File Under: Visual Design

Is the All-in-One Personal Website Headed for Extinction?

Networks
There’s a major shift underway for personal sites on the web. Personal pages started off as a kind of calling card, some bio information, a resume, perhaps a contact form, but often just a small, random site on Geocities or Angelfire servers.

Then came the blog and a shift to frequent updates accompanied by comments from friends, family and colleagues. But now, thanks to sites like Flickr, Twitter, Ma.gnolia and other social web communities, many of us have offloaded the content that used to make up a personal site, leaving behind a single page that just links to our various accounts elsewhere.

We’ve outsourced our own content, leaving little point to a fullblown personal website.

As noted web designer Jeffery Zeldman recently wrote, “we are witnessing the disappearance of the all-in-one, carefully designed personal site containing professional information, links, and brief bursts of frequently updated content to which others respond via comments.”

Of course, as Zeldman points out, we’re not just passively witnessing this shift, we’re the ones doing it, “we are the ones making our own sites disappear.” The conversation has moved from blogs to places like Flickr, Twitter, FriendFeed and other locations.

One of the hallmarks of the new web is that the conversation happens everywhere. Part of the reason less people are creating personal sites, says Zeldman, is that the original goals of a personal site are being fulfilled without the trouble of building one.

“If your goal in creating a personal site way back when was to establish an online presence, meet other people who create websites, have fun chatting with virtual friends, and maybe get a better job, well, you don’t need a deep personal site to achieve those goals any more.”

As a commenter on Zeldman’s post deadpans, “many folks, me included, blogged for years simply because we didn’t yet understand that we were really just twitterers.”

I don’t know that the disappearance of personal sites is necessarily a thing to mourn, but it does have some interesting consequences. For one thing it means many of us no longer have full control over our content. If FriendFeed shuts down or Twitter dissolves, our content, and out virtual connections, goes with them.

Some of us, myself included, have found a halfway point. By using Flickr, for instance, I get the handy uploading tools, tagging and mapping capabilities as well as the chance to interact with the Flickr community. But just to be on the safe side I use Flickr’s API to scrape all my data back out and my personal site includes what amounts to a “local” copy of my Flickr account on my own domain. Ditto for Ma.gnolia, Goodreads, Twitter and most of the other services I use.

While many people don’t have the sort of data loss paranoia that plagues me, there is one thing I think we’re all going to miss as more and more personal domain fall into disuse — the “carefully designed” element that Zeldman mentions.

I’m not a designer so my own site isn’t all that great, but I do miss that sort of amazement of stumbling a cross a really beautiful, and uniquely designed, site like Zeldman’s or Jason Santa Maria’s or Greg Storey’s, to name a few. All of those sites are still active, but after reading Zeldman’s piece last night I realized how long it had been since I stumbled across something similar.

Nowadays when my friends tell me they have a new web presence they invariable mean a Facebook account or a Flickrstream they want me to follow. I like Flickr as much as the next person, but sometimes it would nice to see a different design every now and then.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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