A short history of this site


I've been writing on the web since 1998, when I documented my round the world trip. Since then, this site has gone through several iterations. I thought it would be nice to document them here. It is, for me, interesting to note that the impetus to redesign my site seems to correlate quite well with switching jobs!

Version 1 (1998)

The first version of my site, put online in 1998, was hosted on the long ago defunct GeoCities. It is perhaps a good representation of sites from the late 90s, being frame based, part of a webring and generally looking uninteresing. Not to say that there weren't any interesting looking sites around at the time, but mine wasn't one of them. I did some blog style posts on football and Formula 1 at the time, but most of the site was about my round the world trip.

Whilst I got started with this site on GeoCities, it wasn't long before the site was running under my own domain name robinmassart.com using some static hosting space I bought on 123-reg.co.uk (as far as I remember). At this point I was working for Vega GmbH developing Web Based Training lessons to be used by Astronauts at the European Astronaut Centre.

Version 2 (2001)

The second version of my site, went live around 2001 and was self-hosted on nearlyfreespeech.com since 2006, using PHP for the server side code. I was experimenting with layouts, javascript and all sorts of pointless fun. I even coded up a, still functional, game of Sokoban in JavaScript. I continued to blog a little about web development and document some of my travels. The site stayed the same for about 10 years.

This second version of my site was started whilst working for Dealogic in London and continued to be actively developed whilst I was living in Bulgaria in 2003. Interestingly work on the site completely stopped the moment I started developing websites for Minervation in 2004. Probably this hiatus was also due to the birth of my kids in 2005 and 2007.

Version 3 (2010)

For the third version of my site, online around 2010, I tried something different. I created a splash screen with links to content hosted elsewhere. Either on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook or on my WordPress blog. This seemed to follow a trend of the time, which was to not bother with self-hosting and all the work that goes with that. Whilst at first my Wordpress blog was self-hosted (on nearlyfreespeech.com - see earlier), it didn't take long before I decided the effort involved wasn't worth it and migrated to WordPress.com

I also created another WordPress site called Cr8ive Eye to capture some of my attempted artwor at the time. That site no longer exists, but I copied the images to a post about the site, called Creative Eye.

This was around about the time when responsive design and smartphones became a thing. This seems to have been an impetus to start blogging properly, although a lot of that was documenting the sites I was creating for Minervation. Coming to think of it, this blogging spree was also due to me entering a competition to work for the European Commission as a web developer in which I was successful. However, despite starting work at the Commission in late 2012, it was many years before I did any web development related work there. Such is life.

Version 4 (2021)

This current version of my site went live in January 2021. Again, it feels like I am following a trend back to publishing in plain HTML and CSS. No server side application, it simply serves static pages. Since I have long ago stopped developing sites for a living, I can no longer follow the complexities of JavaScript frameworks. So this is a static site, developed using Eleventy on my laptop, versioned using GitHub, generated using GitHub Actions and hosted on GitHub Pages.

It took me a couple of years to end up in this workflow, optimised for my needs. I posted quite a lot on this journey so won't repeat that here (see my posts on coding and web development in 2021 and 2022). But to summarise, I went through several services to get here:

  • my laptop for generating the files and the FTP'ing to the host,
  • nearlyfreespeech.com for self hosting the static files,
  • netlify.com for generating and hosting the files,
  • forestry.io for authoring and configuring the site,
  • not to mention all the other services I tried out and decided not to use.

The impetus for this redesign was that I finally started work on web development related topics at the European Commission: I joined the team responsbile for the Web Accessibility Directive.

Future versions

I am writing this in early 2023. Looking back at the timeline it looks like I redevelop my site once a decade. So maybe in 2030 there will be a new version. What I like about the current site is that I am not tied into any specific content management system. All the content of the site is stored in plain text files in an open format, Markdown.

I like to think though that the current format will last me a lot longer. The main dependency being Eleventy, but since that's open source, even if they stop developing that, I can still generate my files with it. Or write my own static file generator... don't get me started!