Website Self-Interview

Finn and I are on our own for the summer. As a result, I’ve been talking to myself a lot lately. It’s not so bad in the house, but out in the yard I have to wear an ear-nub so that the neighbors don’t start to talk. Given this practice, I present a self-interview on the website overhaul.

Interviewer: So the web site is new. Haven’t you gotten the memo? Weblogs are a fad. Time has done a feature on the “trend,” thus indicating that it has completely jumped the shark. Would you say you are “with it”?

Alex: No, I’ve never been quite with it. I came to a point where I was ready to throw in the towel with the blog, and it seems like I’m not alone in this. A surprising number of bloggers have either abandoned blogging or shifted their attention. But when I looked at it, I found — to no one’s greater surprise than my own — that I have become a true believer. I am a professional skeptic, but it’s no longer risky to call weblogs a revolution. The impact they have already had is enormous, and even if everything stopped today, the effects of blogging are likely to shape the future of media for some time to come.

So, instead of quitting, I’m going “all in.” Much more of my professional life will show up on this blog. And rather than creating separate class blogs for each of my courses, I am going to include those in my personal blog as well. That kind of integration (research, teaching, and private life) may be a bit strange, but I think it’s worth a shot. I don’t have a definite plan in this regard, everything will show up in this site, and we’ll see how things work out.

Besides, the site design was something like three years old, and I used to change it at least every six months just to play with new technologies.

Interviewer: Speaking of the design… A bit of a throwback to the 90s, no? Especially the textured background that makes it difficult to read.

Alex: Yes, the two themes I was working with were “1997” and “anti-usability.” An early draft included a ==== tag as well, but it got cut by reviewers.

I: That would explain the lack of some of the things readers expect, like a column with navigation and related items.

Alex: Now, there is a nav bar up there at the top, pointing to an about page and the wiki. But yes, things are pretty stripped down. The thing is, bloggers expect all the little buttons and whistles, but those who are not hard-core bloggers find them to be extraneous and confusing. I do have some of those do-dads down at the bottom (archives, search), and I don’t think anyone will have any difficulty finding them there. As for the hardcore crowd, they’re probably reading the RSS feed instead, anyway.

I: And where have you put the blogroll. Does it pop up somewhere? Is it hiding behind something?

Alex: Actually, you’re pretty close to the mark there. While a blogroll is definitely part of the genre of weblogs, I have a feeling they are becoming an anachronism. No longer is it difficult to find other blogs, so it’s not as necessary to create a private list of the good ones. I do have a link to my Bloglines aggregator down at the bottom, and I hope folks will take a look at that page. It serves as a “blogroll plus,” since you also get some feel for the kind of content on those other blogs.

I: Isn’t this kind of a slight to the community to whom you linked? What about the “link gift economy”?

Alex: In fact, the links are still there, invisible. I don’t know whether Google or Technorati will continue to index them (since this is an attempt to manipulate those indexes), but we’ll see. If they don’t, I’ll yank the blogroll entirely to speed up the load time slightly.

I: So the pages are now dynamically created in PHP, via the WordPress back end. Is that going to mean longer load times?

Alex: Normally, it wouldn’t, I think. But my web service is not the fastest at the best of times. I’m on a shared server, so it just depends how busy the other domains are. Generally, I haven’t found that it takes that much longer. The background graphic is a bit large, so that takes some time. I’d have made it smaller, but I wanted to avoid repeats as much as possible.

I: Where did you get the graphics? And what font is this?

Alex: The main background is a scanned sheet of washi I bought in Kyoto some years ago, on the top of a gray cardboard shoebox. At the bottom, the red stamp is an approximation of my name in Japanese (hara-be), and was carved by a friend. The font is probably Trebuchet, if you are on a PC. If you are on a Mac, hopefully Avant Garde. Note that I haven’t yet seen the site on a Mac, so I would appreciate any feedback. I had to muddle through a bit to make the design semi-liquid on Internet Explorer, and that may have blown it up for Macs/Safari–I don’t know. I am still tweaking a bit (e.g., the nav-bar is bad on wide browsers), and would be eternally grateful for any feedback, however small. A big “thank you” to Barbara and Michelle for their quick critiques today.

I: So, the question that’s on everyone’s minds, why the switch to WordPress? Just keeping up with the Joneses?

Alex: No, I had decided to move to a different system a while ago. The only reason I switched over the personal blog is to get familiar with the software I’ll be using on the school blog. But now that it is said and done, I’m really glad to have made the switch. WordPress is, basically, a better system. And it’s open source: free as in speech and beer. The only reason not to switch is if you are already happily entrenched in Moveable Type — and that isn’t an inconsequential reason. I suspect WordPress, with it’s newly expanded user base, will the tool to beat for some time.

