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I've finally decided to stop putting off creating an academic webpage for myself... both for the purposes of a job search and more generally to communicate what I'm about research-wise. But - where shall I put it?

The options seem to be:

  1. My institution's personal webpages facility
  2. My own web server at home
  3. Some for-pay general-purpose webpage/website hosting service
  4. Some gratis general-purpose webpage/website hosting service
  5. Using one of the specialty academic-webpage platforms (which apparently exist)

What are noteworthy pros and cons of these options, in your view, that are worth considering might not be immediately obvious?

Notes:

  • I'm a post-doc with a contract ending in several months, which may affect the choices, but feel free to answer this question for other stages in one's academic career as well.
  • I'm not interested in "Why I think provider XYZ is best"-type answers, although if you describe your experience and what you opted for, and provide a link I think that should be fine.
  • The page is not intended to store any content such as copies of my papers, zipped source code etc - but it will have links to those. We're talking about a vanilla "about me and what I do and some links" kind of a thing.
  • Relevant question covering one aspect of my concerns: Institution domain or domain of my own for two of the possible options. Related but not-so-relevant question: Self-hosting vs Wordpress hosting for your collection of articles and blog.
  • 11
    This has mostly been asked before. (1) institution versus own domain;(2) wordpress/blogger etc versus own domain – Jeromy Anglim Apr 12 '17 at 10:18
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    Note that you don't have to choose only one of them. For instance, I use a static website generator (like Jekyll/Hugo that have already been mentioned) and then rsync the output to both my university's server and a free hosting provider. – Federico Poloni Apr 12 '17 at 11:33
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    After your contract ends, will you be starting another position at a different institution? If so, the simplest approach IMO would be to set up the web page on your current institution's server. When you switch jobs in a few months, move the page to the new institution's server, and replace the page on the old server with a simple HTML page redirecting any visitors to the new page. Repeat this any time you switch positions in the future or until you decide to take the plunge and get your own private domain (I don't have one myself and don't really see the point for most people in academia). – Dan Romik Apr 12 '17 at 17:17
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    @DanRomik - Much better to make a page elsewhere that will be there forever, and then link to it from each institution. It would be different for someone in a long-term position. – aparente001 Apr 12 '17 at 17:30
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    @aparente001 that's a very debatable claim. Using an external web host will either require paying a recurring monthly payment and maintaining yet another internet account that you have to update whenever your personal details or credit card number change, or alternatively using a free service that will subject you to annoying ads and/or the indignity of an uncool web address (like sites.google.com/my-name etc). Each of these approaches would be considered "better" by a different group of people. My comment describes my own preference and what has worked for me personally. – Dan Romik Apr 12 '17 at 17:35
40

This doesn't sound like your website will have special requirements that an all-purpose CMS couldn't handle. My advice is to go for one of those "all included" packages by a mainstream provider with something like Wordpress, and find a nice-looking template. This is the easiest choice, it will guarantee up-time, and you don't have to spend valuable time to administrate or design the site. It is also not very expensive: Perhaps around 5-10 USD/month, plus a one-time expense for the template (5 USD and up). Two alternatives might be attractive as well:

  • Nerdy option: If you are familiar with GitHub, you can use GitHub pages to self-host a static website with Hugo, like so. Once it's set up, it's a breeze to update. Here's an example.
  • Thrifty option: Use google sites.

Details:

My institution's personal webpages facility

Pro: Demonstrates academic credentials and shows your affiliation. Con: Not much leeway. Will you be able to use it after you leave the institution?

My own web server at home

Pro: All the control you need. Con: Way too much overhead; perhaps you can't implement what you need after all.

Some for-pay general-purpose webpage/website hosting service

Good balance between control and ease of use.

Some gratis general-purpose webpage/website hosting service

Free comes at a price. Perhaps you'll have up-time issues, ads or no own domain, certainly less control.

Using one of the specialty academic-webpage platforms (which apparently exist)

See here.

