I have no idea where that time went, but it appears that it’s 20 years ago today that I launched my first website, from which the current site evolved mostly by alternating courses of uninhibited random growth and moderate pruning.
In the last few years, and especially since my tumblr started to attract some followers from late 2012 onwards, I have neglected the old website a little bit, but just now I have cleaned it up a bit and updated things like the publications list. In a way, the various blogs and other online outlets could be seen as the shoots and flowers growing from the original tree I planted in 1996, so I’ll take this anniversary as an excuse to write up a short history of my web presence, although now, 20 years later, almost everybody on the planet has a web presence.
I feel my hair turning grey as I write this, but I actually managed to finish my PhD without ever having used the internet. I did write the thesis on a computer and had a Neolithic laptop, but the network as such was still under construction as I finished, and hadn’t reached my lab yet by the time I left. On arrival at Oxford in 1993 I learned about things like email, and the www, and some time in 1996 I must have realised that everybody could put a page (or twenty) on the web, so why not me?
In the xmas break I learned the essentials of HTML from a book and started composing my home page, which launched on 30.12.1996 under the not so original title of Michael’s Home Page. Rooted in an old technology newspapers and magazines background, I aimed at publishing a numbered issue every week, with sections including science, science communication, bilingualism.
On 13.1.1997, issue 3 appeared with title “Only Connect!”, based on the quote from EM Forster’s novel Howards End which still serves as a motto today and has provided the title and URL for my blog, proseandpassion.com.
After a year, the site had 43 pages, and it soon grew into a tree structure with eight or nine first level pages branching out into hundreds of second and third level ones. For nine years and a bit, it remained my main web presence, and I probably spent way too much time on updating it, which may well have killed my academic career.
Then, in the tenth year, and a few years after leaving the academic career behind, I found my way to MySpace and discovered blogging, as every MySpace account came with a blog by default. For comparison, I also tried yahoo/geocities and blogspot, which is the one I kept using after MySpace went down the drain.
When I moved out of Birkbeck College in 2006, a version of my website stayed there, and is still online here). Incidentally this is about the last version before I introduced the “bookshelf” design of the front page which is still up today, launched in July 2006.
After the great Exodus from MySpace, I joined Facebook, then twitter, and finally tumblr. Initially twitter worked best for me, but in the last few years tumblr has become the outlet where followers actually see and react to my stuff. Although the stats on blogspot aren’t too bad either these days.
With all the excitement of the more interactive and “social” sites, the old website got neglected a little bit, but I still polish it up when I have a new book to promote, or, as happened this year, when the delay in the publications list becomes too embarrassing.
At some point, I may even blow some dust off the 10-year-old front page design. I’ll put that on my (virtual) list of New Year’s resolutions.
My front page as it looks today - I think my initial idea was to change those bookends regularly to refresh the look, but I got stuck with the second pair I made ...