Ten years after I first registered quinnstephens.com and put up my first website, I’m finally leaving my original hosting platform. The Web has changed quite a bit in that time, and I’m finally catching up. Time to reminisce!
In the spring of 2004, having a website - or any kind of online presence at all, beyond an email account - was still pretty esoteric. That would soon change dramatically, thanks in no small part to a little website called The Facebook that had launched a few months earlier. But back then MySpace was the king of a much smaller social-media mountain. This was well before your grandparents showed up.
I learned the basics of HTML from this site, which I am very pleased to discover is not only still live, but has not changed its formatting one bit. I signed up for a basic hosting package from Lunarpages for about $120 a year. I submitted my site to Google, which was already the de facto search engine by that point, but was less aggressive about finding new content. And with that, quinnstephens.com was live, in all its newbie glory:
Oh yeah, I was actually calling it Third Floor Productions back then. Like most film students I knew, I liked to put on an air of legitimacy by pretending my films were made by an actual production company.*
This was about as barebones as you could get, code-wise. Everything was done in static HTML. When I added a “Latest News” item, I just edited the page manually. I made use of frames (so I didn’t need to copy and paste the menu on every single page) which was unfashionable then and pretty much unthinkable now. YouTube did not exist at this point, so the movie clips I posted were very short Quicktime files that I struggled to compress into something people might actually be able to download.
All of this was done by updating the files locally and then uploading them via FTP to my Lunarpages server, which was running a standard Apache setup. I didn’t use any source control and I never went near a command line. I approached my website as a designer, not a developer. Programming was still foreign and intimidating to me.
Over the years I gradually dipped my toes into more advanced and dynamic content. I converted the site into Flash (which actually was fashionable then. Not so much these days), and later into PHP. I added this blog, first using the barebones but functional Nucleus CMS, and later the much more popular WordPress.
Now, largely thanks to my new job requiring it, I’ve embraced a developer’s approach to the Web. I know Ruby on Rails and build my basic static sites in Sinatra. I host everything on Heroku and update my sites with Git commits. I tend to refer to them more as “apps” than as “sites.” And I’m finally letting my Lunarpages account lapse. Maybe I’ll never deal with PHP or FTP again.
Lunarpages was generally a good service, but over the past decade I’ve had my share of issues with them. There was a bizarre two-day period in which my site completely vanished, leaving behind just an empty folder. Then it reappeared just as suddenly, with Lunarpages support insisting nothing had ever been wrong with it (I suspect they had quietly fixed a mistake on their end and decided to play dumb). There were several occasions when they instructed me to remove non-public files I had placed on the server for my personal storage. Given how cheap hard drive space is these days, I don’t understand why they were so fastidious about this.
But they did do one unforgiveable thing: when I forgot my password (probably due to their incredibly specific requirements for the number, type, and placement of special characters), and I clicked the “Forgot Password” link…they sent it to me. In plain text. No one in 2014 should be storing unencrypted user passwords, let alone sending them out like that.
So I’m leaving. And in the process, I’m ditching Wordpress for the promising new platform Ghost**. It’s simple, it’s fast, and it isn’t the bloated mass of unneeded features that Wordpress has become. It’s also - I hope - far more secure. Wordpress has so many holes in it that just leaving it on a server untouched for a few years without updating it is basically guaranteeing it will be hacked. I learned this the hard way. And cleaning up a hacked Wordpress install is not fun.
I had some qualms about this process. Not because I wanted to keep my old hosting setup, but because I had to question whether it was worth maintaining my sites at all. Once I stopped doing freelance web design, having a personal website began to feel a lot less meaningful. This blog sat largely unused aside from the help threads for my open source adventure game engine. The Web, once a place where you generally carved out your own piece of land and waited for people to come to you, has become more of an ongoing conversation in large communal spaces. Now I spend more time on Twitter than almost any other part of the Internet, and my 140 characters there have a far greater chance at being read than anything I write in this space.
That said, I still think the humble blog format has legs. And keeping my own site up as a public portfolio will always be valuable to me. I like how communal the Internet has become, and I love being part of larger conversations, but it’s always nice to have your own little space to come home to.
* I must have looked legitimate enough, becuase I was once contacted by a law enforcement officer who had been involved with The Thin Blue Line and was trying to contact Errol Morris. Apparently his production company was also called Third Floor Productions. Looking at a Google search now, I find that a lot of other people liked the name too.
** Ghost is pretty cool, but I ended up switching to Jekyll. Given how infrequently I post anything here, I liked the idea of nice, clean, static HTML holding all my increasingly dusty content.