  • I agree with these points. Institution's sites are ok, but you may very well loose it after you leave, and as @henning says, you loose control (I've seen many prof/lab websites held outside the institution probably for this reason). For what it's worth, I use Wordpress.com - which is free. It is easy to use, minimal effort, lots of nice layouts to choose from, and allows you to produce a diverse site (mine is a hybrid between science and science communication). There is nothing stopping you from linking other sites like GitHub or ResearchGate from your website either. – tea4two Apr 12 '17 at 13:13
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    @Kevin: It's not very nerdy if you depend on Amazon or Google... – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 12 '17 at 17:31
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    @einpoklum: Perhaps not, if you're thinking of running your own server. But it is a lot more reliable than running your own server (Do you have redundant power? Dedicated cooling? Automated hardware failover?). – Kevin Apr 12 '17 at 18:12
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    @einpoklum it's nerdy in the sense that it's a system that assumes you know everything you need to know to get a server up and running, including the command line, and the ins and outs of a Platform-As-A-Service's tiers, pricing model, and product naming. – Shawn Apr 13 '17 at 13:29
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    For a personal website and occasional other applications, a (reserved, it's cheaper) AWS instance really isn't that much maintenance (provided you have the knowledge to do basic sysadmin stuff, which I suppose isn't a given). I do it myself. – ArtOfCode Apr 13 '17 at 23:33
12

My current setup is that I have a personal domain which redirects to my institutional website. I recommend this, as it gives you the best of both worlds -- you get the officialness of an institutional website, but also the flexibility of owning your own domain, and it's cheap.

Getting a domain only costs US$1/month and is very easy. (I use Google domains.) If I need to move my website to a different instutition or decide to use something like wordpress, I can simply change the redirect from my domain.

A personal domain also gives you an email address associated with it. You can port this between institutions and it looks more professional than putting @gmail.com on your papers.

Since I first wrote this answer, I have moved institutions and moved my website hosting to Amazon web services. This is a cheap option (~US$0.60/month), but was a pain to set up.

5

I think GitHub Pages would be a really good solution for you.

Note:

  • GitHub Pages source repositories have a recommended limit of 1GB
  • Their URL would be username.github.io
  • You can enable HTTPS support
  • This is something that github pages are generally used for
  • While you may very well be right, that is not an answer to my question. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 13 '17 at 19:32
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    @einpoklum - Actually, this is a fine solution. Github Pages allows you to essentially host your own static site by just using a github git repo. You may notice that the top answer already lists github pages, in fact. – eykanal Apr 13 '17 at 20:14
  • @eykanal: It is indeed a fine solution, but that's not what I asked. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 13 '17 at 20:53
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    @einpoklum - I disagree, this falls very neatly under (4) in your original list ("Some gratis general-purpose webpage/website hosting service"). – eykanal Apr 13 '17 at 20:56
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    @eykanal: It does, but I wasn't asking for examples of these. Please read the question again. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 13 '17 at 21:04
5

Some existing free software, such as, for example, wordpress.com (which I believe is ad-free) would fit your current needs, and you could upgrade to wordpress.org later if desired.

Advantages:

  • security

  • eminently google-able

  • for $10-20/year, you can use a custom domain name (if you are concerned that a free domain name might look embarrassing)

  • stays the same when you change jobs

You could link, point or redirect from the university canned page to your own site, and then in the next job just do it again.

The most elegant solution would be Federico Poloni's: "I use a static website generator (like Jekyll/Hugo that have already been mentioned) and then rsync the output to both my university's server and a free hosting provider." However, if you don't want to bother setting this up, a simple link works too.

  • Can you elaborate on (1) How this option is more secure than other options (2) Why security is an issue for this kind of content (do you think defacement is an important concern?) (3) Why the custom domain name is more relevant to this option than other ones? – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 12 '17 at 18:07
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    @einpoklum - Security is built into software like wordpress. // Sites get hacked and next thing you know, your site is advertising Viagra. // Some participants on this page have talked about a canned domain name not looking professional, so I wanted to provide reassurance that a custom domain name is compatible with wordpress.com (and is low cost). – aparente001 Apr 12 '17 at 18:22
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    Umm... you were saying? And that's just this year's latest hack. Using a prime target like wordpress increases your chances of being hacked significantly compared to many of the other options. As for the domain name issue, perhaps you should clarify in the body of your answer. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 12 '17 at 18:31
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    @einpoklum - I'll tell you frankly that I'm getting an uncomfortable nya-nya vibe from your most recent comment. Not quite enough to flag, but I wanted to let you know I would prefer a more respectful disagreement. // I took a look at the article you linked to. At the end, it says, "the fix has automatically been deployed on millions of WordPress installations in the few hours after the patch was issued." // Edited post, thanks. – aparente001 Apr 12 '17 at 22:17
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    Well, you did write an answer which doesn't address the question directly - recommending one out of several hosting service providers - and with flimsy basis. I thought maybe I was missing something, but your comment doubled-down and made it, well, preposterous. Sorry. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Apr 12 '17 at 23:16
4

