#btconf Düsseldorf, Germany 17 - 18 Apr 2023

Sophie Koonin

Sophie is the web engineering lead at Monzo Bank in London, responsible for the web platform across the organisation and working on internal tooling that powers Monzo’s award-winning customer service. Building websites since the age of 10, she’s passionate about creating inclusive, accessible and fun websites that people love. Sophie writes about tech & mental health at localghost.dev, builds intentionally useless web apps, and makes music.

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This Website Is under Construction – a Love Letter to the Personal Website

Remember Geocities? The unbridled creativity and questionable colour schemes of a bygone era. There was a time when websites existed as reflections of your personality or a shrine to your favourite band rather than carbon copies of a Facebook page or Twitter feed. Content wasn’t algorithmically curated, but shared through links pages and webrings.

With modern browsers, we have at our fingertips so many powerful APIs and tools to build the most incredible, beautiful and wonderfully pointless websites that have ever existed, in ways that are accessible and performant like never before. So why aren’t we? Why do all the websites today look the same?

This is a manifesto for building something just for the fun of it, and a rallying cry to tell your story on a platform that’s entirely yours.


[playful music]

[audience applause]

Sophie Koonin: Hi.

[audience applause]

Sophie: Thank you very much. Well, I wasn’t nervous. But after that introduction, I’m now nervous.

Thank you very much. It is a real honor to be here. This is such an amazing conference, and I’m so excited to be opening today. Madness.

I’m here to talk to you about a topic that is very close to my heart, and I’m sure some of you as well. My name is Sophie. I’m the Web engineering lead at Monzo Bank in the UK. We’re not like regular banks. We’re a cool bank.

[audience laughter]

Sophie: I have a website, localghost.dev. I’m on Mastodon these days. It’s sophie@social.lol, and I have some kind of business card, not that I do any kind of business at sophie@omg.lol. And I used to have cooler hair than I do now.

I’m here to tell you to build your own website. If you take one thing away from this talk today, let it be that.

I don’t mean the cool... you know, build that website that everyone has these days with the big call to action and a hero image and those feature grids that always have three things in a row. No, I mean a space on the Internet that is entirely yours, a reflection of your own personality crafted in HTML and CSS.

It might be a portfolio with accomplishments and things that you’ve done, or it could be something entirely pointless and really weird. Even better. It’s your space. You can do with it whatever you want.

In the early days of the Web, there were a lot of pages like this, right? People would build websites for their families, for bands they liked, or just personal homepages and weird things.

Ultimately, we did it because it was fun and it was a creative hobby. It was really cool, and it was a great way to connect with people.

It seems like this has been lost somewhere. It feels like we’ve lost this decade’s old art form, this individuality of design and the uniqueness of the content that goes into these pages, this sense of experimenting with HTML and CSS just to see what happens. The beauty of a website built by a person just because they wanted to.

Let’s take a quick look at how we use the Web today. Most of us in this room probably get paid to build websites. I certainly do.

A lot of these websites are probably very similar. They might be marketing or e-commerce of some description. Ultimately, they’re websites designed to make money, whether that’s by selling something or advertising something.

I can’t count how many tracking pixels I’ve been asked to put on websites, right? Or do A/B testing to see what converts better. Or do something with Google Tag Manager. I still don’t really know what that does.

Ultimately, these sites that we’re building are kind of identical, right? They’ve got the same content, the same icons, like identical-looking icons, hero images, calls to action, all of that stuff.

Yeah, even the content is similar. Right? I wrote a blog post for a company I used to work for. We had this really cool engineering blog. I was asked to change the title by our marketing team so that it would do better for SEO. I felt a bit like it was turning into this Buzzfeed listicle.

Of course, they were right. It would have done better. But it wasn’t really what I was trying to do.

The sites that we’re building are offering a service. They are transactional in nature. That kind of Web has always been there since the beginning, but it is the dominant form now. I guess I’m asking, like, where did the fun Web go?

God forbid you’re a newcomer and you’re trying to learn how to build a website. I Googled how to build a website, and this page from Wix came up.

Wix is a site builder. It’s great, but this list is kind of ridiculous. It says stuff like conduct competitive research, explore visual options, define your goal.

