

It’s also an awful hacked together static-ish blog in Go behind Nginx. I was working on an improvement last night and realized how much I’d learned since I wrote it. It’s funny and frustrating at the same time. Might be time to start over again.

I spent years rebuilding my site several times over, trying to appear as professional and modern as possible.

A while back I got fed up, spent about 15-20 minutes writing some basic html, and came up with a simple page. I haven't looked back since. https://danielvaughn.github.io/info/

I get a scary-looking warning in Firefox when I click that link. It says:

"Someone could be trying to impersonate the site and you should not continue.

Websites prove their identity via certificates. Firefox does not trust danielvaughn.github.io because its certificate issuer is unknown, the certificate is self-signed, or the server is not sending the correct intermediate certificates.


To continue to your site, I'd have to click the button "Accept the Risk and Continue", which not everyone will do. I just want you to know in case you want to look into it.

Hm, it's just a Github Page, I'm not self hosting. Maybe something went wrong with github's cert.

You can (should?) change your github io settings to use HTTPS

Edit: never-mind I read back up and you definitely are.

Could be, or I have an over-protective Firefox. I still have the same issue with the link.

Works for me. Firefox on Android with uBlock Origin and DDG.

For what one person's opinion is worth, I quite like the look of old-style text-and-hyperlink websites, so long as there's something interesting to read on them.

A canonical example: http://bactra.org/

I've made a little list of some text-and-hyperlink websites that I like:


It also includes 'lite' variants of some news sites and such. A great reprieve from the heavy, popup and overlay infested web.

Blocked at work for adult content. Whoops!

Not a personal website, but the text and hyperlink homepage of Berkshire Hathaway is unique. Don't think you'll find another multi-billion dollar company homepage like this: https://www.berkshirehathaway.com/

I found that website a bit small on mobile, though Reader Mode fixed it up quite nicely.

"The cobbler's children go barefoot."

More like "The plastic surgeon's children go without fashion-driven body augmentations".

Mine is super basic: http://mooreds.com/

I find that nowadays 98% of my time and effort on the personal website is on the blog. I've thought about trashing the rest, but still have some old links to papers and resources I put together years ago that I can be bothered to update. One of these days...

I really enjoyed the look of your site and hope you don't trade it in for another cookie cutter site like so many others.

> One of the downsides to having a personal site, as a developer, is that some people will expect it to be a professional portfolio and showcase.

I avoid that by not using my real name on my personal site.

Indeed. Forgot to mention that, I did.

Given that I mainly publish Tor onion sites, it's mostly all plain HTML. Because it's faster via Tor, with less back and forth. I did, under pressure, do one clearnet site with a CSS library, and multiple classes with different column layouts. But I make no pretense about website skills.

I love the Racket stuff on your site! If it were me hiring seeing something cool and unexpected like that would be a much bigger plus than a generic Material UI site.

I think your site is pretty great. Clean and too the point. No garbage fluff I need to read through.

> written from years of thinking on the subject

While I wholeheartedly agree about the importance of personal websites, this post did nothing for me. So many words and so little to add.

These texts are slightly related and did something more:



http://art.teleportacia.org/observation/vernacular/ (don't miss part 2 and three)

Almost missed the best one:


More than two years ago, I wrote this:


What do I mean with “the threat of Facebook”? In the old days, before today’s large “social media” sites, people made their own web pages on places like GeoCities or on simpler social-media-like sites like LiveJournal, etc. Those sites all had content and linked to each other. This is the web which the Google search engine and its algorithm was meant to find things in, and it worked very nicely, as it took advantage of the links other people had made to your site as a proxy for relevance in search results for your site. People making small web pages about their favorite topics (with lots of links to other people’s pages, since information was hard to find) could slowly and easily transition into making larger and larger reference web sites with lots of information, thereby attracting lots of incoming links from others, which in turn enabled people to find the information using Google’s search engine.

