2019 in personal projects

For too long I'd neglected this website and my other personal projects. Everything everywhere needed redesigning, restructuring, or throwing out. This year, I turned things around.

I'd become deeply frustrated by my personal site and also New Adventures. In both cases, there was friction between writing something and being able to publish it appropriately. The underlying problems were many, but in particular: mid-to-late-2000s architecture, one-dimensional workflows, tired and restrictive design, and woefully inadequate hosting.

A slow road to v5

I was determined to resurrect this site as I've enjoyed a return to writing, and Medium is a joyless vacuum where good content goes to die.

I took a wrecking ball to ancient ExpressionEngine ruins, levelled the plot, and set about a complete rebuild using file-based Kirby. Through much trial and error — and a little guidance from the creator, Bastian — I learned fast. I do enjoy hacking at PHP to make things happen and end the year feeling that I can build pretty much anything for anyone with Kirby. It's as though I've rediscovered the "designers who hack" spirit I had in the EE days. I developed a flexible editorial system giving me lots of available components for article layout. I invested lots of time honing performance and asset delivery and worked with Bastian on an efficient responsive images module.

My previous site design (v4) has been something of a RWD poster-site since 2010 and was loved by a lot of people, and that creates a pressure to make something even better. V5 has been classic Collison: a redesign performed at a glacial pace, its direction discovered through a million exploratory commits, the whole thing live-massaged into shape. The result is hard-won simplicity but hopefully interesting; a sort of personal internet archive aesthetic. I'm most proud of my homepage timeline — an introductory museum of me that received lots of attention back in May.

During the rebuild, I revisited everything I'd posted since 2004. I wrote some crap over the years but also many things I'm proud of or even moved by rereading. I audited the lot: combing, editing, deleting, tagging and reorganising. I also added a few posts I should have written over the last few years, like wedding stuff, landmark runs, gig reports and setlists, etc. I also have a new Projects and Capabilities section almost ready to launch.

I started to archive material from elsewhere that feels increasingly fragile: magazine contributions, commissioned forewords, Strava data, and so on. I've particularly enjoyed posting trip reports built from the relevant Instagram pics (view an example built around a trip to Stockholm, or browse the tag).

Workflow and services overhaul

I went back and made sure every project has its own Git repo (several did not) conforming to my personal standards and an appropriate workflow. I applied identical approaches to folder organisation and preprocessing and configured deployment via DeployHQ. Some of that refactoring was soooo booooring, and I hit plenty of bumps. Still, eventually, everything felt well-oiled and, you know, with it.

My hosting was broken and severely limited. After Hosting UK bought United, the service became immediately awful, and us old customers were dumped on low capacity, overpriced servers made of frustration and hope. In November, yet more downtime (during our NA early birds final push) convinced me I had to jump ship. I emergency-moved everything to much-respected Guru, and so far they're superb: excellent service, courteous phone calls, thoughtful care packages, and a generous upgrade. Above all, I now have what feels like infinite disk space, so I can expand my personal archives and bring more third-party content under my own control. You're next, Flickr.

I still need lightweight analytics for a few sites, and recently switched from Matomo — a sort of bloated flight simulator — to the much friendlier Fathom, an ethical, cookie-free, and GDPR-compliant alternative gaining many loyal fans. If you sign up with this link, you'll get $10 credit.

Restructuring New Adventures

I applied much of what I've learned above to New Adventures. We've always redirected the root to the latest event and lacked a "home". To fix this, alongside a restructuring of the event subsites I've been building a core. This core will be a new landing area to tell our story, house videos and blog posts, and archive every article from our publications.

Going forward, I want this core to become an open space; a living platform for thoughtful community contributions independent of our events. It isn't ready to launch yet, but it's close. I hope we can drum up more interest in what we want to achieve with NA because, if we can't, the site will exist as little more than a well-maintained archive and I'll let go of my ambitions.

Endless fun

Anyway, that recounts a good year of much-needed progress on my personal projects. In 2020, I'll continue to push my own site closer to a "finished" state. Next steps include settling on a logo and logotype, more performance tweaks, hidden music and book archives, and new tech things such as service workers and even tighter content delivery systems.

Lots to do, as always. This stuff is never, ever done, and apparently that's what's fun about it.

More 2019 roundup posts

2019 in review / 2019 in music / 2019 culture top-fives / 2019 run archive