What happened to my goal is to build a website, right? And if you do get into Web dev now, chances are you’re doing it with intent. You’re doing it to make a career out of it, so you might do a boot camp. You might do some kind of course or training. If you are looking to make a career out of it and to get a job, you’re going to learn what everyone is hiring for, so you’ll go straight to whatever framework everyone is hiring for and skip the basics.

I’m not saying don’t use a framework. I have to use React every day, and I’m still dealing with that, but you need that foundational knowledge of HTML and CSS. You can’t skip out on things like accessibility, performance. You need to make sure your HTML elements are semantic and that you’re not downloading megabytes of JavaScript onto your user’s computers.

Those websites that we use for fun are also businesses, right? Think about how you use the Web today. Chances are it’s a handful of websites owned by just a few companies. Right? I think it’s safe to say that these days the Web is well and truly centralized.

Under the guise of a free service, these websites are making money from data that they harvest from us. We all know it. And whether that’s through personalized advertising or literally just selling that data onto a third party.

Of course, these websites and these companies all have running costs. But at the end of the day, they’re businesses and they exist for the purpose of making money.

Social media is definitely the biggest offender. We write posts on these websites. We upload photos, share videos, talk to each other, and even sometimes conduct business on these platforms.

It is a cliché for a reason, right? You are the product because while we do technically still own our data, if you look through the terms of service it says you still own the rights to your data but these websites have the right legally to reproduce it, distribute it, copy it royalty-free, so they can do whatever they want with it as well, and they’re using that to make money off us.

I think we’ve come a long way from the days when we were the creators and we owned our own content. When it comes to that content, you start to moderate yourself, and you write what you think is going to please your audience, right?

I got quite addicted to Twitter -- I’m going to say it -- those dopamine hits with follows and likes. And I ended up quitting in November just because I just didn’t like where it was going. But it was quite a step change and very strange to suddenly be kind of cut off from all of that.

You start to think, like, “What can I post that people are going to respond positively to and people are going to retweet?” It’s the same way that you have the same variation of thumbnails all over YouTube or these same variations of tweet threads. It’s all about creating content with the hope that you’re going to become viral and monetize it.

It even goes so far as preempting the backlash when you post something, and you start to think, “How could someone twist this?”

In the olden days before, Twitter let you write 10,000 characters. You kind of think, you can only express so much in 140 or 280 characters, so you think, “How can I phrase this in a way that people aren’t going to assume that I mean X when I actually mean Y?” It’s much more nuanced.

It turns out there’s no reply guise on your own site, and so it’s all about putting things out on the Internet for yourself.

Of course, having a social media account is the lowest friction way to have an online presence. You don’t need any tech knowledge. You don’t need any money. And you’ve got this captive audience as well.

But if your users don’t have an account on that website, they can only see so much of that presence. If I’m looking for a restaurant and they’ve only got a Facebook page, I don’t have a Facebook account so I can’t see half of their page. This happens more than you might think.

Okay, so I’ve shouted a lot about social media. But you know I use it. I have used it a lot over the years, and I think that it has its benefits.

You know it’s a great platform to be social with each other, and that’s what we should use them for. It’s great for breaking the ice. A lot of people in this room I have met because of social media. But you have to recognize that it comes at the cost of a lack of creativity and your data within somebody else’s platform.

This content stays on the platform. If you break a rule, if you get banned, you lose access to that content. It’s a common thing where people will accidentally get banned from YouTube, and they lose access to their Gmail, and you can’t speak to anyone to dispute. There’s nobody on the other end.

Even if you do get your data off these platforms, the interactions that you have with people aren’t transferrable. I managed to get my data out of Twitter, although it was looking like I wouldn’t get it for a time. But you know I’ve got all of my tweets now, which is really nice. But the replies, the chats I had on there, they’re not there anymore.

Sometimes these sites just flat-out die. Myspace lost 12 years’ worth of data in 2019. That’s just gone. There was some kind of database-related thing. Yeah, that data is just gone. It’s not coming back.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this at all, right? When the World Wide Web was released, it was released as an open standard with the intent of democratizing access. Tim Berners-Lee gave an interview to Vanity Fair in 2018 where he said, “It was all based on there being no central authority that you had to go to to ask permission.”

The spirit there was very decentralized. The individual was incredibly empowered. That feeling of individual control, that empowerment is something we’ve lost.

First, I want to look at what happened. Why aren’t we building websites for ourselves anymore? It’s the same tools. It’s no more difficult than it’s ever been. There’s still free Web hosting - plenty of it. We’re just not doing it.

Somewhere along the way, websites stopped being about the creators and started being about the consumers. We don’t build websites for ourselves like we used to. We build them for the audiences that we want.

I see the personal site as an antidote to the centralized Web. Yeah, okay, it’s hosted on someone else’s computer. But it’s this piece of Web that belongs to the creator. If that host goes down, you can just move it somewhere else.

It’s not going to fix democracy or topple the online capitalism giants or whatever, but I do think it is a radical thing to do. It says, “I want to carve my own space away from the corporations.”

So, I’m going to go through a little bit of the history of the personal site on the Web and look at how it’s changed over the years. But I do want to share a bit of my own journey with you as well. And I want to take a minute to acknowledge my privilege in this space because I grew up in a house with computers. We had the Internet from the mid-'90s. And I know that my experience was very much not universal. But I’ve seen the World Wide Web change a lot in that time, so I wanted to share that with you.

We’re going to take a trip through cyberspace back to the early ‘90s, right from the very first webpage in 1991. By 1994, people started to build their own websites. At the time, it was really only academic institutions that have access to the World Wide Web. But then slowly we start to get these home Internet service providers popping up.

And as well as connecting to the World Wide Web, they offered simple, static website hosting. So, you start to see these personal pages popping up as well.

But then came the big guns, right? GeoCities, Tripod, Angelfire - these free Web hosts, and this is when things really started to change. They offered free Web hosting for the masses.

GeoCities is arguably the most famous one. But I think it’s really interesting because they had what they called neighborhoods, which was this concept of, like websites, organized in categories, so you might be hosted in the Area 51 neighborhood if you made a sci-fi website.

But it was a great way to meet like-minded people, and I think the neighborhood system provided a familiar analogy to what was really a brand new audience to the World Wide Web. You had this kind of sense of small-town community in the form of neighborhood link directories.

They had a drag-and-drop builder. They had premade themes. You didn’t even need to learn any HTML. But the key thing here was it was completely free, and so we start to see all of these personal websites popping up all over the place.

People would build family pages with photos. These are all real, by the way. These are all real websites.

I think this one is really interesting because, these days, it would be a bit weird (I hope) to make a website and post pictures of your family for all to see. But in those days, search engines either didn’t exist or were rubbish. So, you kind of thought, “Well, no one is going to find this unless they’re combing through the link directories on GeoCities.”

Online privacy was much less of a concern, and you kind of had this small, captive audience of the people that you sent your address to.

People would make collections of graphics to share, and so it was about collaboration and helping other people build their own spaces on the Web.

Then of course, people would build fan sites to stuff. check out those frames and a mid-scroll marque as well - iconic.

Of course, sites for people’s very specific hobbies. There’s also a gratuitous webring in here as well. I’ll touch on that more a bit later.

But at this point in my journey on the Internet, I was playing a lot of a video game called Petz, which is a virtual pet game. I was about... [Laughter]

[audience laughter]

Sophie: Got a fan in the audience. Yeah, so I was probably about eight, nine, ten at this point. Sorry, anyone who just felt old. But... [Laughter]

And so, I was downloading a lot of custom breeds, more content, toys for my pets. I would go to this website quite a lot. And I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. And I just knew I really wanted to learn how to do it myself.

I played around a bit with FrontPage at school, which is a bit like PowerPoint for websites. But I eventually got this book, which was called Make Your Own Webpage!: A Guide for Kids. Bought it with my Christmas money, and it taught me how to handwrite HTML in Notepad and build layouts using tables, of course.

But I absolutely loved it. I got really hooked, and I started experimenting.

Amazingly, I found that the book is archived on archive.org, so check out this all caps tags. That’s how we used to do it. And those old-school attributes as well.

Yeah. To be clear, don’t do this now, please.

[audience laughter]

Sophie: While I was just getting to grips with static websites and learning that you can’t host images on your C-drive, there was a different kind of Web brewing altogether. And this was a move from the read-only kind of Web to this focus on participation and user-generated content. This would later become known as Web 2.0.

The Web here was starting to become social. Websites were interactive, and there was this move now from the shift to the creator to the consumer focus of pages. People were seeing the Web as a platform to make money from their users.

