With all of these social media platforms, it's becoming so polluted in the digital world.
These platforms come and go, but you know what never does? The core web with pure HTML and CSS.
I understand that not everyone wants to go through the hassle of building a website from scratch, hence why these sites are so big. You sign up, create a profile, maybe add a link to another social media and there you go you are now a member.
The problem? You have absolutely no sort of uniqueness besides your name and profile picture.
All websites are completely different from each other. Sure some people might use the same template, but the content and domain is still what differentiates each other. (If you really want to see uniqueness, just take a look at some of the ones hosted on Neocities).
For me, having a website was never about creating a brand. It was just about writing for myself about my progress to look back on every few months and years. If someone ends up reading it then great, but it should rarely be your goal in the beginning.
If you want to make money, sell your soul to SEO optimisation writing about nonsense.
Otherwise if you want to build a platform for decades to come, keep reading.
Before I started this website back in February 2021, I was writing book notes as I was trying to make reading a habit. The best way to remember the takeaways was to just write it in my own words. Didn't have to be perfect, I just had to be able to explain it in 3 sentences.
One of my favourite people, Derek Sivers told me to build a site from scratch after I emailed him about the note I wrote on his book Anything You Want.
I was going to use a website builder like Webflow, but Derek advised against that and instead sent a code snippet for a basic HTML layout. It was the most life changing email I had received in my life. It was the one email that started with me learning about technology.
One point that stood out to me that Derek said is a philosophy I still stand by when starting anything:
Don't let anyone sell you on some complex solution. They're saying you need a jumbo jet when really you need a bicycle. Do your HTML by hand like this, and then you'll know when your site has become so big that you need a little more automation to help manage changes or links to the hundreds of pages inside. But until then, no no no. Just do HTML by hand.
Derek truly is a one of a kind person, and I'm grateful to have been able to email him on multiple occasions.
After having this website for over a year, I've had a magnitude of noticeable benefits:
- Improved my communication skills. I'm trying to write less and say more.
- Learn about people letting me know that they've read my posts. I don't have any statistics on how many people view my site, so it's a nice surprise. Also it's a much deeper connection over social media likes/comments.
- Gained better clarity over my thoughts. Sometimes writing about something you're going through publicly is a good way to gain control over the situation.
- Increased surface area for serendipity to impact me. Opportunities simply arise more because I am putting myself out there.
- Met interesting people with mutual interests from their website. Messaged Alistair on twitter randomly one day and ended up meeting him IRL (cool guy).
- Sandbox to experiment new technologies. I've recently switched to using Tailwind CSS to style my website, and using my website as the foundation to learn was a no-brainer.
- Separates me from candidates who may only have a resume to show. I think having a website to show your work is much stronger than a resume because of the unique factor.
- Simply a non-monetary asset I take care of. I do invest in stocks, but this website will stay with me forever and will continue to increase in my personal value.
- Growth is visible in each post or change I make to my website. Nice feeling to reflect on every few months with the Wayback Machine.
Show Your Work
A good book I recommend you read is Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. I wrote a book note on it that I encourage you to check out. This was the book that plunged me to start my website, alongside Derek Sivers' actionable steps.
It goes over why you don't need to be some sort of expert on something to share it. Just write about anything at any time. Heck right now I am writing this all over the place, but still just writing because I had this urge to write something that people might benefit from.
When you have a website that you own and manage, you take back that digital freedom that we've all lost as social media websites grow in popularity.
Technically you are still reliant on the hosting provider (I personally use Vercel and think they are great), but I'm not trying to take it that far just to host my website.
Where To Start
Some of the resources I talk about need some knowledge of the terminal. Yes you could build a website without any of that knowledge, but I'm confident you could figure out how to use one.
- Find a hosting provider. This will be where the code for your website is hosted for others to access. There are two options I was recommended by Derek that still stand through the test of time:
- Neocities - beginner friendly.
- GitHub Pages - you just need to know how to use
- A VPS and just slap the HTML on it. Two choices I recommend are DigitalOcean or Vultr.
If you're technical and want to use a web framework I recommend:
- Jekyll - my site used to use Jekyll and it was fantastic to just write markdown.
- Hugo - similar to Jekyll. Seen a few friends use it and think it's pretty nice as well.
Purchase a domain name (recommended). Although Neocities (
.neocities.org) and GitHub (
.github.io) will provide one, owning a domain name is still valuable.
There are plenty of services that you could buy a domain from. I recommend starting with Namecheap. Don't bother spending more than £10 per year, you want to get up and running quickly. Try to go for something like
.xyzif your name is common. The goal is to just own a domain name, you could always change it.
Start distributing copies of your content on other platforms. This practice was something I've been doing since the inception of my website. It's known as POSSE. I never knew until my friend Cameron showed me.
Everytime you create a new post, post it on all the social media sites and take advantage of the popular network without being reliant. Put it on Twitter, Substack, Medium, Reddit, Hacker News, Facebook (jk) and any other place you could. The aim is to have all of that traffic also pointed to your website.
After you build your website, you'd be surprised to see how much you instantly stand out. People have gotten so used to these social media pages that when someone actually has a website they maintain, they're wowed.
Whenever you share a new idea online, it contributes to this digital land you own. It's constantly growing with each thought you share.
I like the idea of your website being an asset. If you don't become a digital landlord, you will forever stay a tenant with no control.
What I'm trying to say is that, the more ideas you put out on the internet, the more opportunities there are for luck to sway in your favour. It allows serendipity to do its thing.