Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.


Monday, October 26, 2009

The history of enews.org

History and Name

I registered enews.org, my first domain, in 1997. It was not long after the dawn of the web, and domains were expensive. Back then it cost $100 to register a single domain for a two-year period, whereas it’s about $10 per year these days.

I tried to get the .com and .net versions, but they were already taken. Enews.com was a company selling magazines online, and was later bought by Barnes & Noble (today enews.com redirects to www.barnesandnoble.com).

The name enews.org had several benefits. It was short, which was important back then. Browsers had no autocomplete function, so making people type long URLs was a no-no.

The name also had the advantage of being slightly ambiguous. Not always a good trait, but in my case ideal, as I wasn’t entirely sure what the site would evolve into, and I liked that it could mean either “electronic news” or “environmental news,” both of which were things I had an abiding interest in.

Lastly, the domain was actually available, which was practically as difficult back then as it is now. At the time, the web was really taking off, and savvy pioneers were buying up as many domains as they could afford. At $100 a pop back then, I certainly couldn’t afford many, but I did purchase a couple others back then that I still have (today I own 30 or 40 domains; I’ll write more about those some other time).

At the start I used enews.org as an online magazine of sorts, and a launchpad to other sites I liked. I had collected and written some articles and was putting them in a section on the site I called Freehold, sort of a melange of topics from music to censorship to art. I also hosted my friend Tony’s list of rock bands he’d photographed (I still host it, actually, and it hasn’t changed much since 1998). I was putting together a Dandy Warhols fan site but I later partnered with the band’s webmasters instead, and just sent them some of my photos. Sadly, I never had enough time to finish many of the articles I was working on &emdash; coding had to be done entirely by hand back then and it was a time-consuming chore. I also pointed visitors to some off-site links I had something to do with, like Bay Area Action, the Headwaters Forest site, the EcoCalendar (all of which I designed and maintained), and one or two others.

Later I began using enews.org to host a calendar for my design clients, so they could see my schedule and where their projects fit in, and could avoid hearing me say “I’m too busy on other people’s deadlines right now to do your [insert design project here].” I’d also upload JPG drafts of early designs, then I’d email clients a link where they could view the works-in-progress.

Early technology

In the early days I coded entirely by hand using the excellent program BBEdit. But it was a hard thing to do back then: there was no color-coding of tags and error-checking had to be done by hand, so if you left out a < or something, you had to search through line-by-line until you figured out why your page was completely broken.

Later Claris came out with a tool called HomePage, and Adobe developed PageMill. I tried both when they were still in beta, and they were an enormous step forward but still had lots of problems. After they shipped, I found HomePage to be the more consistent and functional tool, and I used that for several years, still finding BBEdit indispensable for a lot of stuff as well. At the time, I estimated that switching to HomePage had increased my web page creation productivity by 10x. FTP was done with Fetch and graphics were of course done in Photoshop.

A few years later came NetObjects Fusion and Macromedia Dreamweaver. I found Fusion to be promising but a little half-baked at first, plus it was just too expensive for me at the time. Dreamweaver seemed too error-prone and crash-prone so I decided to keep an eye on its development but to hold off. I eventually switched to DW and have been using it as my primary development tool until this writing (Feb 2009).

I’ve tried numerous FTP apps over the years and I like Transmit, but usually I just rely on Dreamweaver’s integrated FTP. Graphics and all the web design I do is created in Photoshop first, and images are sliced and optimized using PS as well. I use Illustrator for some graphics but if they’re going to the web, then they always get imported into Photoshop for placement, sizing, and optimized export.

I’ll write more about the tools and technologies I use today in a later post.

10+ years

In 2007 I realized it was my website’s 10th birthday and thought about putting up a special commemoration of some sort, but I just didn’t have the spare time in my life at that time. I guess I’ll have to wait until 15 or 20 : ) For now, the screenshots below will have to suffice.

Previous versions of this website
Click on screenshots for larger versions.



Version 1
1996–1998

This is the earliest design I could find. There might have been an earlier one, but if so it’s apparently been lost. This is a terrible design by today’s standards, but it was the cutting edge of sophisticated web design for 1997. Freehold and Rally Cry were both hosted on enews.org. The other two sites I link to here were separate things I created for Bay Area Action and the Bay Area Earth Day Coalition.



Version 2
1998–2000

This is when I started using the site more for my design business. That’s my hand holding my business card. Digital cameras were still very new then and I didn’t own one (they were pretty expensive), but I had a decent HI-8 video camera and a very cool video input card on my Mac, so I could take video and digital still captures with that. I turned off the lights in my office at night and shined a desk lamp at just my hand; a few quick Photoshop edits later I had a pretty cool picture for the home page.



Version 3
2000–2002

In 2000 I shut down Western Front Graphics and joined with two partners in a design firm we called Flux51. Of course we had our own site at www.Flux51.com. For that reason, and because all my free time went into volunteering with nonprofit Bay Area Action and Acterra, I had nothing at all on enews.org for two long years, just this placeholder. I know, pretty lame huh? : |





Versions 4.0, 4.1, and 4.2
2002–2005

I got motivated to redesign the site in 2001 or 2002 and I finally launched an all-new site with lots of cool new content, especially photo galleries. This version had good shelf-life, and I expanded it and tweaked it numerous times over the years. I later built out my portfolio on this design framework, and it also hosted some sites for friends, like Olya Milenkaya’s art portfolio, Diane Choplin’s photos, and Velma Gentzsch’s blog.



Version 5

2005–2009

In 2005 I finally had time for another overhaul, and I redesigned the home page, added an all-new portfolio page, and added a photoblog. My blog was still using a Blogger template and I meant to get around to matching it to the rest of the site, but sadly I got busy with work and never had enough time. Overall this design has served me well over the past three years. It’s gotten me a few new clients and has been featured on several web design and CSS galleries.



Version 6
2009

This is the design I’ve been working on for several years, by far the most in-depth redesign of enews.org ever. I invested time and effort in deep research and numerous iterations before I found a design I could commit to (more about the process here later). I even considered switching all my stuff over to MarkBult.com, since I own that domain too (and I still might do it). As you’ve probably noticed, the enews.org branding is nearly invisible on the new design. This was on purpose, but there were many pros and cons either way, and I’m still kind of waffling on those, so I kind of split the difference and kept the domain (since so many people know me by it), and rebranded the design. Much of this is actually launched and my new portfolio is about 75% done, but I haven’t had time to convert the blog to WordPress, back up and install the Pixelpost photoblog, and so, so many other things I need to do. I got really busy with freelance work this past year and had nearly zero time to work on the site, so it remains largely unseen for now.

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