Design of this page#

(January 2024, last edit: 9 February 2024)

For me personally webdesign is a waste of time. This does not mean that it's not necessary or not an interesting and important craft. (In relation to privacy and accessability it is a very important task with a lot of responsibility.) Nevertheless I've spent months of my life with webdesign, sometimes for money, but often working on my own website. One problem is that the development of web technologies and devices keeps on going and it's thus an ongoing task to maintain a website. After some time you have to (or want to) do it again. Of course, this goes align with the ontology of the world and I like it that a website is never finished. But this is not the story of today.

Reducing features and resources#

For the design of my previous page I had mainly two reasons: I wanted to have a more flexible navigation with a filter function and the possibility to customize the size of the (split) panes of the page. Furthermore I chose to use a CMS. Now exactly this reasons are the reasons for this new page. I'm pretty shure that it's impossible to navigate the old page if you have no vision. The adjustable split panes work well on desktop, but not on mobile. The CMS is outdated and requires an old version of PHP, which requires (paid) support.

Screenshot of my old website. Screenshot of my old website.

On top of that I'm more and more aware of the necessity to reduce the consumption of resources. A great resource and inspiration for that is the Low-tech Magazine. They have a nice section about their own webdesign as well.

Static Site Generators#

Most people know CMS (Content Management Systems) like Wordpress. It seems intuitive to log in via the Browser and add some content to the page and it's immediately there. The downside is that it's running with PHP and often requires a database, produces traffic while interacting with it, furthermore it costs computational power to build the page (fetch the data) for every visitor.

Of course depending on the content, the amount and skillset of editors, sometimes a CMS is the better option. But for a lot of pages a static page (which is built once as HTML files) is arguably enough and in my opinion the better choice. It may look like low-tech, but actually there are a lot of very sophisticated tools — so called Static Site Generators (SSG) — that support the process. Commonly a static page generator takes some plain text files (usually markdown files) plus media content as input and generates all the HTML files necessary to display the page. Then this folder of files just needs to be uploaded to the server and that's it.

Screenshot of the source of this article, edited in Neovim. Screenshot of the source of this article, edited in Neovim.

I tried several SSGs briefly (including Publii which provides a GUI and looks better and easier than Wordpress & Co.), before opting for MkDocs. It worked immediately without any setup required, served my draft with live reload and seems to get it done soon. I could have used an existing theme and had no work at all.

Resources#

But another reason for the new site was to reduce the resources required to provide and visit this page. Of course one might ask: Is it really so many people visiting your page? I don't know and don't think so, but it's obvious that every action is a change. The consequence of this aim is a reduced website.

As a consequence of the first sentence of this note, I haven't spent too much time with the design. Below some more technical aspects:

As you can see, I made some compromises already. Maybe it's not the right path to be too strict.

Machine readability#

What I don't like about the new page and tendencies in webdesign in general is the machine readability. Over the years, new tags have been introduced to specify the type of content on a website. SEO requires well structured and information rich html code. Accessibility means providing image descriptions next to the image. All can be used (and is used) to scrape websites for datasets for machine learning. CMS and SSGs as formal systems foster the generation of well structured machine readable code. Amateurish (and likely not inclusive) websites are becoming rare. FYI, »end-to-end, p2p, my to me«, a talk by Olia Lialina, available on YouTube.