Category Archives: The Site

Ten years

On this day, ten years ago, I published the very first post on The Watchmaker Project. At the time, I wasn’t even using the URL, just a temporary Blogger address, but I wanted to join my voice with those discussing and guiding the web design community via blog articles and comment threads in every corner of the virtual world.

The internet, and web design and development, looked very different back then. There were very few content farms, churning out articles at the rate of several per hour. There was no Mashable, no TechCrunch, and no Smashing Magazine. A List Apart documented groundbreaking new techniques and thoughtful articles, and 9rules was the first blog network that had arisen as the acceptable face of the 90s ‘webring’, but other than that, everything was being generated by individuals writing on their own blogs, and commenting on each others’ sites.

It was great.

Within the first week of blogging, I was thrilled to receive comments from luminaries like Jon Hicks and Andrei Herasimchuk, and I soon felt as if I was part of an important community: those who cared about the web and wanted to take an active part in its future. I eventually got involved in initiatives like the biannual CSS Reboot, and later became a volunteer editor at Digital Web Magazine, eventually becoming its Editor In Chief in 2008.

These days, blogging seems so much less important than it did back then. One doesn’t need to share advice on how to achieve a particular effect or work around a nasty bug, because there are a thousand answers on Stack Overflow (or CodePen.io, or GitHub) already. Long gone are the days when everyone had specific Position Is Everything pages bookmarked. Now Google has all the answers.

Still, this will be the 426th post on this site. That’s an average of almost one per week, for ten years; a (theoretically) permanent reminder of a quarter of my life. And you know what? I don’t even care if nobody is reading any more. As Zeldman said:

Comparing traffic to your old and new redesigns with Google Analytics

As part of moving the various parts of this site around this afternoon, I took the opportunity to also tidy up the Google Analytics setup I had in place, both here and on the previous incarnations.

I think last time I relaunched the site I must have just created a new GA account, but in retrospect that was a bad idea. GA allows you to maintain several of what they refer to as Profiles under a single Property, which means you can aggregate all the traffic to your various versions in one report:

Screenshot of Google Analytics profile settings tab

The only change that you need to make to the tracking code is to make sure you select the “One domain with multiple subdomains” option in the Tracking Code section – this adds an extra line that allows GA to recognise that you want to track the traffic with a single property:

Screenshot of Google Analytics tracking code tab

Copy and paste the tracking code into all previous versions of your site, and all traffic will now be tracked in a single report. Now you can do things like compare behaviour across subdomains: go to Content > Site Content > Pages, change Viewing from “Page” to “Other” and select Content > Hostname to generate reports like this:

Screenshot of Google Analytics content report showing comparative traffic across subdomains

This is just a few hours’ traffic, but you can start to build up a picture of comparative time on page, bounce rates, exits, and other aspects of user behaviour across your ‘same-but-different’ sites.

11:15, restate my assumptions

In his first resurrectory post, Rob Weychert references an old (almost pre-historic) Zeldman tweet from late 2007:

Blogging. And blogging again. Writing is fun. Writing is fundamental. If you don’t write, you don’t know what you think.

Back when I started this site, chipping into other people’s conversations way back in 2004, the act of writing seemed to come much more easily than it does today. What was effectively a hand-rolled social network of blogrolls and reciprocal linking facilitated discussion and development of new techniques and approaches to design and development, and anyone active during those years shared a feeling of actually playing an active part in the conversations playing out across the internet.

It’s not like that any more.

Building a reputation online is simply not possible in the same way that it was back then. Instead of individual bloggers creating valuable content, we’ve moved into the era of Smashing Magazine and Mashable; multi-author, revenue-driven sites aggregating content and churning out “Top 100″ lists on a near-daily basis. A single author can’t compete with those content farms, and nor should he. For, luckily, as the web has grown up, so have we.

I’m not the same person I was in the early part of the last decade. Influence or reputation, which seemed so important in the nascent days of blogging, are now not high on my list of objectives for any online activity; I mostly aim to share what I’m doing, occasionally educate other designers and developers, and record my thoughts and feelings as life unwinds. And it’s that last point that is tied most closely with what Zeldman and Weychert were talking about. Writing, and writing regularly, is an activity with two clear outcomes. Firstly, and in common with almost every other activity you might care to name, it makes you better at that activity. The best way to become a better writer is to write, and write often. And secondly, it’s a way to order your thoughts and present a singularly coherent summary of your own views and opinions at a given point in time.

In recent years I suffered from a combination of having published a handful of popular articles, and increasingly scarce free time. This combination – the pressure to produce something worthwhile, while simultaneously having no time in which to do so – meant that I never wrote anything of merit. But now, one of those roadblocks is gone… and the other was never really there to begin with.

I’d also like to give credit where it’s due, and hat-tip a pair of colleagues who reminded me what blogging is supposed to be about. Stuart Frisby and Deepak Gulati both write with clarity and focus, sharing their impressions and experiences in a way I’d like to get back to. And that’s the motivating factor in today’s virtual house-clearance.

The previous version of this site has been packed up and delivered to its new home at v4.thewatchmakerproject.com. This new theme was chosen to free me from the artificial restrictions under which I had placed myself with the previous redesign; now I can post content of any length or images without layouts breaking or needing to fiddle with specific CSS rules. And switching to WordPress means I can also post from my phone, which is pretty cool, right?

12:50, press Return…