I am a poem I am not software

A personal website sits on the blurry line between a corporate entity and a skate park. Because a personal website has everything in its future; career connections and maybe weirdo web friends out there, potential ad money to be squeezed out of it or analytics to be siphoned. These constraints and incentives push our websites to be reserved or fabulous and there’s really no right answer here since a personal website can be anything we want it to be.

Yesterday Katherine asked how to strike the right balance though:

website worry-stone people:

how can i feel free to tinker with my website without feeling like it's supposed to be my main public-facing thing and should therefore contain all the proper public-facing things and be well structured and well maintained and not in a constant state of half-brokenness?

I’m sort of dragging the conversation in a different direction slightly here but what Katherine touches on is the oldest question on the internet: what should our personal websites do? Should we prioritize getting a new gig or selling a service? Or can we be ourselves? Weird and fun and peculiar? Should we talk about topic X but avoid topic Y? That’s a common one I hear from fellow bloggers. Or what if a potential employer doesn’t see the last big project we worked on? Are we hurting our future careers by blogging about fun recipes or books that we like? Isn’t that an unnecessary distraction from moving from an L3 to an L4 or whatever?

But my question has always been this: how can we be both?

I certainly haven’t figured anything out — I struggle with these questions all the time. Like one day I’ll stumble on a website that’s gloriously corpo in the best possible way: smart typesetting, clean imagery, plain copy. The blog posts are pristine, helpful, perfunctory. It’s a business card, really. Perfect. I get it. But despite my jealousy of how clean and straightforward they are, within twenty seconds I’ve forgotten about them. That sounds like an indictment or a complaint, but it really isn’t. Those familiar layouts and common intros—“Hello, I am XXXX and I’m an XYZ”—are everywhere for a reason. They’re safe. They work. And I’ve made many of those websites!

But then I’ll spot one of those...other websites, the Condor-esque websites, the rare and dazzling kind that are so weird and bewildering that it might take a few minutes before you realize what the website even is and how it works. Oh…this is…a…website? Huh…and they make zines on the side? About plants? In the late Triassic era! Neat!

Sure the website might be a little broken and so strange that it pushes some folks away. But at least we’ll remember it later.

There’s a constant tug of war between wanting to be professional and wanting to be cool online. Sometimes those things overlap and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes the folks who have the opportunities to make a weirdo website are doing so because they’re not financially dependent on their website selling a service or landing a new gig. Their economic livelihood isn’t at risk if someone is turned off by the strange fonts or experimental navigation on their website.

I’m saying all this because I know it’s more complicated than the answer I’m about to give but:

I want weirder, more broken websites!

I want the navigation to be wild and uncouth, I want a website to push me in the same way that any great artist’s work pushes me. I hate it when I land on a website and it feels like a SQL database has simply been inserted into a generic template.

So my reply to Katherine was along those lines:

@kayserifserif Embrace the worry stone! Let it all be broken and weird! You’re a poem and not software! Down with one sentence intros and lame designery organized minimalism!

I think it’s also a matter of trusting your audience, too. It’s okay to be weird, folks will get it! Or they won’t! And perhaps that’s for the best. But trying to be everyone else has been done already.

Either way, the more boring personal websites I see the more I want to skip the boring corporate handshake at the beginning. Because you’re more than a list of accomplishments, more than a career, more than a Wordpress template, or SQL query, more than one subject for a narrow audience.

And a personal website should capture that thing we’re all trying to avoid, as cheesy as it sounds: that we are a poem and not software.