Why personal webpages (usually) suck

Since writing this, I've found a definitive counterexample. I still agree with some of what I said here, but I can no longer claim this document to honestly represent my opinions.

I've seen a fair number of web pages (okay, more than a fair number) and have even made some of my own (this one is an example; I used to have a Final Fantasy fansite, long long ago, and both of the two biggest jobs I've had have involved web design in some way). When many first learn about the web, and especially about free hosting services like Geocities (okay, so my first site was there, and maybe I'm a tiny bit sentimental), they think of the ability to put up a personal webpage.

The problem with this is that personal webpages are more or less meaningless to all but those who know that person … personally. No one really cares that Joey's dog needs liver surgery or that Mary broke up with Billy and is going out with Phil now unless they know the people concerned personally, or unless the story illustrates some broader point or is told in an entertaining or engaging manner. But the whole point of personal webpages is that they're not done by professionals; as such, the people whose lives are related in them usually seem more distant and irrelevant than the characters of a good piece of fiction.

Personal web pages can transcend their origin as personal webpages and become both entertaining and useful. However, when they do so, it has in my experience at least almost always been due to factors which do not specifically identify them as personal pages. Specifically, the kinds of personal pages that I still enjoy act as a funnel towards media (images, music, movies), software, information (news, papers on research topics, other reference information especially about topics with a large popular base but about which little “official” information exists) or commentary. The particularly personal aspects of the page do not enter into it at all.

I can see the argument that a personal webpage could be appreciated per se if the person who made it is a particularly fascinating one. This may have actually applied to the first three or four such sites I saw. However, burnout sets in very quickly online. This is due, I believe, to a combination of medium (it can be uncomfortable physically to sit in front of a computer reading emitted light when our eyes are optimized for reflected light; annoying flashing ad banners, popup windows, etc. add to the effect) and the fact that there is so much information available on the web and it is so easy to find that very quickly, you have “seen it all before”.

You might think I'm a hypocrite for having this page up at all when I say that personal pages suck. Do I consider myself an exceptionally interesting person? No. Do I think that much of anyone will be entertained or educated by my page? No. I don't expect you to like or care about this page. I'm not putting it up as an act of altruism towards you. My reason for having this page up is essentially to give some small satisfaction to my vanity, or to phrase it less negatively, to feel that I have some importance and worth to the outside world. In other words, I'm giving in to exactly the same motivation that makes many people create (crappy) personal pages. But at least I know what I'm doing, and I've learned not to waste (too much of) my time reading other people's pages of the same type. Personal webpages are more or less a wasted cost which is hard to avoid, and reading them is but a phase for those not interested in studying people per se through this medium (now there's a scary thought, given how non-representative a personal webpage can actually be of the person behind it …)

Kenn Hamm
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Last modified: Mon Dec 22 22:15:28 2003