Blog re-design 2016
Today I've released a new version of my blog and homepage. Unless you're reading this a long time in the future and this design has been superseded by a new design, you're looking at it :)
It's been a long time since I updated my blog design last. The previous design was a modification of the standard WordPress theme from January 2008. It wasn't responsive, and was primarily based around the standard blog format of a "newest first" list of articles. What would a personal homepage need to look like in 2016?
I set out to answer this question a few months ago. Ten years ago, most people read blogs by subscribing via tools like Google Reader: those days are gone. Now I have over 200 articles; whereas previously new readers could find all content that interested them just by clicking "next page" a few times, those days are gone too: there needs to be better ways of discovering the content. The web site needs to be more an advertisement for me for those new readers who don't know me, than just a list of my articles. Yet not just an advertisement, I still yearn greatly to publish articles, so the site must be a repository for them as well.
I decided to ignore my existing design and structure and assumptions about what a blog should be, and asked myself the question of what site I would build, if I didn't already have a site. Here's what I came up with:
Responsive. Not a particularly controversial point in 2016, but sorely lacking in the previous design from 2008.
Start page displays information about me, and highlighted articles. Previously the blog was a "newest first" list, but that doesn't help the new visitor, as described above. There should still be a "newest first" page for those who are interested, but it the most important information, so it shouldn't be the start page.
Easier to find content that interests you. The previous site had 11 categories, as well as the time-sorted start page. That navigation was perfect when I had fewer articles, but with 200+ articles, the site needs a different navigation. I have added many more categories, describing the variety of topics I write about, so those people interested in just those topics can go straight to the articles. The start page has the newest article, articles from particular categories, and there is a "random" feature on the top navigation.
Comments should work. Also not a controversial point, one would think. Perhaps I never configured it correctly, but WordPress comments forced you to type markup and had no preview functionality, which inevitably meant an article on XML would get replies containing XML, and that XML would get deleted by WordPress as not being in the whitelist of allowed HTML tags by the HTML XSS sanitizer, making the comment nothing more than "have you tried this:" (code deleted). Further, new commenters, who I wish to engage and keep, after commenting, would simply see the article page displayed again, without their comment, and without any text telling them their comment was in a moderation queue and hadn't been lost and was valued by me.
Secure. I've moved from WordPress to the Hugo static site generator. Some time ago I got an email from my hosting provider, telling me that the WordPress, which I had always gone to great pains to keep up-to-date, had been hacked, and was offline until I remedied the situation. Remedy was defined by them as a complete re-install (as, after the hack, one would not know which files the hackers had infected, so they all had to be thrown away and replaced.) I did that, restored from backup, repaired the galleries which weren't in the backup, and so on. It took about a day. And that was urgent work, which nobody paid me for, and I was in the middle of an intense customer project at the time so didn't need the distraction. I vowed to move off WordPress immediately. That was about two years ago :)
Fast. What's to say here? Who doesn't like a fast site. Old WordPress site took about 1.0 second to deliver the HTML of the page, so even with resource caching that's not fast. And that's being served and viewed in Austria.
Allows me to experiment with design. This is a bit of a personal point. I've always been interested in design. I don't get any opportunity to design customer sites, as it's not my profession. I wanted to use my blog as an opportunity to do visual design. The new site is designed by me from scratch in HTML by hand, without any themes.
Take a look around using the navigation at the top, and let me know what you think.