Compare this to now. Firstly, people having a Facebook account have no place to simply place information, no incentive to simply make a web page about, say, tacos or model trains, because that’s not what Facebook is about. Facebook is about the here-and-now, and whatever is yesterday is forgotten. As I understand it, there is no real way, in Facebook, to make a continuously updated page with a fixed address for people to go to as a reference point about some subject, or at least people are not directed towards doing this as part of their online activity (as opposed to in the past, when it was basically the only thing which people could do). Secondly, this makes it so that people have no natural path going from using Facebook to creating a larger web site with information, and there are no smaller model train or taco Facebook “pages” which could have links to your larger site and thereby validate its relevance. Thirdly, even if this second point was false, Google could not use these Facebook pages, because Google cannot crawl them. These pages are all internal to Facebook, and Facebook has every incentive to not allow Google to crawl and search this information. Facebook would much rather people used their own site to search, and thereby gaining all of Google’s sources of income: User monitoring and advertising.


I have a personal website. It's very easy to forget that 99% of people have no interest in making their own personal sites, never had, and never will. That's not a bad thing. Making your own site is a weird, niche thing to do -- a lot of work for no concrete reward.

In the past, the internet was dominated by people in that very strange 1%. The advent of social media didn't remove them, it just let everybody else in. The few that want to make their own sites still do, using platforms or tools that are far more convenient than a decade ago.

Yeah. The goog really did assist in breaking up "my links" on all of those old sites. I presume it was just an accident of the company who did "no harm".

Facebook is the industrialization of personal information which has its pros and cons.

Something even more pernicious about social media: if you build an audience there, you're trapped. You can easily convince yourself a lot of people care about what you say right up until you link to something more substantial off the silo.

The ActivityPub fediverse is a lot better about this, but even there I might get one visit to a linked page for every ten boosts.

Getting people to look at a website in 2019 is hard. It used to be easier. I could get 1000 people to look at a blog post on just about anything. Now all the eyes are on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and you can't pry them away. You might get lucky and land on a long tail keyword that Google ranks you for, but search traffic is unpredictable even if you go out of your way to research keywords.

I get 140k views a month and tons of retweets/likes on Twitter when I'm active. The website has a few posts with some search traffic, but nothing like 140k.

Rather than focusing on how many views you get, you could think of a personal website as serving two purposes: 1) A place where people who know you can keep up or catch up when they feel like it, or when/if you ping them, and 2) A place where people who just met or became aware of you can get to know you better.

With those two purposes in mind, just write, when you feel like it.

> Now all the eyes are on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and you can't pry them away.

This is very true. I've got a YouTube channel and I'm developing premium training solutions on the side of it in Podia... video is king.

People want high value (to learn something) wrapped in high quality and compacted into a 5-10 (max) minute video. And they want it for free... sigh.

Remember, though, that Google is the #1 search engine, so blogging (and SEO) is still important to drive traffic towards your videos. That being said videos will take over.

I can't remember where I saw the statistic, but I believe it said in the next 5-10 years at least three billion people are coming online and they want video, because video is how they want to consume knowledge.

I think people should start picking up a camera.

It sounds like you're talking about one specific kind of content: educational material. That's not what I make or have any interest in making.

And there is no way I'd get on camera even if I wanted to do video. I do not believe video will come to dominate such that text and audio won't still have a place. I personally can't get much out of most non-fiction videos, and I know I'm not alone. I didn't even watch more than 0-2 YouTube videos a month until I found ContraPoints and got pulled into lefttube.

> It sounds like you're talking about one specific kind of content: educational material

I personally make educational videos, but that's not what dominates on YouTube :-)

> I do not believe video will come to dominate such that text and audio won't still have a place.

They will have a place, for sure. Podcasts are still rising in popularity - they're a great platform for transferring knowledge and value and also debating.

> I personally can't get much out of most non-fiction videos, and I know I'm not alone.

People learn in different ways. Most people are visual, however, and video/interaction/workshops are the most popular means of learning for an incredibly large portion of the population. Source: married to a teacher.

> > I do not believe video will come to dominate such that text and audio won't still have a place.

I almost never follow links to video, because you can't scan them for relevance and quickly bail.

Sounds like a poorly managed video, then. Loads of options for making it easier to find specific parts of a video. Google even includes that ability in searches now.