I: Problems?

Alex: I ran into a particular bug that may affect my users. WordPress and WakkaWiki both set a cookie on the user’s machine, and these conflict. If you sign on in the wiki, and then try to go back to the blog, nothing will show up. This is not a good one, but I have a feeling that the number of people using both pieces of software are small enough that I am going to have to hack a fix myself.

Because I set up Textile II on the new blog, I ended up with a lot of the em-dashes in old entries turning into strike-outs. I’m fixing these when I see them, but I am sure there is a bit of a mess in the deep archives. Also, it looks like a lot of these old ones came in with “TrackBack pings allowed” turned off by default. That’s an easy SQL command to fix, though. All-in-all, I would say that the WordPress install was considerably less difficult than the Moveable Type install.

I: So, what’s still left to do?

Alex: A lot of tweaking. I also need to rethink the categories a bit. Do something about the nav buttons for people with cinema or multi-screen displays. But mostly, it’s back up and working.

I: Thank you for spending some of your valuable time chatting with yourself.

Alex: The pleasure really is all mine.

(Next week: Blogging and narcissism?)

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  1. Posted 6/29/2004 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Alex, I wonder whether you could re-enable the full entry in your new RSS feeds, for those of us using news-readers ;)

  2. Posted 6/29/2004 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    James: It is pushing out a full entry. There are a couple of possible reasons you may not be getting it:

    1. Make sure you are pointing at the new feeds. The RSS 2.0 version is at

    2. The first draft of this entry actually had a “blink” tag in it. (Yes, I used the gt and lt symbols, but I didn’t realize that Textile would render them before the PHP called it up.) So, it may be that everything from “An early draft included a…” on may have been cut by your newsreader.

    I’ve subscribed to both the RSS 2 and the Atom feeds in my newsreader, and they seem to be good. Let me know if it’s not one of those things, though.

  3. Posted 6/30/2004 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    No one ever interviews me, so I might steal that idea at some point.

  4. Posted 6/30/2004 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I like the new design a lot, and especially the idea of getting rid of all the doodads that litter many blog sites. I think that the upper left hand title ‘Alex …’ should link to the home page (probably, ‘news’, but maybe, ‘about’. Also, I would add a ‘search’ link after ‘About News Files’ – even if it’s just a relative link to the search box at the bottoom of the page, it would be useful because people who search are usually in ‘above the fold’ mode and won’t scroll to the bottom of pages looking for a search box. Love the nice text, the inset title boxes, and the sidebar.

  5. Posted 6/30/2004 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Stephen: Thank you very much. Great suggestions. I was thinking about the “search” issue, and I’m glad you brought it up. I’ll fix that soon.

  6. Posted 6/30/2004 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    If I do put it up next to the other items, I probably should make it a site-wide search (like the one via Google on the about page), I guess.

  7. Posted 7/2/2004 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Alex, in accessing the blog via Lynx or via a web browser with a setting for colour overide, I notice that the about, news, and files buttons do not appear. In Lynx there is no mouseover capability. In browsers that do support JavaScript, there is just the cursor change from arrow to hand.

    The markup does not validate.
    This may have an impact on audience reach.

  8. Posted 7/2/2004 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Francois: I don’t care so much about audience reach, but I do want to make it as accessible as possible. I’ll be sure to Alt-text the menu, and also put those links down at the bottom.

    As for the valid code generally, there is something funky going on with the char set. I’m going to wait to see if this was just an issue of the import, or if it continues to be a problem.

    And thank you!

  9. Posted 7/17/2004 at 7:35 am | Permalink


3 Trackbacks

  1. By soulsoup on 6/29/2004 at 10:42 am

    A self interview
    Website Self-Interview by Alex Halavais. Alex speaks about the life after MT (moving to WordPress) and the redesign of his site….

  2. By incorporated subversion on 6/30/2004 at 7:02 am

    To blogroll or not to blogroll… and why
    Alex has redone his site and explains why (to himself :o) here , leaving aside the change to WordPress (am thinking of scuttling off there myself soonish…

  3. By Relevant History on 6/30/2004 at 8:25 am

    The good old tag
    Alex Halavais has a new site design. All is explained: Interviewer: Speaking of the design… A bit of a throwback to the 90s, no? Especially the textured background that makes it difficult to read. Alex: Yes, the two themes I

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