Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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I originally wasn’t going to have a rant today, but while surfing the web I thought about one of the things I like about it: personal websites.

That’s right, personal pages. Some people might argue that personal pages are like the dregs of the internet. And they’re probably right. Given that any random joe-on-the-street can get on Geocities and build his own website, (like royness.vze.com for instance) we’re certainly bound to see all sorts of stuff (and accordingly, all sorts of crap) on the internet.

See, that’s the thing: “All sorts of stuff.” It’s pretty much the same way Forrest Gump describes a box of choc’lates: You never know what you’re going to get. And occasionally, you get some good stuff. And for people like me, who are obsessed with the trivial, stuff is good. The same way that people browse through bargain bins looking for good deals, I like to browse through personal pages looking for something read-worthy (or even better, download-worthy.)

The problem with most personal pages on the ‘net however, is that they are crap. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of good ones out there. (Try Toastyfrog or maybe Seanbaby) But the fact is that a whole lot of websites are done by people just learning to do HTML or trying it out. Not that being a newbie is a bad thing; the bad thing is when you make a website just for the sake of having one, just so you can say you know how. Websites built in this manner typically end up the sort that’s filled with all sorts of tricks like animated GIFs, scrolling marquees or a ton of Javascript. Lots of flash but not much content really.

Here are some tips for people who want to make their own website:

Have something to offer. Many people build personal sites with the attitude of “It’s my website, what do you care what I put on it, anyway!” Yeah well, if you don’t care what people think about it, why are you putting it up on the net? Leave it on your computer if that’s your attitude. Websites are put up for public consumption, so there has to be something there for people to consume. If you’re going to put up a website, make sure you have something to offer the public other than an “under construction” page. Otherwise, you’re just wasting people’s bandwidths aren’t ya? When you’re just starting out with the idea of “I want to have my own webpage”, it might be hard to think of what your webpage can offer the world. It doesn’t have to be anything big or extra popular, you can start small. I originally put this website up just to host some fanfiction. (And then I put up more and more stuff… ) You can put up your writings, reviews of things you like, links to interesting places, info about yourself, announcements about events you’re involved with, etc.

Be original. This is hard to do in today’s web. Most of the things people put up on their websites can undoubtedly be found elsewhere on the web. What can you do to set yourself apart from the crowd? Use more original content, or if you’re lacking in that department, look for different ways to present your content. An example would be when I was first learning HTML, I tried to make a Rurouni Kenshin web site. At first I was going to put in info about the characters, story etc. But after looking around a bit, I saw that there were already many websites around for this popular anime series. So instead, I put up info about the fighting styles and techniques of the RK characters, something that I couldn’t find at that time. (Don’t try looking for this so-called RK site of mine, I took it down a long time ago. I still have the files and may revive it someday though.)

Know what contrast is. Look at this site and you’ll know what I mean.

Don’t try to do everything at once There are people who make websites with the idea that their site will be “next big thing” of the internet. It won’t, trust me. Not anytime soon at least. Although there are a lot of crap sites, there are also a lot of good sites, and the best ones have developed from small sites with a limited following to being read by millions. You, with your meager resources and staff of (probably) one can’t hope to achieve that overnight. Start small, focus on what your site can provide to your viewers right now instead of trying to be a really big thing. See that site I linked to above? The front page says “Your number one sorce for your anime needs.” Not only is that misspelled, but it’s so far from the truth.

Know how to spell and know how to write proper English (or whatever language is your choice). I’ll cite the above link as an example again. How do you expect your readers to take your website seriously if you can’t even spell “sorce” properly? Go back to school first, then make a website. Additionally, you may want to leave the l33t sp33k for mIRC, unless that’s what your audience expects.

Write for your audience That way, they can come back later. Don’t do things like writing in l33t when your viewers will probably hate it. For a personal site, your initial audience is probably going to be mostly you, and maybe some friends and family. When you want to start attracting more people to your site, you may also consider writing for people who think like you. This are the best kind of viewers, as they will like what they see and will usually come back for more.

Know how to take criticism Actually, this is advice for being on the internet in general. Remember that the internet is a public medium, and anything you offer on the internet can be criticized by anyone. A lot of stupidity on the internet comes from people not knowing how to take criticism. Study the criticism and correct your mistakes. Accordingly, I want to apologize in advance to the owner of the site I’ve been using as a bad example — I have nothing against you, yours was just the website I had open at the time of this writing.

Have links. Links are always good because if the rest of the website is bad, at least there’s a chance of finding something better to read. If your website could have only one thing, have links.

Dang, this turned out longer than I thought it would. I have a lot more to say on this topic, I’ll say them next week. Later!

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Roy Tang is a:

roytang.net is a personal site; I post about a random assortment of topics that interest me including software development, Magic the Gathering, pop culture, gaming, and tech life. This site is perpetually under renovation.