I loathe video for learning.

And most of the time when I'm web browsing, I do not want anything with sound.

Whelp... if one person doesn't like video, I guess no one does.

I'll get my coat and see my self out. No point carrying on with video, it seems.

Finally bought myself a personal domain but am now currently agonizing over how to design the damn thing, let alone what to actually put on there!

You could always start old-school Mosaic (with the tiniest bit of HTML5):

    <!DOCTYPE html>
    <html lang="en">
        <title>Rafuino's site</title>
        <h1>Rafuino's site</h1>
        <p><i>Under Construction</i></p>
It won't necessarily be displayed as serifed type, with raster aliasing, on gray, but you could CSS that in. :)

This is good advice. I'm collecting websites like this ("handmade") here - https://www.btbytes.com/websites.html

My own website is compiled together with a python script, but aesthetically close to what you describe.


Compatible with Mosaic 1.0, Netscape 1.0, 3.0, 4.0, and IE 5.5, Links, Lynx, and NetSurf, among others tested.

I got lost for almost an hour in this little collection of yours. Bookmarked.

Consider adding https://www.gwern.net/

You forgot <blink> and <marquee> (and some sick midi tunes)

You forgot <blink> and <marquee> (and some sick midi tunes)

Thanks to CSS animations, you can recreate <blink> and <marquee>.

I use it to recreate the Amiga's Guru Meditation Error when I'm debugging web sites.

Oh, I'm very aware (I actually do use those tricks on my personal page. Unfortunately I left out the midi. And of course it's loaded with stolen gifs from gifcities[0])

[0] https://gifcities.org/

I had a legit use for a marquee a few months ago and couldn't find a jank-free way to actually re-create all of its features. You can get the basics but even that sucks compared to just using <marquee> (heavier, more code).

Dammit you beat me to it!

I second this. And a few stolen animated gifs. You know, for posterity.

Calvin peeing on the MSIE logo and a 3D dancing baby.

sadly <bgsound> doesn't work anymore :(

Hey, that looks like my websites!

Ah ah, more seriously, this is a great template to copy paste so just a heads up: don't forget <meta charset="utf-8"/> before <title>.

I recently started a blog to write about my experience learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. One of the best choices I made was using the bundled WordPress theme, twentynineteen, and not worrying about design. It's been pretty liberating and for now I'm just focused on content. I'll revisit the design at some point but worrying about the design in the beginning is almost like not learning to play guitar because you don't have a band name yet. Just start putting content up, the design will or won't come. Good luck!!

Don't worry about the design. That can come later. Just get a single, well formed HTML page up there with a few words. Once you have that the design and content problems will seem less insurmountable.

I spent years agonising. I even wrote my own Node.js framework before I finally realised it was all procrastination, and put together a static site and deployed it in a few minutes. Over the years I've added features and improved the static site generator, but the design is still a bit rubbish!

Looks great! What static engine did you go with, if any?

It's one I hand rolled in Node. It boils down to markdown for blog entries and handlebars for templates. Not exactly in vogue, but I've found the mix (with a little hacking around) very productive. The code is at https://github.com/qubyte/qubyte-codes if you're interested. :)

Once its ready, I'll be happy to add it to our platform. It lets one find and connect with people nearby. https://its-near.me

This is an easy paralysis to fall into. Unless you know you need something more, just start by getting some useful content up in plain HTML.

I agree with the general idea, but dislike the WWW. I find it fundamentally poor from the start. I'd rather make the comparison to having one's own node on the Internet.

I rent a server and I rent several DNS names. Unfortunately, neither of these things are protected in a way that would prevent them from being taken from me, but it's not happened yet. Through this, I'm able to host a website, a Gopher hole, a Finger service, my own email, and I'll host FTP, IRC, and other things as I want to. There's not much of a limit. This is nice and freeing. I decide how everything's presented and done; I use my own server software in some instances.

I can agree that having one's own website is an introduction to this manner of freedom, though.

> Unfortunately, neither of these things are protected in a way that would prevent them from being taken from me, but it's not happened yet.

