Ed Johnson-Williams

Websites and allotments: why do I write code?

I am not a professional web developer. Why do I write code?

My answer is, farmers don't have allotments. Let me explain.

Aside (21-5-20): Since I published this, I've come across people talking about digital gardening. This seems to mean publishing open iterations of your learning on your website and not worrying about being judged. It's not quite what I mean here despite the metaphor of allotment as website being similar.

Making my personal website and my sideprojects are a hobby.

It's taken me a long time to understand this. My wife was very surprised when I said the other day that I had only just realised this.

It's nice to have your own website. It's good to have an online space where you can put your stuff on your own terms.

As with most hobbies, having the free time to put a website together is a privilege. Lots of people who might want to do this just don't have that free time. Fortunately for me, I have had the time to learn how to make a website for myself.

Writing blogposts is a great way to work out what you think. Sometimes people read what you write and thank you for it. Sometimes, it's just a good way of getting something out of your system.

But if all I wanted was a place to publish writing that wasn't Facebook, I could use a blogging platform like Wordpress.com. If I didn't mind using a social media platform, I could publish writing on Facebook Posts or do threads on Twitter. I would spend much less time fitting the pieces of a website together, adjusting the layout, and adding new pages.

I could write blogposts without writing code. It is not necessary to build a personal website with Eleventy, host it on Netlify, and keep the code on Github to have an online place to put my stuff.

Clearly, I enjoy making the platform as much as the content.

When you make your own website, you can also try out new things like publishing the articles I've got in my reading list. Wordpress.com or Facebook Posts aren't flexible enough to let you do that.

Making your own personal website in this way is a bit like keeping an allotment.

Most people with an allotment don't need to grow fruit and vegetables for survival. Mostly, they don't sell what they grow and can afford to buy food.

But like me and my website, people with allotments enjoy tending to the plot, making it look nice, deciding what to plant, borrowing ideas from other people, and trying new things.

Farmers and professional web developers have different priorities and pressures to people who keep an allotment or a personal website as a hobby. And that's ok.