It was 1995 — and Nathan Shedroff was feeling paranoid. The World Wide Web was getting big, and he feared that somebody else might snag the real estate that he coveted. Thus was born Shedroff's personal Web site (www.nathan.com) — an elegant example of the genre.
What began as a landgrab has become Shedroff's "own private Idaho" in cyberspace — a platform for disseminating ideas, sparking conversation, and landing new clients. A few years ago, for example, Shedroff posted on his site a paper that he had written about Web design. He wasn't trying to peddle the piece; he wasn't even trying to generate business from it. He just wanted to circulate some ideas. A man whom he'd never met emailed him some smart feedback. As it happened, the man worked near Shedroff's San Francisco office, so the two met to discuss the paper. "I made a few modifications based on his comments," Shedroff says, "and we've used him a couple of times as a consultant — all because of this paper being thrown out there. The site was like a net that caught somebody."
Of course, on the Net, you never know what you'll find in your net. Shedroff gets plenty of messages like "I'm Nathan too! What's your favorite football team? Where did you go to school?" Every so often, he gets flamed by a namesake who's steamed that Shedroff nabbed the nathan.com domain. And one woman contacted him to see if he was the son whom she had named Nathan and given up for adoption.
"Having grabbed the domain," Shedroff says, "I felt a responsibility to the other Nathans out there." His solution: The site has a section that lists all of the Nathans whom he's encountered worldwide.
The rest of the site details where Shedroff has been and where he is going — both geographically and intellectually. He tells where he's working at the moment — and which conferences, speaking gigs, or vacations are next on his agenda. A section called "My Current Headspace" lists the books that he's reading and offers links to Shedroff's many published articles. And in an effort to maintain some privacy, he includes an area ("My Life") that's password-protected and accessible only to friends.
Not only has the site become "a big validating source for clients," says Shedroff, but it has also proved to be an effective recruitment tool. Some Vivid employees even followed Shedroff's lead and established their own personal Web sites — among them Creative Director Drue Miller (www.drue.com) and Senior Designer Valerie Casey (www.valcasey.com). Like their boss and, increasingly, like knowledge workers everywhere, these Vividians have become masters of their own domains.
DO spend time exploring the Web and keeping a list of sites that you like. It's a great way to understand your own design preferences and to begin cataloging them.
DO make it as easy as possible for people to remember how to reach your site. A personal domain name is not a bad idea. A few years ago, that may have seemed a bit egomaniacal. But today, it's a solid professional investment — even if it takes the form of a first name and last name crushed together, like JoeSchmoe.com.
DO figure out how often and in what form you want people to contact you. Be accessible. But be wise about sharing contact information.
Remember: There are people out there who will interpret your site as an invitation to misbehave.
DO get feedback from a few well-chosen people — colleagues, family members, friends — after you've produced an early version of your site. Pick a small user sample and ask, "Is this site a smart, accurate reflection of who I am? What can I do better?"
DO change your site. Keep it fresh.
DO have fun. If you're not enjoying your site, why should anyone else?
DON'T think that you need the most powerful Web-authoring tool available. For most people, Microsoft FrontPage, Adobe PageMill, or even hand-coding in Windows Notepad will do just fine. Most people do prefer a wysiwyg (What You See Is What You Get) editor, along with the ability to drag-and-drop. But don't get distracted by trying to find, learn, and use the most advanced tools. Focus instead on the more urgent issues of content and tone.
DON'T try to compensate for weak material by making your site look fancy. Concentrate on what you've got — and then deliver it in your own voice. Less is often more.
DON'T organize the life out of your site.
DON'T create a site that's hard to change, add to, or otherwise maintain. Your site should be a real-time reflection of you. So create a design that's flexible enough to change, but simple enough that you won't need to devote your life to updating it.
A version of this article appeared in the Prototype Issue issue of Fast Company magazine.