It’s one of the more resilient platforms out there, at least considered to company-hosted social media sites.

For the past 4 years I've been too busy and have only written a couple of articles on Medium[1]. Thankfully I'm ending my current job which has consumed my time, energy, and soul for far too long and I want to get into the habit of writing again. This time on my personal site, not on Medium.

[1] https://medium.com/@Pier

I’m glad to hear we’ll see more of your writing. I dove deep into front end frameworks after a lot of research last year. Your clear and thoughtful comments about React helped me a lot.

Congrats on making a positive career change.

Thanks for your nice comment, I really appreciate it.

I think (hope) in the next years we will see an increase of personal sites. With products like Ghost, it's easier for everyone to make one and it doesn't involve a ton of coding. You can focus on the content and own everything. I wonder if we'll be able to connect these personal sites together like a crowdsourced Medium?

Edit: I'm talking about self hosted Ghost

If you want to make a website accessible to any human but essentially invisible to search engines, configure basic authentication to require and accept any username and/or password, and then set the auth description to “Enter anything to continue”.

Human beings will enter anything and read your article, with the browser caching the credentials for a while, but the vast majority of search engines will treat the 401 as “indexing not permitted under law”, to a degree that your site might not even be returned as a result at all.

Robots.txt doesn’t have the same effect and is soundly ignored by many malicious/uncaring web spiders and tools, unlike 401.

It seems like the smallest thing in the world, but it’s why forums that require you to login to search are so safe against harassment - as long as they block web spidering!

Ive found myself spending a bit more time on YouTube recently and I've been curious as to why. I've come to the conclusion that I much enjoy consuming something that someone, or at least small group of people, care about and find that a lot of good information can be shared. (It also helps in that regard that I've been watching wood ajd metal working channels.)

So, why not websites and just ddg or Google subjects? The more I thought about it and paid attention, the more I realized that top results are all large sites with next to no content and finding those personal websites, those labous of love filled with information is neigh impossible.

I miss being able to find those smaller sites organically.

I've found many great sites recently using https://wiby.me/ which definitely feels like a search engine of old

As a side note, and JFYI, there is seemingly from the ashes of DMOZ:


a new kid on the block:


Thanks! I'll have to give it a shot.

At least in academia the tradition is still going strong.

Unfortunately, with the advent of electronic learning management systems and corporate content management systems in universities that are as much as required to be used, this seems to be declining fast. Currently I work as a lecturer at the same university I studied at twenty years ago.

Then, almost every teacher and researcher did have their own website behind "~username" on the open web. For most it was just a list of publications and courses they taught. For these courses they often made an overview page with links to all kinds of interesting material, from lecture notes, old exams, literature, to tools, thoughts, and curiosities. Some went all out and made a personalized personal web page with all kinds of interesting content. I spend a lot of time browsing and reading and exploring these pages when I was a student. Now I wished I had downloaded them all.

Now, no-one but some old-timers do have a "~username" web page. Courses and their materials are hidden away behind the walls of the learning management system we use. Their publications are visible via the library's repository and bibliographical system. For the rest, everything that is on the open web on the university's servers is published via the corporate content management system with rules and regulation what and how to post and most employees do not have access to edit anyway. Many researchers are part of some academic social networks like researchgate, but that's outside the scope of the university's servers.

What is left is for those who are interested to share to setup their own websites elsewhere. Not many do, unfortunately.

Yup, I've noticed that too. Even worse, some younger people would consider it to be a tremendous burden to write their own HTML/CSS/JS.

Can anyone give advice about how you built your personal website(s?) while having strong professional interests in multiple areas? I’d be really grateful to see an example.

I have a career in tech and also a career in music. My professional networks in these areas don’t overlap. I don’t think everyone responds positively to the dual career thing, although some definitely do.

Just make two sites and don’t link them? Get a stage name vs a tech name? Create a unified portfolio as a creative technologist?

I'm also in tech and music, though music is not a full time career for me. My personal website starts with a landing page and two links, one for the tech stuff, and the other for the music stuff.

