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My Own Digital Playground


October 26, 2018

Using old, unused or add on domains as a digital playground is a great way to experiment, learn, practice and challenge yourself.

I’ve built a lot of websites over the years. Like, a lot. But one thing I’ve found with projects is there’s a lot of learning on the fly, and not a lot of space to cement the knowledge you’ve acquired. To counteract this, I’ve started using my own digital playground. Well, more accurately, I’ve made myself a couple that each support a different skill.A digital playground is much like a normal playground. It has freedom to play, create and explore; without being confined to the strict rules of a class or project. Personally, I feel that these spaces are a little bit different to a side project. There’s no outcome or goals. It’s just a space to create. For example, my most recent side project was Coloretur.com. It had a very clear purpose and set of design rules. I even had a little bit of a launch for it.

In contrast, my first domain has become a little bit of a digital playground. I bought shelleyphant.com in 2012, just as I was really starting to get into web technologies. Until then, most of my learning had been local, or by “building” MySpace, GeoCities or AngelFire pages. And since then, it’s gone through some terrible iterations. If you’re curious, the Wayback Machine has a nice little record of some of the changes.

My Digital Playground

A digital playground is often not an elegant place. My very first experiment is at shelleyphant.com/idontlikethiscolour and it’s possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever made. I was just starting to get into JavaScript, and had a 2am idea that I just had to build.

My digital playground have little-to-no search engine optimisation. They’re not meant to be discovered or featured. I do include analytics tracking, because it’s interesting who stumbles upon them, but in general, they’re just for me.

shelleyphant.com

The main digital playground I use is at shelleyphant.com. What was once my main domain now looks unprofessional with that URL. But rather than scrap it, I’ve found a new use for it. Yes, it hosts random experiments like I Don’t Like This Colour, but the home page has become it’s own mini experiment.

Inspired by CSS Zen Garden, I’ve set the root domain to load different style sheets and their corresponding JavaScript files. What started out as a “can this even be done?” idea, has turned into a space where I can build the ugliest designs imaginable. Because sometimes you just need to try something new. Even if it fails.

The dynamic layout 'Rose' on shelleyphant.com

The dynamic layout ‘Rose’ on shelleyphant.com

Fear not, not all the styles are hideous. Some I actually quite like. But they all have one thing in common; the HTML. That’s right, I’ve forbidden myself to touch the structure of the page. Of course, because it allows scripts, I can change it if needed. But the goal really is to leave the structure alone as much as possible, and focus on the design and layout of the page.

The dynamic layout 'Camilla' on shelleyphant.com

The dynamic layout ‘Camilla’ on shelleyphant.com

themes.shelleybassett.com

My themes directory is a different concept all together. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know how much I love WordPress. But this knowledge had to come from somewhere, and it wasn’t something we did at uni. This shelleybassett.com is my first real WordPress site, and I learnt a lot in building it. Since then, I’ve also built coloretur.com and several different sites for work. All powered by WordPress. So where did this knowledge come from?

themes.shelleybassett.com is a multi-user WordPress site, where I… Build themes! There’s not much point in visiting it, as most of the interesting content is locked off and only accessible by me, but maybe one day I’ll open it all up. It’s become a place where I can test WordPress functions without running the risk of bringing a website down. Sure, I could do this locally, but a lot of WordPress plugins require that you have a live site to gain full use. So, I made a live site that has no impact on any of the websites that I manage.

Creating your own Digital Playground

Your digital playground can be anywhere. Use an old or unused domain. Create an add on domain. Dedicate a folder. Even a local server could be enough, depending on what you’re planning to do. I like to post my ideas to GitHub, although I’m not always the most consistent at this. Whatever you choose, the most important thing to to have fun and be creative!

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