03 December 2018

How to create your academic web presence

You’re an early career academic, and you think, “I should have something more professional than my personal Facebook account.” I’m here to help!

I recommend creating your own academic website at a bare minimum. All you need is a clean website that you are obsessive about keeping up to date. It’s practically a cliché that professor websites are five years out of date, so just a regularly updated website puts you ahead of 90% of the academic pack! Colleagues and prospective students will appreciate it.

Your university’s IT depertment should be able to provide you with server space to host webpages. That’s currently how I host my home page. But Seth Godin has a good idea here: get a simple blog and set up one featured post with your basic contact information. Then you don’t have to worry about someone else hosting your stuff, or your URLs changing because your university’s IT reorganized their directories. Of, for that matter, having to transfer everything if you move from one institution to another.

It’s also helpful to have a website with an easy-to-remember name. My website’s domain name is not provided by the university; the name just redirects to the university location. There are lots of domain name providers. I used to used GoDaddy, but got driven crazy by their wesbite, which has all the restraint of someone competing for “Best Christmas decorations in the city” award. I have been a happy customer of I Want My Name for years. Their interface is clean and simple, and their prices are reasonable. Again, having your own website name makes it less likely to change if IT reorganizes your university website.

I code my own home page using very basic HTML. Basic HTML coding is actually pretty simple. I learned by viewing the code of other people’s websites. You can do this on most browsers by choosing “View source,” although the underlying code of webpages now is so much more complex than it used to be that this might not be a great way to learn. I’ve been able to do a lot without getting into style sheets (CSS) and more recent stuff.

(A side benefit of learning HTML was that it has helped significantly in teaching online. I know how to make my online class material consistent and clean.)

I use HTML-kit (build 292, which is free) as an HTML editor, but there are many more available. I used to use what became SeaMonkey (also free). I recommend against using Microsoft Word. Word adds huge masses of mostly useless code, making pages far bigger than they need to be.

If you don’t want to learn HTML, there are online services that create websites. I used Wix to create a website recently. It looks great, but Wix is very fiddly, and it took a ton of effort to make it look as pretty as it did. You can have Wix websites for free, but then the website runs ads. You can pay to have ads removed. Of course, other services are available.

Moving from a basic website to social media is a big step up, and this is the one most where you are most likely to run into option paralysis. There are so many things you can do, how do you pick one one to do? It’s okay for that answer to be “None.” Pick ones you actually use or enjoy. If you hate Twitter, start a blog. Or get on Instagram if you dig photography.

But there are tricks to streamline some of the work in creating a web presence. For instance, the Better Posters blog has a Twitter account that is completely automated. I set it up through IFTTT (short for "if this, then that").

1 comment:

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