In fact, at one time, I built and maintained websites for a number of local small businesses. I was a one man operation- sales, web designer, graphic artist, customer service, bookkeeper and diaper changer. (My kids, not my customers.) Liitle by little, though, my customers wanted business integration features beyond my self-taught abilities. Slowly, it evolved from fun to work to chore.
This is, however, the first time I’ve created a website for myself, about me. It’s a bit of a vanity thing, to be sure, thinking that what I do would be of interest to anyone other than myself. That said, I truly have the desire to share what I do with others, although different things for different reasons.
On the one hand, I’m really happy with of some of the things I’ve made: I enjoy them; I’m proud of them. I want them to be seen and enjoyed by others.
On another hand, I’ve benefited from many websites whose authors have generously shared their solutions to technical problems, their insights into the art of living and occasionally just something fun. I would like to join this community in that same spirit of generosity.
Lastly, as an inveterate, if lapsed, journal keeper, this is a 21st century continuation of that impulse, although with a marginally higher likelihood of being read. This is where the ‘General Record’ sub-title arises from.
For this website, I decided to forego a scratch-built, hand-coded website. After shopping around, I settled on the WordPress platform. It really is versatile and robust. A surprising variety of major companies use it, and often there is no resemblance to the blog format one associates with WordPress.
I don’t like certain limitations that come along with any online design interface- abbreviated menus of formatting and layout options for instance; the need to access and edit widely scattered files to customize one-size-fits-all templates; occasionally just accepting that that making a desired alteration simply isn’t worth the trouble it would take to make it happen.
On the other hand, once it’s set up, adding content and otherwise maintaining the site is greatly simplified compared to traditionally designed websites. Additionally, there numerous are ‘plug-ins’ available- pre-programmed modules that allow you to add or modify functions and behaviors, giving relatively easy control over such things as image galleries, social website integration and e-commerce- the ‘Emporium’ section of my site is a good example.
In another example, I disabled one feature common to blogs- the time stamp indicating when an entry was added. I would prefer that this feature be present in certain areas of the site, where an ongoing narrative exists (such as this topic). Unfortunately, it can be distractingly inappropriate in other areas. The easy, but not ideal, solution is to disable it site-wide. I may find a work-around. Or not. Compromise abounds.
The bottom line is that WordPress makes it easy to set up a simple blog, but if you want to customize it, it’s best to have some html, css, php and database knowledge. Even then, expect an annoying learning curve and some disappointment.
The ability to make sales from within the website was a project goal from the beginning. Again WordPress does make this relatively easy to accomplish- at least compared to incorporating a stand-alone shopping cart system into the site, along with the payment gateways, SSL certificates and merchant accounts that were very recently an unavoidable and often insurmountable hurdle to the would-be shopkeeper. WordPress ecommerce plugins are great, but also require a learning period, tinkering and tweaking, and frustrating limitations.
Finding a provider of print-on-demand products was a matter of researching potential partners, then auditioning them by actually setting up a shopkeeper’s account, populating the store via their online interface, meanwhile simultaneously creating an unrelated ‘customer’ account to see what the buyer’s experience would be like, and of course, getting their finished products in hand and finally evaluating the whole package. Very time consuming.
Another unexpected workload arrived in the number of image files the whole process required. As a photographer, one is used to beginning with a RAW file, possibly editing it in Photoshop as a .psd or .tif file and eventually producing a file or the printer, typically a .jpg or .tif. The finished file would be adequate for printing at the largest size anticipated; smaller prints would be made directly from the same file.
The process of turning an image into a product means that the finished file may or not be needed to be tweaked for the POD printer. Also, a number of smaller, lower resolution compressed versions are need for the website, and still more for the online catalog.
My point here is not to complain (though obviously, I am complaining), but rather to expose the tyranny of the infrastructure we take for granted. Everything that you see online represents some measurable portion of a human lifespan. Producing that content is not a problem, of course, unless there’s something else you’d rather be spending your time on. Like taking photos or working in wood.
Next up, the social media connection. (Shudder)