Websites are interesting things. The web in its current form is thirty years old and commercial use was only allowed in 1993, but in the last 26 years this piece of technology has become our sign, our ad, a simple brochure, and our virtual front door. We have pretty much the same goal as every business: a web site that represents who we are and that is of some use to other people. If we didn’t have to change it, we wouldn’t have.
The reasons for the change are interesting in terms of what they show about the development of the underlying technology of the web. You can write the HTML for a web page by hand, but unless the page is a very simple (i.e., text with only minor formatting), that’s an insanely tedious job that’s likely to have a bunch of errors in the result. We use WordPress to create our site, and like most similar programs it has three buckets of stuff: words (like this text), media (like the photo above), and formatting. As has been true since writing was invented, the content and the format are mostly independent of one another. So far, so good.
WordPress uses “themes,” which are ways of organizing the format. You can change the theme without changing anything else and it will change the appearance, but not the content, of your site. That’s where we got bit by unplanned obsolescence: the theme that was used for our website during its design in 2011 was effectively abandoned by its developer shortly afterward. I knew this would eventually cause us trouble and this past fall it did: the new version of WordPress (v5.0) was not compatible with the then nine-year-old theme. That left us the choices of (a) upgrading WordPress and immediately breaking our website, (b) not upgrading WordPress and breaking it slowly, or (c) changing themes. While I enjoy breaking things as much as the next person, we decided to change themes, which also gave us the opportunity to revisit the site design.
We’ve received various friendly complaints about the old website, most frequently that it was slow, that our phone number and address were hard to find, and that the menu items “blog,” “news,” and “projects” were strangely organized. I’ll take the blame for the last item – it was an idea I had in 2011 that turned out to be unworkable. Also, the text was constrained in a narrow column based on screen resolutions of 2010. Finally, the mobile version of the site, based again on 2009 theme software, looked nothing like the regular site. Our new site is meant to address those problems while keeping the same basic appearance as the old one.
It takes time for users of any new technology to work out the kinks. WordPress was designed originally as software for blogging only, and it was still fairly young when we started using it. In the last eight years it’s gotten more mature and the ancillary tech, like theme software, is improving as well. I hope that means this basic design will last longer and will not have to be changed for any reason other than we want to change it.
Finally, the site is basically in version 2.0.0. In other words, there may well be small defects or problems scattered throughout. If you find one and feel like doing us a favor, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.