Developing Your Net Presence & Portfolio
I was recently asked to present to graduate students in our program some ways to develop their “net presence.” Given the many possibilities, and how fragmented the internet feels, I decided to distinguish between three categories/sites of activity:
- sites that feature or index your work as a scholar/scientist
- sites where you communicate more personally and directly about yourself and the reason for your work
- sites where you network
There are perhaps, probably, other categories or kinds of sites, and if anyone has any recommendations, please feel to make revision suggestions or create your own list and let me know to point people your way.
Sites that Feature or Index Work
There are a lot of (too many) places that collect scholarly work either for direct distribution (Academia.edu or ResearchGate) or to point to places where it can be found (Google Scholar or ORCid). In the case of the first two, they offer ease of use, centralization, and tracking and compiling of download statistics: both are fond of telling you how often you have been searched (and found) or how often a paper has been downloaded or cited. This is much more feedback than you get from a site you host yourself, or even from a lot of journals (at least in the humanities).
Sites that Offer a More Personal or Direct Vision
As convenient as indexing cites are, they are not great places to host things like personal, research, teaching, and inclusivity statements. Some may let you post a vita, but you will need to update that and upload it regularly. And while many of the sites provide you a place to have contact information, they often prefer to keep you inside their walled garden. Finally, few of them offer you the chance to explore possibilities like making other kinds of materials available, like blog posts.
When it comes to personal websites, academics have a built-in SEO advantage: by having a university point to our website, it gets a bump in most page rank algorithms. With a little enterprise, one could link to a website from a Twitter account or an Instagram account or some place like Medium. Speaking of Medium, one could easily post there, and it might even be possible to build a small portfolio site there. (I have no idea how well that would work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone on Medium has written about using Medium as a kind of web host.)
Once upon a time, and to this day, I pay for a shared hosting service that allows me to run a custom WordPress site – the software is freely available from WordPress.org, but most people I know use WordPress.com. It’s free for a basic site, but if you want to own your own domain, things begin to get a bit expensive. There are other services like WordPress, e.g., SquareSpace, that offer a fairly easy user experience and a kind of one-stop shop for functionality. (WordPress has, I think, achieved the Microsoft Word moment in software where it can do almost anything well enough but at the cost of doing anything really well.)
There are alternatives to WordPress: if I were starting over, I would look closely at Tumblr. I know Tumblr has a reputation for weirdness, but the fact is that it is now run by the same people who run WordPress, and you can point a custom domain at your account and you can actually present a custom website (or at least a customized one).
I haven’t explored it yet, but the Humanities Commons lets you create a site of some kind. If you’re a member already, you would be a fool not to try it out. It could be everything you need.
Finally, if you want to geek out, there is the option that I used for this website (and this blog), GitHub pages. Editing markdown files isn’t for everyone, but there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that everything you create is contained in plain text files and easily downloaded. You could even create files within the GitHub repo interface in your web browser. (I’m working on notes on how I set up this site and my teaching site that I will post a little later this spring.)
Sites Where You Network
And then there’s always establishing a presence in some sort of venue like Twitter or Mastodon (default to hcommons.social if you think you’re going to stay in the academy) for microblogging. (I suppose Instagram and/or TikTok have their academic regions as well, I’m just not familiar with them.) If you are thinking about leaving the academy, or even if you aren’t but you like to have your bases covered, setup an account on LinkedIn. It’s klugey, to my mind, but it seems to have a steady presence in the corporate world. (And remember to link to your website!)
What to Present …
That’s a whole lot about where you can go, and it assumes that you already have a variety of what’s to present: essays, papers, syllabi. But as my colleague Maria Sever notes, “Thinking about how to target [a] site to multiple audiences (academic and non-academic) is [a] struggle.” To be honest, I have changed directions on what exactly I publish on my blog a couple of times.
When I first began back in the mid-aughts, I published anything and everything that came to mind. I used it like a blog. I captured not only research notes but also things my kid had said or done. I enjoyed the cross-talk between academics and technologists, but those “bloggy” conversations dried up as social media platforms emerged and became easier for more people to use and also as blogs themselves became places where people made a name for themselves and/or became publishers. As that happened, I posted less personal stuff and more professional stuff. A lot of my early experiments with Python got picked up by places like CNRS or Duke Library. I began to consider my words more carefully before I posted them, and soon my publishing stream dwindled.
I let the website lie fallow for a while, especially after I get by a copyright claim — a fallacious one that eventually got dropped (I’ll tell that story one day), but as my time with Army drew to an end and I knew I wanted to get back to academia, I also knew that I wanted to have as many conversations as I possibly could, and I wanted to try things out that I could then show others how to replicate. For that reason, I decided to shift from WordPress to GitHub pages.
But in keeping with what I thought was the best part of keeping a blog, all those notes, I decided to still keep a blog, but just do so internally. I bounced around a number of apps, but in the end I decided I would go with an app I already had and used, Devonthink. I had recently decided to pare down the number of apps I use and focus on using them more deeply. Devonthink is just one of those apps that rewards you for your investment. (I tried Obsidian and a bunch of the other currently hot PKM apps, but Devonthink offered me the least friction and the most functionality — web clipper? Check! Markdown editor with preview? Check. Easy import of files? Check! Easy export? Check. Done.)
So, for now, I have an internal bloggy kind of note-taking setup, and an external GitHub blog-like public site. I post to Twitter and Mastodon now and then. I can’t keep up with all the networking sites. I don’t know about you, but I have things I want to read, ideas I want to explore, and explorations I want to write about.