Your First Website
A low-stakes sitebuilding sandbox
This page is also available as a slide deck
The major goal of this project is to help you become comfortable with sitebuilding. It is informal and you should enjoy the process rather than obsess over the result! Over the course of lab sessions and some class discussion, you will learn to:
- Create a landing page and links
- Modify a WordPress theme
- Manage fonts, images, navigation, credits and pull quotes
- Make sharing decisions, such as by using a CC license
- Create subdomains (issue.myname.net)
- Install WP/Boldgrid and new themes on subdomains
- Select appropriate templates (Gridblocks)
- Build a coherent issue-oriented site of 6-8 pages
Success in this project is measured by basic familiarity with these sitebuilding skills, not the content it includes. While you may retain some of your other projects in your portfolio, you may choose to delete this sandbox effort after the course is over.
Ideas for “Sandbox” Sites
Many of the best first-effort websites address issues and are driven by passion and commitment. You could sandbox basic expository site genres such as explanation, how to, history, and the like. However, many of these would trade in settled problems or accepted knowledge, and therefore be less interesting. Many would be redundant, since someone else will likely already have published on them. By contrast the most interesting first efforts address real world problems that have not yet been resolved. They might include a manifesto, documentary, memorial, celebration, investigative reporting, or all of the above.
Deciding the purpose of your site is the key. Let’s say you care about a kind of medical research because you know someone living with the condition. Under no circumstances would you risk sharing that person’s identity or private medical information in a published website. But you can still publish on the issue, which you personally care about deeply, without sharing any personal details of that person, or your connection to them . This might evolve into a policy site with a call to action, such as service opportunities, donations, petitions, and the like. You might develop outreach materials like memes, or educational games or quizzes to be shared on social media platforms.
On the other hand, you might care about treatment because a relative died from the disease, and was comfortable and open with sharing their medical status, or was an activist. You might create a memorial to that individual.
Similarly, you might care about food standards, labor rights, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, etc, because of a personal connection or identification with the issue. The fact that you feel a personal connection is very useful and often key to your success. Publishing that connection is a different decision!
A good issue is often a very narrow one: Rather than examine discrimination on the basis of race broadly, you might focus on the particular dimensions that led you personally to care about the issue. You can focus on a particular kind of place (fast food), a particular region or city (Atlanta), and a kind of job (manager). If it is the case that certain chains in the area disproportionately promote white or Asian employees, or over more highly qualified black or Hispanic employees, you have a good issue. Likewise if customers are profiled racially by the staff at any kind of enterprise or institution, including government offices, or health care providers, you have a relevant, real-world issue.
A further layer of focus can be provided if you zero in on media practices. Let’s say you search Twitter or Facebook for the names of various fast-food chains, and collect data regarding customer experiences and connect them with racial self-identification. This layer of focus, on media practices, will be required in your first major project, the research website. It is NOT required for the sandbox.
Compromise Between Stakeholders
An easy way to do this kind of site is to imagine 3-5 groups of stakeholders on a real-world issue that genuinely matters to you. Let’s say you care about high stakes testing because, even though you’re good at tests, plenty of your friends who are just as smart feel terrible pressure and a sense of overwhelming failure over differences of a few points. Stakeholders in this issue might include teachers, parents, administrators, legislators, testing companies, and, naturally, students of all types.
How to Start
First, make your topic as narrow as possible AND something you’re genuinely passionate about. Otherwise: Why bother?
Second, double check: Is your topic really as narrow as possible? Seriously, this matters.
Third, make your website ON PAPER FIRST, following this process. In my long (twenty years!) experience of teaching this, I assure you that paper is the ideal technology for this stage of building your site: