Having—and Using—an Online Basement

In an age of About.me, Dribbble, and Tumblr, do people have their own spaces to play with code and ideas?

As I see more and more people tweeting, blogging, and having websites that are little more than redirects to external profiles, a little part of me has a sad.


You see, I miss the days of people having their own websites and experimenting with them. Remember once-upon-a-forest and Praystation? And all of those weird Flash experiments (back when it was Macromedia Flash) that you’d read about in books and then fervently look up on your dial-up connection? It seems to me like they’re happening a lot less now (though I will admit that a fair bit happens on Hacker News, god bless their little orange boxes).

The problem with all of these remote services is that it’s like storing lots of stuff at other people’s houses. It’s all good and well while you’re still talking to them, but one day you start moving around in different circles, and the next thing you know, it’s gone. Or someone else is living there and you can’t get in.

And how much can you do with that stuff over there anyway? If you’re lucky, maybe a bit (if that neighbour is like Jeeves or Doctor Emmett Brown—OK, they’re both fictional characters but we can hope). But most likely not. And that’s where your own basement comes in.

Dee Dee Dexter's Lab

A basement can be that random place where weird and broken stuff go. But at best, it can be where magic happens. There’s a reason that there’s a cliche of teenagers starting a band in their basement. Queen apparently played in their basement for two years before announcing themselves to the world. In that space they experimented, found their voice, and then emerged onto an unsuspecting world. Would they have found that working at other people’s gigs? I doubt it.

Still, here’s my idea: having your own hosting is like having a basement. Particularly if you can make subdomains and have a few databases on the go. In your down time, you go and mess around with ideas (just on your own, or with others), and depending on how it goes, you might run with it. You do it though because it’s there, and easy. You can go crazy with it. But it’s there. (Kinda like Annie Hall’s bug-ridden apartment, or Carrie Bradshaw’s house in SATC2…sorry for mentioning SATC2).

People such as Jason Santa Maria are known for changing over their site every few years and experimenting with what it means to have a web presence. Jessica Hische is renowned for having an idea, and in a few hours of “procrastiworking” having a site to show for it.

I’m not saying that everyone should be forced to use their own hosting. Certainly bloggers can gain a lot from using WordPress, just as photographers can get a lot more from communities such as Flickr than they’d ever get from just having a site. However, I gladly pay my $120 or whatever it is a year for hosting and unlimited sub-domains. (I admit that there are ways to work completely free using Heroku, Github and/or Amazon Web Services, but I have to admit that I’m not that good a developer).

I know that whenever I have an idea for something (like, say, a clock based on the 12 Doctors), I make a new subdomain on my site (thank you Hostgator for unlimited subdomains and databased) and start messing around. If it’s not so interesting it stays there, if it looks like more of a goer I’ll migrate it out to its own site.

And others use their basement in far simpler ways. Jennifer Dewalt decided to learn coding by building a website every day for 180 days. They’re actually not so much websites as pages, each in their own folder, but it’s a well organised basement of treasures.

All these people with their nice linky one-page sites are like houses with beautiful facades (or, if there’s a bit in there, a nice dining room and even a guest bedroom). But don’t forget about that basement. You could see the next best thing in there.

Welcome Aboard

Vicky Teinaki is a user experience designer at Newcastle upon Tyne agency Orange Bus. She is also working on a PhD at Northumbria University about better ways of communicating design methods within the design industry.