I wrote my site by hand in plain HTML, just over 2 decades ago, have added some content but have not radically changed it. Anything that's more than 1 level deep pulls up a PDF of something or other. Maintenance is via FTP.

It still works on every browser, phone, OS, etc.

I did something a similar except instead of music I'm a huge theme park fan and wanted a portion of my personal site to be dedicated to my trips (instead of hosting the pictures on Facebook or the like) so I decided to separate out the roller coaster portion of my persona and put it at a subdomain of my personal site (https://coasters.joshimbriani.com for those curious) whereas my main site remains mostly tech focused (https://joshimbriani.com). I've been pretty pleased with the setup for now seeing as how I can nerd out about coasters without alienating the other half of my (non-existent) audience

Hey Josh!

Did you realize that your feed.xml seems to only link to

instead of linking to your website like it should?

Thanks for the heads up! I thought I had fixed that problem but I guess it regressed somewhere along the way but it should be fixed now (minus some Cloudfront cache updating). Thanks!!

If you aren't trying to use your site as a sales and marketing platform, then just put them on different pages. The only reason you wouldn't put up all this stuff on the same overall site is if you are trying to maintain focus to optimize a conversion funnel.

I wrote my own in php years ago... ewams.net

Most of the things I post are not directly tied to my current job but more of things I am interested in, like the cpu sizing tool I wrote http://ewams.net/specintd/ or web scraping, security, data integrity, etc. Just something to store my research in really.

Just get started!

Only if you want your professional interests to be separate.

Just have one web page dedicated to your tech portfolio, and another web page dedicated to music. Or even a whole section of your website.

Or have two separate websites hosted on the same IP address or not.

Personally I prefer PHP and using includes for menus, footers, or sidebars.

I use a static site generator called Hugo. All my web pages are markdown and Hugo turns them into HTML and applies a theme I chose. Great for if the content on your site is all static.



I've done many personal websites, and the discussion forum or two, over the years. And more or less without exception, the lack of engagement has been disheartening. But (of course, I guess) most of them were Tor onion sites, so silence was predictable.

But even on clearnet, promoting personal websites is nontrivial. How does one do it?

Put things that would interest others, and let others find it. If you’re feeling brave, you can link to it in an appropriate context. For example, in this thread sharing my own personal website might be relevant: https://saagarjha.com

There are so many cool personal sites out there. I'm constantly amazed by the quality and creativity.

I publish now from dropbox. Ofc using my own tool https://docs.montaigne.io. It's already helped me do add content more freequently

This looks cool, thank you very much for sharing. However, I tried signing up and got an error message from Dropbox: "This app has reached its user limit. Contact the app developer and ask them to use the Dropbox API App Console to increase their app's user limit."

Ok, enabled Dropbox for more users. You can try it now, if you want!

Giving it a spin. Thank you!

What's interesting about this is Tobias, the author, earns a living making an awesome skin for wordpress called Semplice. I've been using Semplice for the past couple years and as a designer who used to code, it makes making my portfolio site a heck of a lot easier. There's still a lot of time sunk into it. I just don't have to fuss with some of the details. So in theory, he helps me keep my personal site alive, even if I am now using the crutch of WP.

I love my website too, and personal websites in general. Mine is also handcrafted (well, I have a few scripts to help me but all the HTML and CSS are written by hand). I also maintain and host a little service that allow my friends and friends of friends to have and easily manage a personal website, in particular for those in academia (but outside CS).

If you would like to be easily found by people geographically near you, you can add yourself to its-near.me We are currently looking for personal websites to add. Let me know if you have any questions. https://its-near.me

Loving the irony of having links to Instagram and Twitter in the footer of that post :P

Not to mention as someone above mentioned, that the guy makes a living selling WP themes.

In an effort to get people to bring back the blog, I started https://startablog.com - to do just that.

We actually offer to set up people's blogs for free here - http://startablog.com/free-blog (and are hoping to help 10,000 people do it).

I know WP blogs are not always the favorite of the HN crowd, but Wordpress has been super accessible (esp for newbies) once things are setup, so hopefully we can remove that first (slightly technical) obstacle for the crowd that's used to doing something on everyone else's platform.

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