The page you just loaded in your browser is my personal website. It’s been around since 2014. This website isn’t my first. I built and published my first personal website in 2003 or 2004, back when the internet was more innocent, people more careless, and we weren’t all gathering on a handful of big platforms provided by a few big players in tech. I must’ve been 14 at that point. People didn’t care much about what you put out there so I just created my first personal website without thinking too much about it. I used it to learn HTML, CSS, and PHP in the open, write a few silly things, and share it with a few folks on IRC and forums. Anything was fair game as long as it was fun.
Somewhere along the way I grew up — well, at least a little. And somehow things started being… less fun. I shut down my first website after about 10 years. A few years after that I built a new one, hamvocke.com. Everything was more professional. Profound. Sophisticated. The design didn’t look like the intro of a cartoon anymore. No more corny jokes. No more crude MS Paint drawings.
I started to write meaningful things. Blog posts that were supposed to reach the top of social link aggregators, that people share in their newsletters, that rank high in search engines. I was thinking about how people perceived my digital persona and tried to optimize it to look smart, thoughtful, and reasonably professional. I tried to build a personal brand.
At some point, I started reflecting. I thought about the past few years and how I’m using the web. It turned out I learned a few things:
- Social media sucks. Every platform inevitably seems to turn into a user-hostile, highly polarizing echo chamber. I had a presence on a few social media sites, and figured that I didn’t enjoy any of them. I love to stay connected with people I know and care about. I loathe all the rest that comes with social media.
- I’m a complex person. I’m more than my work. Being a software developer isn’t what defines me, it’s merely a facet of my life. Like everyone else, I was trying to act like an artificially perfect version of myself online, and I’m tired of it.
- I love having fun without further goals. I like to make people laugh. I like to spend time doing silly things. I like doing stuff just for kicks.
- I enjoy writing. Writing helps me think. It helps me process my thoughts and feelings. I write a ton of stuff as part of my workday, I write down a lot of notes and capture thoughts all day.
I realized that I was only publishing polished pieces of carefully curated content. That doesn’t cut it. It limits what I’m putting out there. It hides a large portion of my personality. It stressed me out and made me feel guilty whenever I hadn’t put out anything profound in months.
Slowly, gradually, carefully, I tried making my personal website a little more personal. I started publishing my /now page to share light-hearted personal updates and it turned out to be super fun. I sprinkled in the occasional blog post with a purely personal touch. However, I didn’t manage to move much beyond that. My website was still feeling like this artificial display showing only a fraction of my personality. My personal brand was still top of mind. I still cared a lot about what exactly I was putting out there. And I wasn’t having the fun I used to have.
A Personal Web Fueled By Nostalgia
Social media isn’t what it used to be. Facebook has lost its edge years ago. Twitter turned into a shithole quicker than anyone would have bet. Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are pushing ads into your feed so aggressively that you don’t even remember who you’re actually following. The rising popularity of the fediverse (Mastodon and others) is shifting control from a few powerful players and it seems like a good start, something that’s got the vibe of forums and IRC channels of the early web. That’s great but it isn’t enough for me. I long for the old days where 14 year old Ham would just do whatever he thought was fun and cool and don’t mind others.
Turns out I’m not alone with this feeling. People have been trying to keep the “old-web” flair alive for a good while. The IndieWeb movement emphasizes the importance of having your own, independent website. Their goals are noble, giving control and ownership back to the people creating content. I see people moving back to personal blogs and websites instead of keeping everything in the walled gardens of social media giants. There are several attempts to bring webrings and directories back to life. Search engines dedicated to making it easy to discover small, personal websites are back. Neocities is reviving the old Geocities feeling and allows people to set up their own, personal website without a lot of hassle. omg.lol gives you a suite of services to host your digital identity in a lovely and quirky package. It’s a growing movement, largely fueled by nostalgia for the old web and its principles. Matthias Ott’s Own Your Web newsletter is a fascinating glimpse into how this is evolving and how you can become part of it.
At times the romanticized and nostalgic look at small, personal websites can be a bit much. The general idea, however, resonates with me. It reminded me that the web that once was isn’t dead. Nobody is stopping me from having fun again except myself. I could publish crude MS Paint drawings and corny jokes again if I wanted to (don’t worry, I won’t). I can turn my personal website into something truly personal without worrying about stuff like my “personal brand”.
I don’t need to ask for permission. It’s my own website, and I can do whatever I want. And that’s what I’m going to do. Moving forward, I’m going to make this website much more personal. Expect more than pseudo-authoritative thought leadership pieces about software development (there’ll be some of those still, sorry not sorry). Expect at least 25% more quirkiness. Expect posts about hobbies, my personal life, my dog, pizza, barbecue, books I’ve read, half-baked thoughts I had. It’s going to be less polished. It’s going to be more fun.
Most importantly: It’s going to be more personal. ❤️