History of MMMporium Websites

Overview

The websites that I, the author Mercia McMahon, have used to put out my writing ideas began as an all-purpose site and then I decided to write a separate website on faith matters (Faith in Doubt) and later another separate website for trans matters (first as Trans Scribe and then as Trans Writes). When I decided to self-publish books I set up a site under my trading name (MMMporium), but other authors advised me to have my author site in my own name, especially as there do not appear to be any other Mercia McMahons on the internet. The general purpose website Mercia's Musings was re-badged as the author site Mercia McMahon and I have never returned to having a website for every thought that I want to broadcast on the internet. The final website is one that has no real purpose. MMMporium UK exists because a free domain name was offered when Mercia switched from WordPress.com to shared hosting on Smart Hosting. As MMMporium UK is the root site for all MMMporium websites on Smart Hosting it cannot be redirected to another domain name such as the main MMMporium site, so it has become a portal to the other sites: MMMportal. There were a few other briefly existing websites, but the remaining five are Mercia McMahon (the author site), MMMporium (the business site), Faith in Doubt, Trans Writes, and MMMportal. In addition there is a book site for her publication Brexit in Context and a site originally designed for exploring contemporary politics that has taken a more historical turn: Contextual Politics.

Besides the websites that have been and gone (such as MMMporium Review) the main changes during the history of the MMMporium and Mercia McMahon family of websites have been the platform used (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and Pure CSS), the organisation of the family of sites (one large article repository or each domain containing its own articles), and the structure of the website (using a folder structure or having all articles in the top level folder). The result of those various changes over time is that many older links no longer work, but the limited success of these websites have meant that those broken links are less important. The most recent change is also the most drastic. Mercia McMahon has returned to working as an employee and in a setting were impartiality on current political issues is a job requirement. As a result many of the more contemporary political and activist articles have been removed. A similar deletion of articles has taken place on Faith in Doubt due the earlier articles no longer reflecting Mercia's current faith stance. These changes mean that the longer term existence of the subject specific websites on faith, politics, and trans matters is under review.

Platforms Used

The MMMporium / Mercia McMahon websites began life on WordPress.com, first as sites with WordPress addresses, e.g., merciasmusings.wordpress.com, and later with the domain names still use, but which began life as aliases under the premium upgrade available on WordPress.com. The four main sites (author site, business site, faith, site, and trans site) go back to those early days on WordPress.com.

The premium option on WordPress.com is quite expensive if you use it for more than one domain name and the WordPress.com system is quite restricted in comparison to the system used my most authors: WordPress.org on a shared hosting system. So I moved to a shared hosting system, where I paid less for unlimited websites that I had paid for just one of the four domains on WordPress.com. Initially I followed the literary herd in installing WordPress.org, but I quickly found lots of problems with it and soon switched to Drupal.

Drupal does not suffer from the same security issues as WordPress.org, which are made worse because the Askimet anti-spam system on WordPress.com cannot be used without paying an annual fee for commercial sites running WordPress.org. Security differences were, however, a minor matter compared to the ability to define how different content types (e.g., article or news item) were displayed. In WordPress non-technical users like me relied on theme designers to set up the content types, whereas in Drupal the theme was just about arranging different sections of the web page on the screen, and the user (if they have administrative privileges) had a lot of power to determine how their website looked without having to write a line of code. This was contrary to the common assumption that Drupal requiring programming ability, while WordPress was for non-technical users. I had planned to write a book on why authors and other non-technical users should use Drupal, but unfortunately just as I began writing the book Drupal version 8 came out and it changed the system in ways that left the non-technical user behind. By the time I lost patience with the slow development of Drupal 8 I had already switched my interest back to my first love: hand-coding my own html web pages.

My favourite Drupal theme was Dr Radut's Zero Point, which advertised that it made use of Yahoo's Pure CSS to handle multiple columns. It mentioned that Pure CSS was a ridiculously tiny download of 4KB and so I decided to download it. This took me back to a primary reason for leaving WordPress.com, namely to return to having full control over my websites by writing my own html code, just as I had done in the 1990s. I quickly discovered another benefit of using Pure CSS: it was blisteringly fast, even on smartphones. Drupal runs quite slow on shared hosting, but I had been content with the trade-off of a reasonable speed in order to have the ability to create new content types and reformat current content types. Yet when I visited my site on my smartphone there was often a delay of a second or two before the article displayed. An html web page powered by Pure CSS would load almost instantly. I was not prepared to lose ease of use that comes with a content management system like Drupal, so I moved all articles from across the MMMporium sites onto MMMporium.com and made the other sites Pure CSS html one page sites that pointed to the articles on the Drupal repository website. Eventually I got frustrated that once a site visitor was reading on the repository there was no easy way to send them back to the Pure CSS site, other than to code html links named Return to Main Site. I decided that if I was having to make so many links I may as well have the speed of Pure CSS and moved most articles back to their own domains (e.g., faith articles were stored on faithindoubt.com rather than mmmporium.com). I returned mmmporium.com to being a site for my business and left it as a Drupal site until I finished writing the Drupal book. Once I finally lost patience with the enterprise-only direction of the Drupal project I abandoned not only the book, but the last remaining Drupal website.

WordPress powers almost 60% of all website that are not hand-coded html/css, whereas Drupal only powers a little over 3%. There is another big player in the content management business, who come in between WordPress and Drupal in the number of websites powered. Joomla powers about 7% of content managed websites. It had been my intention to experiment with Joomla and move many of my sites to it after the Drupal book was published. Then I was to write a book on using Joomla. When I abandoned the Drupal book I decided that while Joomla was more suitable for one person businesses, that without multiple authors to manage there was little need to use a content management system. So I never fully explored Joomla and instead stayed with the page loading speed than came with hand-coding html pages in Pure CSS.

CSS is short for Cascading Style Sheets and is the system developed for web design that has one language (html) for defining the content and another (css) for determining how that content is displayed. The style sheets are cascading because the initial style can be overridden for specific sections of the page. For example to keep Pure CSS down to 4KB it has far less colour options for its buttons. That can be overcome by defining a class of for example colour=yellow and then using the class to alter the colour of the Pure CSS button. I also made the buttons rounded in most instances, where Pure CSS follows the current trend for rectangular buttons.

As my websites are not income generating they will remain on a shared hosting system, which is too slow to allow a content management system to display web pages without any delay. Therefore MMMporium websites will for the foreseeable future continue to use Pure CSS rather than Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress.

Organising the Family of Websites

When running a family of websites a key consideration is whether to set up each website as a standalone unit or to group the articles together into a main repository. The advantage of a repository is that if a lot of your websites have a small number of articles then they will not match much impact on the major search engines. That was a key reason why I switched the MMMporium family of websites to a hub and spoke system. Originally each website was a standalone Drupal site, which meant a multiplication of administration tasks, e.g., having to update the Zero Point theme on each site. The concern that most of my websites were too small to ever get noticed in web searches led to the idea of putting all the articles in mmmporium.com (the hub) and having one page websites (the spokes) designed in fast Pure CSS to point visitors to the repository. Unfortunately for a smartphone user the one page site with the link to the article opened instantly, but there was then a delay when the article was opened on the Drupal-based repository. I could have switched the repository to Pure CSS, but at the time I planned writing hundreds of book reviews and worried that producing those in hand-coded html would be too time consuming. I then began to become concerned about whether site visitors would press to go back to the one page site or whether they would only read one article. I decided to bite the bullet and switch the articles back to standalone sites and abandoned the hub and spoke system.

I had chosen to use mmmporium.com as the repository, which meant that I could no longer use it as the business site. That led me to stop using mmmporium.uk as a one page portal and it became the business site, although under the hub and spoke system that meant that it was a one page business site linking to articles on mmmporium.com, where the business articles were still housed. I could have used mmmporium.uk as the repository, but chose not to as all articles would have a UK address, which might not please international visitors. Unfortunately because mmmporium.uk was the root domain for Smart Hosting it had to be listed when signing up to Google Ads (in an effort to monetise the website). That meant that Google was primarily looking at a one page site and this was to prove problematic when the Google Ads account lapsed and I tried to reinstate it. I was turned down because mmmporium.uk was deemed to lack any original content as it was just one page with links to the other sites. Losing the ability to load Google Ads was not a great loss, however, as loading those adverts slowed down the loading of my web pages.

With the return to standalone websites I had to reconsider the viability of those websites that were likely to only ever have a few pages. This impacting even on my author page as I had my articles about the publishing industry and writing craft on mmmporium.com and my book reviews were on mmmporiumreview.com (still a Drupal site). I experimented with having my book reviews on the author site, which meant hand-coding them in Pure CSS. This was not as a major a problem as I had previously feared because I was not writing very many reviews. The lack of reviews also made less sense for maintaining a separate reviews website as search engines like websites that are not only large, but are also regularly updated. So I abandoned mmmporiumreview.com and instead created a section on the author site called Mercia McMahon Reviews. I kept the publishing articles on MMMporium because otherwise there would be very little content on the business site, but eventually I decided that it was more important to make the author site busier. This meant, however, that I now had articles aimed at readers (about my books) and articles aimed at authors (about writing and publishing) on the same site. I had wanted to avoid that, but decided that I could separate the types of articles through different sections of the website pointing to the different types of articles.

As I had moved reviews and publishing articles to the author website I began to question whether other sites should remain separate. This meant that I was considering returning to a sort of repository site, but this time under the author site rather than the business site. I had set up a website called One Liners which was to contain the jokes that I had once posted on Twitter and Facebook before abandoning social media over privacy, trolling, and uber-capitalism concerns. In the end One Liners had never become more than one page of jokes (some of which were more than a line long), so I abandoned the One Liners site and instead it became one page in my author site. I remained reluctant, however, to close down the faith and trans sites as I had felt since they were first set up on WordPress.com that they were concerns that would only appeal to small subsets of my readers. The problem was that those issues also appealed less to me as subjects and I was seldom updating those websites. Faith in Doubt and Trans Writes continue to exist as largely moribund websites, but they are again under consideration for having their few remaining articles transferred to my author site and one page sites using the domain addresses used to point to the relevant articles, just as happened when mmmporium.com was used as an article repository site.

July 2016 to July 2017 was dominated by the task of writing Brexit in Context. A key method of promoting the book was to set up a website brexitincontext.com. I also decided that I liked writing about politics and set up another website for non-Brexit matters called Contextual Politics. At the time the author website was purely for my fiction and fiction reviews (plus mention of my book of teenage poetry). The need to reassess what political topics I can publish on due to my new non-writing career raises the issue as to whether I would keep those sites separate from the author site. I would be more likely to close down Contextual Politics and I would be minded to maintain ownership of the brexitincontext.com domain name.

Structure of the Websites

I have already addressed the organisation of my websites and structure might sound like talking about the same thing all over again, but I am referring to something very different. The organisation of a family of websites is a strategic decision based on whether standalone websites, a general purpose author site, or a hub and spoke system would attract and keep the most site visitors. Structure is about the folder structure employed in a website. If a web address has more than one forward slash after the domain name that means that it is using folders. For example https://merciamcmahon.com/reviews/iain-banks/consider-phlebas.hmtl shows that in the folder for the author website I have a reviews subfolder and inside that a subfolder of reviews of Iain Banks' books. The problem of using such a sub-folder system is that it forces the visitor to either follow links or type a long address. To end up with an understandable address it cannot be shortened too far. By default most content management systems have all content in the top level as they are actually calling up the content from a (usually MySQL) database. So Drupal by default might address the article in question as https://merciamcmahon.com/?q=node=231. That does not look good to a user and is frowned on by search engines, so Drupal encourages the use of clean urls by which the address remains top level, but becomes easier for a human to guess, e.g., https://merciamcmahon.com/consider-phlebas. That much shorter address works for that book, but runs into problems with shorter titles. How does a site visitor know if a review addressed https://merciamcmahon.com/beloved refers to the novel by Toni Morrison or Corinne Michaels. I now want to move as far as possible to top level addresses and the one easy option is to remove the reviews subfolder and the Authors web page could still group reviews by the book's author using links. The author subfolder could also be removed by including the author name in all top level addresses, e.g., https://merciamcmahon.com/toni-morrison-beloved.html. Unfortunately that would make all addresses nearly as long as ones with author subfolders, so instead the author name could only be used to avoid confusion, such as when two books are reviewed that are both called Beloved. An alternative workaround would be to include the year in books with the same title, which would work in cases were books were not also written in the same year. That would be less clear to a reader seeing the address as they may not know that Toni Morrison wrote the beloved-1987.html. I intend to convert my author website to a flatfile one, i.e., using top level addresses only, as if it was a content management system. At present the two levels of subfolders are still used, but some method of converting the addresses to top level ones will be employed.

Every time the structure of a website changes it involves changes to the web address of individual articles. It is possible to write redirects for each old address to the new addresses, but if too many redirects are written it will slow down the website as the redirect list has to be checked every time a web browser tries to access an address on the website. A simpler solution is to have a prominent link to a page of broken links that can help someone with the old address. This is what I use on my website as the one redirect I always use is that if a visitor enters an address that does not exist on the site they are redirected to the front page. I am less inclined now to maintain full lists of broken links because I have changed addresses so often and my sites receive relatively small amount of visits. I intend to move towards a system of having buttons that should direct a visitor with a broken link to the correct website section. For example after removing the reviews subfolder old links will be redirected to https://merciamcmahon.com/ where they is a button marked Reviews.

One issue with broken links was hinted at when I gave example Drupal addresses two paragraphs up. Like most content management systems Drupal does not add a file type to the address (e.g., *.html) because the database system renders it unnecessary. This causes problems if you later convert your website from Drupal to html. It is possible to set many content management systems to add *.html to addresses, but most web maintainers do not do so. The html ending (or alternatives like php or htm) must be used in an html website because those file type endings are required for a web browser to understand the address. There is one workaround, but it is very unsatisfactory, involves a lot of work and increases the chances of accidentally deleting articles. A web address that has no file with an appropriate ending will treat the address as a folder and try to open that folder's index.php or index.html page. So if an article in Drupal had an address of https://merciamcmahon.com/beloved if could keep that address if the html site has a beloved subfolder that contains the original web page renamed to index.php or index.html. That means creating a lot of folders and prevents seeing at a glance in a file manager what files are accessible in a website. Worst of all is the potential to accidentally delete a file, because all articles from the old Drupal site and now called index.html. As with so many issues I prefer to just to let the user with a broken link click to the correct article through a well designed set of buttons or a page of links.


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