With this blog entry, I launch a new version of zachwhalen.net, switching from my old, SHTML-powered site (using a template technique I was quite fond of) to a shiny new Drupal site. That in itself probably doesn’t seem very significant, since I use Drupal for everything, but with this change, all of the sites I’ve built or otherwise keep an eye on are running some kind of blog engine or CMS. I confess a feeling of loss at the notion no longer starting a site build with a text editor.
This shift is also something I’m trying to come to terms with in my teaching as well. The concept of what constitutes New Media writing, for example, is one that necessarily changes, and as I start designing a writing intensive New Media course for next spring, I’ve decided, finally, to leave out my standard unit on crafting web pages “by hand.” So will I replace that unit with one on building sites out of Drupal? Perhaps.
For now, though, I want to inaugurate this space by reflecting on why this space exists as it now does and what I hope to accomplish with it.
I have too many identities
I have a UMWBlogs blog, I contribute to each of my course websites, and I maintaining a running journal blog. I kept a blog of my dissertation progress, and I have a related project in progress (not yet ready for public view). Through the magic of UMWBlogs and the FeedWordPress plugin, I’ve set up my blog there mainly as an aggregator that I have configured just to import all the other feeds I generate. What I lack among all of those is an authoritative center of my digital identity, a place from which I can put those other identities in context. With ZachWhalen.net, I now have the opportunity to anchor my digital self in a professional identity that speaks from the authority of domain nomenclature. Whereas a post on a course blog, for example, writes to a primary audience of my students, this blog writes to a primary audience of you, whoever you are.
My reasons for having a digital identity at all have changed
When I created my first homepage (that I was proud of), I was a graduate student at Florida. my purpose then was to broadcast some basic information about myself to my students, colleagues, and professors, but also to demonstrate that I could put that information into a nice package:
(Well, I liked it.)
Later, the zachwhalen.net that immediately preceded the present one focused on my job search. In addition to helping control my Google presence, my website gave me an easy way to start a longer conversation with a potential employer. Putting my domain name at the end of my application letters, and encouraging search committees to visit my site meant that if they were in fact interested enough to do so, committees could see more of what I’ve done without having to request material from me. Also, since I had set up google analytics to track visitors, I could drill down to specific geographic areas to see who was visiting my site. That gave me a sneak peak at which of the jobs I applied to were interested.
Now, since I have a job, that purpose has shifted. I will have a tenure committee to impress, eventually, but for now this site can be more about what I am doing instead of what I’ve done. Accordingly, I may no longer showcase copies of my seminar papers from grad school and I may instead blog about works in progress, kind of like I’m doing right now.
A top-level Drupal core is easier to maintain
Counting development installs and one-off practice sites, I currently have maybe 15 separate Drupal installations to keep an eye on. Many of these are Drupal 5 and are hosted under a multisite arrangement, meaning that most of the code is shared. This is great because I only have to update once. Using Drush, this has become even easier recently. ZachWhalen.net is a Drupal 6 core, which will become my multisite core for all (or most) of my D6 sites from now on. This is going to help me keep things centralized in a more hierarchical manner, which is nice since it is faster to invoke Drush when the primary Drupal code exists at a higher directory level.
So for all these reasons (and probably some more I’ve overlooked), I’m going ahead with this site — hopefully yet another demonstration of what Drupal can do.
By the way, the header image I’ve created for this site is an extremely clever joke that only Drupal nerds who are also knowledgeable of old Atari VCS games are likely to get. If you fall into that category, feel free to post a comment explaining why it’s so clever. 🙂