I created my first webpage in the mid-1990s while I was earning my Ph.D. from Northwestern University in Communication Studies. Although my doctoral research combined rhetorical criticism, critical theories of race, and nineteenth-century U.S. history, I spent every summer working as an IT professional. I designed galley proofs for an academic journal in PageMaker. I administered Novell NetWare servers. I taught workshops on Lotus 1-2-3 and the Microsoft Office Suite. Building the occasional web page afforded me the opportunity to learn HTML code and stretch my mind in ways that Kenneth Burke and Eric Foner did not.
I designed my first personal website as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. At the time universities didn't provide web services to faculty, so I ran the site on a Redhat Linux server under my office desk. I'm embarrassed to admit that it was themed with an outer-space starscape and used copious amounts of Flash for roll-over lens flare animations. Still, the site served two purposes well. It described my research to anyone who was interested, and it distributed copies of class syllabi to students and colleagues.
Since then, I have resisted the urge to create another website. I have used blogs, list-servers, Twitter, and wikis for class assignments. For a brief period, I maintained a Posterous blog and a landing page on about.me. But, for the most part, I have avoided any serious attempt to create an internet presence of my own.
Now I'm starting to reconsider that position.
The reasons to NOT build a presence haven't changed. I don't have much free time. I don't have a great deal to say that I don't already say in class or in print or in public presentations. I don't have an online audience. I'm not interested in personal branding. I don't want to start something that, within a few months, I abandon.
Still, several things have changed. The effort necessary to build a website is reduced by modern CMC systems. (Here I've used Concrete5.7, but I could have used WordPress just as easily.) I know several graduate students and faculty who have benefited from a web presence, and it seems a bit hypocritical to recommend it to my advisees if I don't eat the dog food myself. Finally, the culture around personal websites has matured. Daily updates do not seem as crucial as they once did and building a large, returning audience isn't the goal anymore. Instead, personal websites seem to be about initial discovery and archiving. They might contain the occasional news item or announcement, but more often than not, they are repositories for material that the owner finds interesting.
Don't get me wrong. I would like to write the occasional blog post on something like The Atlantic's "Facebook and the New Colonialism." But for now this website isn't likely to change often. In some respects, it will serve the same two purposes as my original website--describe my current research interests and provide material that I find interesting to anyone else who might feel the same.