But I think it had a positive as well. It wasn’t just like a cash grab. It was a really exciting opportunity for people to interact with webpages in a way they hadn’t before and also make them their own. This movement, I guess, of websites also led a lot of people to learn basic Web dev skills.

Of course, I’m talking about Neopets.

[audience cheers]

Sophie: [Laughter] When I was at secondary school, I played a lot of Neopets. I was kind of never not on the computer, which is going to become very clear.

But Neopets was a virtual pet website where you could customize your profile page, your shop page, and your guild page with HTML. And you could have all the auto-playing midis that you wanted, all the tiled backgrounds, and kind of gratuitous fonts. But this is where I really got my start as a Web developer - not that I knew it yet.

But I built a GeoCities website for my Neopets guild that had three members, and I started making lots of graphics to share with people. But this was a case where, on this website, you learned HTML and CSS to make people come to your shop. People were more likely to join or come if it looked cool, and so I had my teenage dirtbag midi on my shop page.

They had guides on neopets.com. They had fan sites that would share layouts that you could customize. But many Web devs first experience was on Neopets (the people I’ve talked to in the past), and it was this real cultural phenomenon. I think it was really instrumental in teaching young people in the early 2000s the basics of HTML.

As the user-generated Web grew, so did the blog. Blogs have been around since the beginning, right? People would just write their daily goings on in static files and upload them to their server. But at this point in time, we start to see this software come through like B2, gray matter, moveable type, and of course, later, WordPress. Then you’ve got some blogging platforms like Live Journal and Blogger.

My friends and I will have blogs in the early 2000s. This was my extremely edgy blog with links and personal cheat quizzes, and they were all built with tables and frames, of course.

Gradually, I fell into this community of personal site creators. It was kind of this microcosm of the Internet where domain names were a status symbol. Of course, I was never allowed one, but they were all things like lovexguns.org and definitemaybe.org or .net. If you had a cool domain name, you would host people on your cool domain name, and it was a real privilege to be a hostee on someone else’s cool domain name.

But there was a real emphasis or community in these spaces. You know? We’d all have blogs, and we’d all tell each other how to set it up and give people help with gray matter, and help other people learn HTML. We’d link to all of our friends’ sites.

But the vibe was very much like, “This is my space on the Internet, but here is something for you.” Of course, people would change their domain names a lot because most of us were teenagers and got bored very quickly. So, these sites moved around a lot, and a lot of them are sadly gone now.

A lot of these sites were run by women and girls. It was a real safe haven on the Internet for marginalized people because you could be yourself or you could adopt an alias. There were no real name policies. We had this like-minded audience of people and friends of people you trusted, and it was very small and controlled.

This site is from 2003, I think, but it’s by Rachel White who is on Twitter as @ohhoe. She gave an amazing talk at JS Conf EU in 2017 called “Keep the Internet Weird,” and it’s all about this little kind of subculture of the Internet. I recommend checking that out as well.

When social media came along and got big, everything really changed. Social media has been around in various forms since the late ‘90s. You know Live Journal and Blogger are basically social media. But also, we’ve got the famous ones like Friendster and Friends Reunited.

We’d make friends on these platforms, chat to each other, post content for your friends to see. But when Myspace came along, that really set the world on fire. It launched in 2003.

By 2004, it had 5 million users. I think a big reason for its success was, well, one the Internet was becoming a lot more widespread in people’s homes. But also, this is a product that merged socializing with music, which is like catnip to teenagers. We all surged onto Myspace, and everyone had a profile.

I used to be seen as a nerd for making websites. A lot of people at my school didn’t have the Internet at home. They didn’t use the computer very much. But all of a sudden, it was cool to know a bit of CSS, to be able to make your Myspace page look good. Myspace was suddenly getting all these people to have an online presence.

When I tell people what I do for a living now, often they’ll tell me that they learned a bit of CSS from Myspace. I think it’s a bit like Neopets all over again, but on a much larger scale.

The thing is with Myspace, there was no longer a need to have your own website because everything is there on Myspace. You’re About Me page becomes your profile. Your blog posts become bulletins or blog posts on Myspace. Your links pages become your top eight. Everything is kind of becoming centralized.

Then there was Facebook, which didn’t allow customization at all. Every page just looked like Facebook.

I really used to like Facebook. I would interact with my offline friends in new ways online. We’d upload massive photo dumps of nights out and comment with really specific in-jokes.

When I was at university, it was a lifeline. We had lots of university groups.

Then there was that weird period of time where, if you weren’t on Facebook, you didn’t get invited to any events because all events happened on Facebook. As Facebook got bigger and Twitter did too, people stopped engaging with blogs so much.

By 2010, I wasn’t building websites for fun anymore. I was building these massively overengineered WordPress sites for university societies. I had Live Journal for a while. I gave up with that as well because I just thought there’s no point having a personal blog. Everything was on Facebook. Then it was on Twitter. Then it was on Instagram. I didn’t know anyone who still had a personal website.

Of course, at this point, you’ve got the rise of Internet on mobile phones as well. The iPhone came out in 2008. In the years that followed, other phones caught up a bit. All of a sudden, you had to make websites look good on tiny screens. And at that time, it was actually quite hard.

The blogs that were left, they kind of went from musings and daily goings on to becoming targeted towards a specific audience. Blogger was suddenly an occupation, and the popular blogs became stuffed full of sponsored content and ads.

There was this real shift from doing it for the sake of doing it to doing it to make a living. What once was for the writer’s benefit became focused on the consumers.

I was really into makeup at the time, and I wanted to become a makeup blogger because, to me, that would be like I would get loads of free samples and it’s going to be amazing.

[audience laughter]

Sophie: It didn’t happen. Yeah, I’m too lazy - quite honestly. But for me, this was a real example of a blog that was designed for the reader, not the writer, because I did not enjoy this blog. I got no joy out of posting. It was a slog. I had to take pictures of all of these products and these makeup looks and make sure that the titles were SEO’d enough, and I didn’t know anything about SEO, so I didn’t get any hits and I gave up.

But in 2014, I started a food blog. That lasted maybe six months before I got bored because, as a creator, the Web for me had become about engagement. And if I wasn’t getting any engagement, then what was the point?

I would never be able to compete with the lifestyle bloggers with their fancy DSLR setups. I just figured if I can’t make it look like a glossy magazine, there’s just no point.

At this point, if you’re building a website, you probably needed to sell something or you wanted to get something. You probably used a premade WordPress theme or buy one. You might use the hot new Web framework Bootstrap, which made mobile websites a breeze. But it also made everything look the same.

Or then you might use a website builder, so they’re sponsoring all the podcasts ever. Things like Squarespace, which brings back those GeoCities WYSIWYG builder vibes.

They’re very nice, but they’re obviously quite a lot more expensive. If you need a website for your business, it’s very easy to just build a Squarespace, and it makes a lot of sense. But they’re not designed for personal sites unless you’re hoping to monetize them, really.

I wonder. If I hadn’t become a Web developer and fallen in with the crowd of people who do have their own websites whether I’d ever have bothered building a personal site ever again. That made me really sad to think about. And so, I want to change that. And I’m not the only one.

But first, a brief interlude. I’m going to show you some people who are bringing back the magic of the personal website. I’m just going to warn that there’s some motion here because it’s videos of me browsing websites.

Sorry, Cassie.

[audience cheers]

Sophie: This is Cassie’s website. You may know her from also this conference. She’s an incredible SVG artist, and her website is an absolute joy. There are some fun effects as you move the mouse, it’s got a dark and a light mode, and there’s loads of really cool stuff on this page.

This is Sadness’s website. She brings back the ‘90s vibes on her site. I really love this. She has a lot of HTML tutorials. She has a button maker. She’s got shrines, pages dedicated to things that she loves, and it just reminds me of what was so great about the Internet of the early 2000s.

This is Lynn Fisher’s old website, I believe. She’s changed it since, but I just love this so much. She’s known for these incredible websites that change as you scroll, as you shrink the window.

[audience laughter]

Sophie: Just amazing talent.

This is Alistair Shepherd. He is a front-end developer in Scotland. I saw him at State of the Browser last year talking about this fire-watch-inspired website where it changes color depending on the time of day. He’s used generative SVG to generate those amazing mountain ridges. I think the talk about how he built it is online on the State of the Browser website.

