How My Blog Has Evolved Over The Years: A Look Back At The Wayback Machine
Today I launched a new version of this blog. It got me thinking that I've been at this for a long time and have updated the design and functionality many times. I thought it would be fun to take a look at how this site has changed over time by using the Wayback Machine at archive.org.
When you search for this site on the Wayback Machine, you will see that I've been tinkering on this domain for over thirteen years, since February 16th 2010. I've not been a hundred percent consistent over that whole period, mostly due to work and other commitments, but you can also see that I always come back to it given the chance and that web development and blogging have been my long term passion.
I'm a firm believer that the best way to learn to code is to dream up a project and make it happen one way or another. The second you have a goal, you can start typing questions into Google. How do I do this? How to I get that button where I want it? How do I add a search bar. This has always been part of the motivation for this site. Whenever I want to learn something or try out that new web development fad, I have a platform on which I can tinker. You'd be amazed at how much you can learn by making a personal website and hacking away at it.
The Wayback Machine tells me that it has taken no less than 54 snapshots between February 16, 2010 and May 31, 2023. Now that you know a little bit about the reasons behind why I started and continue to work on carlcassar.com, lets jump right in and take a look at what the site looked like in each iteration over the last decade or so.
Caveat: It seems like Wayback machine hasn't always been able to capture images from the site, so the site might sometimes look incomplete in some of the screenshots.
16th February 2010.
It's 2010. I've been on Twitter for a few months. I know the basics, but learning things at university is not the same as making things in practice. I sound like a cheesy salesman. I can't spell portfolio, and what on earth is going on with that logo?! When you don't know, you don't know, but the important thing is that you can always get better. There's one thing there that I still agree with:
every site should be designed by default ... to be in the best possible position ... on all major search engines.
Christmas Day 2011.
Well, what a difference a year makes. Before you shoot it down, remember how much the internet has changed in the last twelve years. Fun, patterned backgrounds were all the rage back then. We still hadn't moved into the minimalist era we now inhabit. Websites were bold and colourful and the only rule was not to make things blink and scroll around.
I'm quite proud that the 2011 version includes a few features that must have taken a lot to learn and implement back then:
- Feedback and contact forms
- An image carousel for my portfolio of sites
- Rounded corners
- Opaque icons
These things would be trivially easy to implement today, but it's easy to forget that CSS3 was new and not fully supported by all browsers. Meanwhile, Laravel was only released in June of that year.
It seems as though I was still persisting with that horrible logo:
A fun if confusing and slightly scary logo.
A quotation form complete with rounded inputs and validation.
16th December 2014.
Fast forward a few years. Despite working full-time, my passion for web design and development was growing. I worked hard to improve my design skills, which did not come naturally to me. I started to get to grips with the fact that software development was not something you learned once. There is always something new to take on, and judging by the banner I put up on the site, I had come to realisation that I love to learn new skills.
I loved to learn in 2014 and I still do in 2023.
There are a 100 tools to learn at any given time, but only some of them stand the test of time.
Finally, I seem to have realised the error of my ways and made a new logo:
A new, and I'm sure you'll agree, much nicer logo.
2014 also seems to be the first time I mentioned Laravel. I can still remember what a breath of fresh air it was to adopt common conventions and not have to reinvent the wheel on every feature I wanted to add.
By this time, I was also trying my hand at freelance development for friends, family and a few brave customers. I started a small company called Versd with what was a pretty modern and intricate design at the time.
My first web development company: Versd
By 2016, I'd taken up a full-time full-stack developer job and so it was time to simplify the site and remove any references to freelance work and Versd.
Simple and elegant - often less is more.
This dark design still feels quite modern and reminds me of the current trend in dark landing pages triggered by the beautiful design of the Linear App. I love the Bokeh effect. Other than that, the 2016 design was pretty simple and completely pared down. I guess that I no longer felt the need to show off every skill on this one site.
Less is more and simplicity is the hardest skill to master.
The site didn't change much at all for another couple of years. My time was occupied by a small gig-economy business I helped to start as well as my full-time job as a Senior Developer and later as Lead Software Developer and Manager.
carlcassar.com as a blog
Lockdown gave me plenty of time to think and work on my site amongst other things. I came up with a new design inspired loosely by tools like Instapaper. I have always loved what the look and feel of blogs that use simple black typography on a white background. I tried to add some colour but I felt that this never worked as well as I hoped it would.
Still, after a couple of redesigns on the backend, I ended up with a very functional site that allowed me to write articles quickly. I added a way to leave comments using Utterances and functionality to search articles on the site.
Over the last two years, I've been busy with another kind of development. I've taken on a large restoration project on a house I bought during Covid. I kept up my software development throughout, experimenting with technologies that were completely new to me such as Swift, SwiftUI and Wolfram Language. I often felt the urge to share and write about things I've learned, but I had painted myself into a bit of a corner. My setup was too complicated and I had added a lot of unnecessary friction between writing and posting a new article. Recently, I decided to do something about it and have carved out the time to make the umpteenth revision to this site.
This time round, I'm practicing a new skill. Deliverability. All too often, as software developers who enjoy our craft, we find ourselves tinkering in the depths of some system or other convinced that we are doing good work. While we all know that this can be fun, we also know we would never get away with it at work and if I want this blog to be as helpful to as many people as possible then I need to focus on making it easy to create and post articles on a whim, whilst the ideas and lessons are still fresh in my mind.
I once read (I wish I could remember where) that the best educational material is written by someone who has just gone through the pain of learning that thing. Often, by the time one has mastered something, one tends to forget about how it felt to not know it. It becomes easy to make assumptions about the ambient level of knowledge that your audience possesses about a given topic. I hope that my latest efforts will prevent me from falling into this trap.
Today, I launch a new design and more importantly a new method of releasing articles onto the site which feels more comfortable to me. I hope to write about the technical details soon, but for now, I hope you will agree that the new design, though simple, offers the functionality that you would expect of a half-decent blog.
I have focused on making articles easy to read and navigate. Updates will come soon to allow you to comment, find related content and bookmark articles that you find useful.
For now, I would really appreciate any feedback you might have. Feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter / X.