Creating the ReadOxford Website

Academics as webdesigners – a recipe for disaster? You, the visitor of this website, may be the judge of this.

The ReadOxford website is truly a labour of love. It was not designed professionally; instead, we decided to do it ourselves. It started as an experiment (“Can we do this? “How hard can it be!”) that continued to grow (“It’s hard, but no turning back now!”), probably beyond our expectations (“Will it ever be finished?”). Over the past two months or so, in between experimental design, collecting data, and paper writing, we have been writing content (lots), coding (a little), tearing our hair out (sometimes) and generally exploring the endless playground offered by webdesign software these days.

Somehow it turned out that I was the one with the most (but nonetheless limited) expertise in this area. I’ve been dabbling in webdesign since my parents bought their first computer in 1998. My first website was about Meg Ryan films (at the age of 12), and several more followed throughout my teenage years – all hopefully lost deep down in the world wide web. However, in the last ten years, as blogs became the go-to thing, I lost interest in creating full-blown websites. When Kate suggested I should have a go at a DIY website for our group, I jumped at the opportunity – with equal parts excitement and apprehension. I didn’t take me long to realise that the field has evolved dramatically, to the point that my basic html knowledge has become more or less redundant. In the process, I’ve had to aquaint myself with an entirely new set of vocabulary: “plugins”, “widgets”, “CSS”, “stylesheets”, “child themes”, to name a few examples. Word learning really never stops, no matter what age you are!

It’s been a steep learning curve for everyone involved. Dare you create your own website, or should this be left to professionals? Comment below.

A few tips and tricks if you are thinking of being your own webmaster (use at your own risk!):

  • First step: secure your domain and webspace
  • We used WordPress (.org, not .com) to build our website. It’s an open source content management system that you install directly on your webspace.
  • WordPress is now so common as a content management system that most hosting companies offer a 1-click installation
  • While building your website, make it private (password protected) using a Plugin such as “Private Site”. When you are ready to be seen by the public, simply disable the Plugin.
  • Find a good theme as the basic template of your website
  • If you want something fancy for your website, but don’t know how to do it, there is probably a Plugin for it: Google is your best friend
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