This is David Darnes, a fellow UK developer. I chose this one because it’s very minimalist but also lovely little colors. It shows you don’t have to do something big and flashy to have a lovely website. But it’s also a bit silly. If you click this loudspeaker in the title there, it makes a silly noise. It’s just... I just love that.

This is Kara’s website, another front-end developer in the UK. It shows that you don’t have to have a black-and-white website to have something minimalist and cool. She’s used CSS Grid, so of course, it resizes effortlessly. Yeah, minimalist doesn’t have to mean a white background.

This is my colleague Carol’s website. I chose this because I love that she’s got a whole page dedicated to her keyboards and work setup.

[audience laughter]

Sophie: I got very sniped by this, but also I just made my own page that had my keyboards and work setup because, to me, that is the point of having your own website is that you can put on there whatever you want. Talk about stuff that you do and just share stuff that you love.

Facebook doesn’t have a page for your keyboards.

There are also lots of movements out there, other people trying to bring back the magic of the personal website. This is Indi Web, which described itself as a people-focused antidote to the corporate Web. They care a lot about owning your own data, syndicating your content across multiple platforms, and basically posting whatever you want however you want.

They have what they call POSSE, which is “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere.” They basically post content on your own site, and then you can use tools to get it posted to Twitter, Mastodon, or whatever platform.

They say, “Let your audience read your posts their way,” which I think is a really clever idea. So, I set up Web mentions on my own website. So, if somebody mentions a blog post of mine on Twitter or Mastodon, then one of the services that I set up will notify me the next time I build my site, and it will appear underneath the blog post.

The idea of permanence is really important to the Indie Web as well. They say that links should stay the same indefinitely. While I see where they’re coming from, I think this is actually quite difficult if you’re not the kind of person that can afford to keep a domain name running year after year after year.

You really need to be able to guarantee that permanence somehow, but I do think there is plenty that we can take from this movement about owning your own content and being in control of where and how it’s posted. I’m saying, don’t stop using social media, but just make sure that the stuff that you really care about is posted on a platform that you control.

Another movement focuses more on how things used to be. This is called the Yesterweb. It was started by Sadness, whose website I showed you before.

It takes quite a hardline stance, and it says the Internet of today is fundamentally broken. There’s a real heavy dose of nostalgia on its members’ websites. A lot of GeoCities vibes. They write manifestos as well about what’s wrong with the Web in its current form.

But what I do like about the Yesterweb is they’ve got this real focus on building websites as a creative hobby. That’s exactly how it started for me. I just don’t see that much anymore, so I really love that that is kind of coming back.

I’m obviously very nostalgic for the old Web, and I have a lot of fond memories. But I think it is possible and sensible for the old Web and the Web of today to coexist. You know websites don’t need to look like GeoCities to be cool or exciting or individual. I think we can take the principles of back then -- anything goes, being creative -- and apply it to the websites that we’re building today.

Of course, we know a lot more about accessibility than we did back then, a lot of the websites that we built were absolutely atrocious for accessibility. So, we can be a bit more sensible now in the approaches that we take.

The Yesterweb has a community Discord, and it has a webring for members’ websites, so you can find other kind of nostalgic websites very easily as well. Webrings are making a comeback, apparently, which is just wonderful.

This is Hotline Webring, which I signed up to because it’s just a really fun way of listing some really nice websites. The person who lists themselves cares about this kind of stuff, and it’s a great way to get your site discovered if you don’t want to spend hours optimizing it for search engines.

I’ll say it again. In this world of social media and websites for profit and not fun, I think building your own website is a radical thing to do. It’s that space on the Internet that is entirely yours.

I’m not saying you need to ditch social media or stop building websites for business. We’ve all got to make a living. But I think these things can live happily alongside one another.

It’s certainly not a plea to go back to the old days. It’s a plea to bring the magic of the old days into the present day. There’s room for everyone, and there’s more than enough space on the Web.

This is my website. It was originally a blog and a talk portfolio, but I wanted to be a bit more experimental and fun, so I built six themes that have a theme switcher. I did not have a job at the time, to be clear.

[audience laughter]

Sophie: One of these themes harks back to the days of GeoCities, but I wanted it to be accessible, so it works without JavaScript. You just don’t get the theme switcher. If you have motion disabled, reduced motion on your laptop, then the GIFs won’t play because I believe that you can and should have a creative-focused website which is still considerate towards the people reading it.

