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Philip Mallegol-Hansen

Back to Basics

My first foray into web development was in 2010, at the time I was a first year student at HTX Roskilde, taking the mandatory “Communications & IT” course taught by one of the school’s newer teachers, Bartek.

The technical depth of that class was intentionally rather shallow. The focus was heavily on the semantic meaning of the various HTML keywords and their use, and things like the Gestalt laws of grouping, rather than trying to do anything technically impressive.

JavaScript for example was entirely off limits with the exception of a few pioneering students that simply could not help themselves from integrating this “advanced” technology into their webpages. The result was most students managing to create technically valid HTML documents with a little bit of text about ourselves and what we were learning at the school, with a bit of styling to stand out among each other.

Though it may not sound like much, the fact that the MediaLab had a publicly accessible web server (Apache running on Ubuntu Server on top of a rack-mount IBM server from ~2000) for students to experiment with “real world” use of web technologies was huge. In the wider context of danish gymnasiums the practice was ahead of its peers, to the point of being considered unconventional. The teachers and students in the MediaLab got their fair share of trouble for breaking boundaries in this manner, but the end result was a student body capable of really hosting pages on the web - An invaluable skill for the modern age.

Unfortunately since my graduation, the bureaucracy eventually got its way. Between the advent of GDPR and similar rules and regulations that gave credence to the argument that student data could not be published online, and the retirement of Karl Bjarnason who was single-handedly responsible for the management of the hardware and software underpinning the system, the willpower to continue the “StudieWeb” project seems to have died. It’s a real shame as I wish I could point back to those first experiments and see how far we’ve come.

# Squarespace

I came away from my school years with two particularly relevant beliefs:

  1. Having some kind of online presence is valuable no matter who you are - Particularly owning the domain name you point people to has immense value, as you can modify DNS records to point to whatever the technology stack of the future is, whilst ensuring people’s old memories, bookmarks, and search results continue to get them to you, in whatever form that is.

  2. I’m a god awful designer - Or rather I am right in that gap where I have enough of an eye for design to tell when my work is good, and when it’s bad, but I’m not quite good enough to execute to the level I expect, a source of much frustration when mucking about with CSS and trying to make things look good.

Eventually I found a solution that could satisfy both of these beliefs at once: Squarespace. I think I first heard of Squarespace during an advertisement read on Hello Internet #3 and, to my recollection, I’ve been a customer ever since in various forms. The first version of my site was a single “Cover Page” (They used to have a special, cheaper, plan for these kinds of one page only sites), eventually that page ended up looking like this:

A screenshot of the old cover page, with my name, job title, and social links on top of a photo of myself at a computer.

The last revision of my “Cover Page” site before moving to a fully featured Squarespace site.

I should note here that I’m not being paid to mention Squarespace, nor do I get any kind of discount or anything else, I’m just mentioning it here as it’s been a step in my journey.

# Do It Yourself

Squarespace has served me well for as long as I’ve been a customer, but in the past few years something has been building within me, I imagine it’s the same feeling my father feels with cars, and my grandfather did with carpentry before him. No matter how good, buying a product just doesn’t scratch the same itch as building something yourself. So I’ve finally decided to build something for the web. To do this requires two things of me:

First, I have to accept that I am not a great designer - And that’s okay. I’m not competing for a design award, I’m not even trying to replace this website as my “home” (At least for now). I am simply building for the joy of doing so.

Second, I have to allow myself not to commit. I have a habit of wanting to do everything well, I set high standards for myself. But by doing so, it’s easy to kill the fun and make something feel like a chore.

Notice how those two are basically the same thing said in two different ways? Yeah, me too.

I’m incredibly excited to revisit my roots and write plain old HTML webpages for the first time in a decade. I sincerely invite you to join me on this journey. The web doesn’t have to be difficult, polished, serious, and limited to billion dollar companies. Writing a webpage really only takes minutes if you can simply allow yourself to get away with something less than what it could be.

I think there’s something truly freeing in just making the web what it always was: A bunch of HTML files that link to each other.

You can check out my little web experiment at: https://playground.mallegolhansen.com, and keep reading this blog as I detail the things I add over time.