I'll strongly defend this choice (emphasis mine):

  1. Some for-pay general-purpose webpage/website hosting service

But I'll tangent a little from the question itself, because I have answered questions by OP on unix.SE . Yes, this is using information from outside of the question, apologies, but this still may be interesting for people with a similar background.


If you are capable of setting up that option it has huge advantages if your research (or simply interests) involve a lot of computing. (And OP is a computer scientist).

The Bad side

There are plethora of platforms to build a blog, and the maintenance of such things is not as bad as it was in the '90s and early '00s. Most platforms invested heavily in resilience, at the cost of some more work in the initial setup. I'll argue that most of the overhead in having your own VPS running your website is during the setup. If you do not tinker with it, it keeps working. You may just need to clean up the logs at some point.

For an example, I just checked on a toy data warehouse I've created for a presentation 9 month ago (and forgot to shutdown). It turns out I could do the same talk today because it simply works.

There is nothing wrong with joining this with:

Using one of the specialty academic-webpage platforms (which apparently exist)

You can just run it on a subspace (subdomain perhaps) of the website. That would actually be a pretty good choice.

The Good side

But wait, we are talking about a personal website, a blog like thing, so why a data warehouse? That is the first advantage. For a talk I needed an example system so I just dumped it on my VPS and made it available through a subdomain. There was no need to talk to the IT team of the building where I was doing the talk to allow access to some server, I just needed an internet connection. Several other things I dumped next to my personal website over the years, some random examples:

  1. Material for people that I've trained whilst overseas, much easier to share than asking everyone to bring a pendrive.
  2. Example programs for my presentations.
  3. My PGP key.
  4. Maps of how to reach a venue.
  5. A board to visualize combat in role-playing games on a tablet.
  6. Crawlers that needed to run whilst the machine I was using at my institution was due for maintenance.

And my favourite:

  1. All slides that I use for talks.

I really, really, really love that last one. LaTeX Beamer produces slides that can be viewed directly by any modern browser (i.e. PDF, and Power Point has an export option too). Therefore when I go somewhere to give a talk I do not worry that my pendrive will not be read by the computer at the venue, I do not worry that the format of the slides will not be understood by the software on that computer. I only ask the organizer if the machine will have an internet connection and a browser (and I take the pendrive with the slides just in case).

In summary, you can share content with people (or with yourself when you're using an alien machine) by typing its name (URL). This allows you to overcome several problems with technology.

The Ugly side

It costs money, yet not that much. A domain registration costs some 10-20 USD per year, and several registars (providers of DNS resolution) will have reduced prices if you buy several years. A VPS (virtual private server, which is cheap because you share hardware (but not IP)) for a personal website plus the perks I gave above, can be of the lowest tiers offered. Providers that sell a VPS at 10-20 USD per month are often decent (free VPS' will involve considerable downtime so it is normally a bad idea for a website).

It requires some work, and some learning (but doesn't everything require it? We all learn all out lives). Therefore it is not recommended for not computer science people. Note that not recommended does not forbids you from doing it, I know a very good linguist Lecturer who loves to tinker with technology and therefore his website.

You may also get absorbed into the website and tinkering with it to a point where you neglect other things. But again, that is something that may happen in any of the forms of building the website that you propose.

P.S. It was my intention to omit provider names that I use, since OP states that discussing best providers is off-topic. And, it does not matter that much since a there are several good ones out there.

  • One can put one's slides on dropbox, box, google drive, etc. for ease in presenting, or on one's personal website -- is a VPS really necessary? – aparente001 Apr 14 '17 at 20:44

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