Nicholas Wolf

Data + History


May 8, 2019, 10:35 p.m.

Tour of the New Website

After ten years, I have finally retired the old version of this site and deployed a new one. A decade seems to me a very good run for a website, and well past time to have put some effort into making a new one. In that time I refreshed the look of the old site only once, a move about six years ago to significantly strip down an overly ornamented site and replace it with a front-end look that continues to be reflected in its current state.

The major difference, of course, is that I had created the old site on a WYSIWIG platform at the very outset of my web learning, and this new one is coded from the ground up in Django. I could have migrated off of the novice platform a long time ago for, say, a WordPress approach. But I quickly discovered that when you are pressed for time there is nothing worse than trying to do site maintenance--and this before you can even get to the question of adding content (as the infrequent timestamps for this site attest). Remaking a new site was out of the question. So the old site soldiered on to my satisfaction even as it slipped a little out of sync with what I would have liked it to do.

This new site is intended to do a few key things very well. First, like everything nowadays I wanted it to receive updates from a central source, rather than occupy a place on an long list of platforms where I needed to enter publication entries or upload news of a project I am working on. Thus I treat my ORCID profile as the central place where I enter (and enter only once) all of my publications, talks, and grants information. Using the ORCID API, I then pull all of that information into the appropriate sections here, caching that information and supplementing it with additional locally composed entries as needed so that it will display even when the ORCID interface is down. Similarly, several of its projects pull from my Open Science Framework registries, using the OSF as one source of my canonical activities. To this, I add additional entries through this site's interface to make note of projects that predate or do not live well on OSF, such as books or web projects.

There are other functionalities that I wanted to have. I can now properly host JavaScript-enriched visuals, especially those with queried data underlying them, rather than throw such outputs up on nondescript blank HTML pages. I use GitLab and GitLab Pages, but while I appreciate the ways researchers have used such resources (more often, GitHub Pages) as a quick and easy way to publish visuals, I wanted something more stylistically aligned with my other projects. Most importantly, because written in Python, this site allows me to quickly build up custom functionality that I need in a language that I use a lot without trying to rig up something unwieldy in JavaScript or, worse, PHP (hence my decision not to use WordPress despite maintaining some four websites currently with that CMS). All in all, aside from some nervousness about long-term maintenance, I have high hopes for this new iteration.

Updating to the new site brought with it decisions on what to keep from the old, which had been oriented around general news blog posts plus specific posts about individual projects. Some of these still felt relevant, but others did not. I therefore ported over what I liked and set aside the rest. All the older content is still available thanks to the Internet Archive (here, for example, is a 2011 snapshot) and I plan to implement a link referrer to handle the changes in certain URLs, so I feel like due diligence has been done.

Finally, although I include the inevitable roll call of publications, this new version of this site hopefully moves away more than a little from the old site's origins in a kind of online CV. This no longer felt relevant, though the site is not strictly intended to be a regularly update blog either. Essentially, I felt that I wanted a place to simply explain some passions and endeavors that occupy a lot of my time at work, and give some kind of account of what results arise out of them.