I don’t want to be prescriptive about what you put on this website that you’re definitely going to build now. It’s your space, right? You might do some kind of maximalist extravaganza, or you might have some plain text on a plain background.

You might spend hours handcrafting the HTML in VIM (if you’re that kind of person). Or you could use a drag-and-drop editor. You could kind of host it on someone else’s platform, or you could have a box in your bedroom. Right?

All of these things are valid. Just built it for yourself. You don’t need to think about SEO or Web design tools unless you want to. You don’t have to use a framework unless you want to. You can list recipes that you like, start a blog, share pictures, roll your own Instagram and post pictures.

You could build something completely pointless and weird.

[audience laughter]

Sophie: This is my favorite genre of website in the entire world, the useless Web. Nothing gives me more joy than someone registering a single joke domain name and just putting something on the Web for people to get joy from.

Your space is an opportunity to be as weird as you want, to experiment, and to learn as well. You can use whichever Web APIs you want. You could use the new features of CSS, and you don’t have to worry about whether your customers’ browsers will support it.

Go to MDN, find the weirdest sounding API you can find, or use the P3 color space that until recently was only available in Safari, or try out the things that are hidden behind experimental flags in your browser. Right?

Experiment in production. Write bad code and ship it. There are no consequences. If you screw it up, just revert it. It’ll take like 30 seconds and no one will know.

A good personal website shouldn’t take itself too seriously.

If you build the basics of your website in normal HTML, the content will show up regardless of the fancy stuff that you put on top. That’s known as progressive enhancement where the basics of your content will be there for everyone, and the weird stuff will be there for you and whoever else is using Chrome Canary.

The tools are still exactly the same as they’ve ever been. Right? HTML and CSS, it’s still the same; we just have more cool things that we can do with it.

It’s still very possible to write some HTML, stick it on a server, and have a webpage. It’s really easy these days to get bogged down in frameworks and build tools and all of this stuff. You don’t need React or Webpack or whichever pack is the new pack. I’m not up to speed. You can use these tools if you want, but it is not a must.

Resist the temptation to send people to these latest, greatest tools. If someone comes up to you and says, “I want to build a website. Where do I start?” learning HTML might put them on this path to becoming a developer, or it might just be that they have this website that they update occasionally and that’s it. That’s totally fine. Just start simple, the simplest possible tutorials and tips.

Hosting doesn’t have to cost you anything. Storage is cheaper than it has ever been, so free websites are better than... sorry. Free hosting websites are better than they’ve ever been as well.

I love Neocities, which is a free and open-source static site host. No ads. No catches. It’s aimed at anyone who wants to make a website. They’ve got HTML tutorials.

I give them some money and they let me put my domain on my website as well. And a lot of the sites on Neocities are very nostalgic and evoke this kind of feeling of the old Web. But there’s a really nice community vibe there as well.

They have this quote on their website which I love. “It’s time we took back our personalities from these sterilized, lifeless, monetized, data mined, monitored addiction machines and let our creativity flourish again.”

Omg.lol is a service that I’m obsessed with at the moment, and it brings back some kind of Indie Web magic as well. The link in the corner of my slides, I touched on earlier. It’s kind of a landing page - what I’ve used it as. But you can use it as a personal homepage if you want, and they’re working on an Instagram-style picture-sharing site.

You can have a Now page, which is just the most personal Indie Web thing I could think of. It’s literally a page that exists to tell people what you’re reading, what you’re doing, what you’re watching.

Rob has a... sorry. Rob on omg.lol has a page that he’s automated entirely, which I think is absolutely amazing and a very strange use of time. [Laughter]

I just think... Everything has got an API as well, so you can update it however you want as well.

There’s a website called Personal Sites, personalsit.es, which is a directory of personal sites and great for inspiration. You can get your own site listed as well by PR’ing on the GitHub repo.

I hope this has shown you that the personal site is not dead. It just got a bit forgotten about in that commercialized Web of today. And I think we owe it to ourselves to rediscover this somewhat lost art.

We can still be creators for the sake of creating, and we can still post content without someone else making money from it. So, what are we waiting for?

Once more, for those in the back, build your own website.

[audience laughter]

Sophie: Make it fun. Make it pointless. But most importantly, please, make it yours.

Thank you very much.

[audience applause]