Web Reviews: Where to Start Creating Your Online Portfolio
by Laksamee Putnam
There are numerous ways for people today to represent themselves online. However, our identities are flexible, and how you choose to display your identity changes depending upon the situation. Who you are with your friends can be different from who you are at work. Online, the lines between identities are blurred (Pearson). The faux privacy and anonymity of the internet makes people feel comfortable broadcasting various aspect of their lives, and also allows the observers to pass judgment, justified or not. The emergence of social networking sites has made it more obvious that our multiple online identities are connected, and part of being professionally successful is developing a strong virtual brand (Farkas). Most people have some type of online profile, but a profile on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn does not necessarily create a connected professional online identity. To bring together various online profiles, many people create online portfolios. These centralized resources help create a cohesive identity, function as a single storage location for your professional materials, and point people to your various profiles. Depending on your institution or workplace, many online portfolios are considered by review committees from the job search process up to tenure-track faculty inspections (Markgren).
Unfortunately, most of us are not web designers and might not want to spend a significant portion of our time creating and maintaining an online portfolio. The websites/web tools reviewed here are all options with varying degrees of complexity, but ultimately they simplify the web design process. I recommend testing a few out and seeing which you prefer. For example, I started with a Wix portfolio but ultimately switched to Google Sites because it integrated with my blog and was easier for me to keep updated. There are also numerous guides on the ins and outs of online portfolios. Keep an eye out for helpful branding tips, as they can show up anywhere from blogs to conferences to articles. If you attended ACRL 2011 in-person or virtually you can check out the webcast of Personal Branding for New Librarians: Standing Out and Stepping Up. For me, the two most important factors are making sure my portfolio is simple and accessible. If you are already active in online communities, or are preparing to get your feet wet, take a look at these sites and then go explore what your peers have done; pretty soon you will be swimming in ideas!GoogleSites
If you already have a Google Account (most likely through Gmail) then you are already setup with a basic Google profile that can be used to login and create a Google Site. However, if your Google Profile is not one you want associated with your new portfolio, you can create a new one. After logging in, you have a choice of starting with a blank template or looking through the collection of templates Google has amassed. Searching portfolio returns a surplus of possibilities. The blank template provides a bare bones skeleton that is simple to work from but may not spark your creative flare. The more complex templates give you a creativity boost but could also create problems as you work to personalize the space. After establishing the template, name, and URL for your portfolio, the navigation for GoogleSites is simplified to three buttons across the top right: Create Page, Edit Page and More Actions. The basic layout consists of the page name as a header across the top of the webpage. Additionally, links to the sections within your webpage are listed inside a sidebar on the left, and the main content of your pages is listed within the middle. Once editing a page, the user is presented with familiar text editing options, allowing for basic changes such as font and bullet points, but also allowing for more complex content through layout editing and direct html editing. The preset frame helps create a clean look to the pages. However, pre-designed layouts can be too restrictive for those that want to have more control over certain visual aspects of their content.
Since Google has its hand in so many parts of our online lives, the integration of other Google tools into your portfolio is smooth. Picasa images, YouTube videos, Google Docs, and Google Calendars are all options to be inserted with ease. Unfortunately, other emerging technologies such as Twitter are not integrated with the GoogleSites interface and have to be inserted independently. Overall, GoogleSites is about as fool proof as you can get when it comes to website creation: easy to use and to update, though the limitations placed can be a hindrance, and as any librarian will know about Google - simple is not always better.Wix
Wix is a free flash-based website builder. This means you will be creating a very visual and interactive website. Creating a flash website can demand more of your time; therefore, you should consider how much you want to invest in making your website not only visually stimulating but also effectively showcasing your abilities. It is easy to get caught up in the various animations that you may include in the site; just remember that in the end, you simply want visitors to find relevant information about you. It is also reasonable to consider the accessibility of a flash website, which may not work for specific audiences due to lack of technology or visual abilities.
After registering, Wix has an intuitive drag and drop interface. You may start with a blank template, but I highly recommend starting with a designed template, since this will make the Wix learning curve much smoother. There is a Portfolio category, but many of the other templates also function just as well, so look around. Anecdotally, most librarians, including myself, seem to gravitate toward the sites formatted to look like books.
As you are customizing your template, there are an overwhelming number of options you can choose from; it is the ultimate WYSIWYG editor. Everything is considered an object, and therefore clicking on an item will pop up a window of possible actions. It may be hard to determine where to start, but Wix provides a very informative help section. Flash websites are eye-catching, so be prepared to insert high quality images. Wix even has a large collection of free images; however, the search feature is by no means a good discovery tool, so it may be easier to search for images on your own and then upload them to Wix. Page navigation can be tricky from the editing side, but using the page manager simplifies maintaining and organizing your information. Created with enough dedication, your portfolio with Wix will be impressive, and after publishing your product it is simple to come back in and edit. In the end, Wix requires more time for learning and designing, but if you are willing, your portfolio could be one to garner attention.Weebly
Weebly is a website/blog creator with the tagline web creation made easy. True to its word, Weebly is a reasonable middle ground between GoogleSites and Wix. Weebly provides the user with a restricted structure, but also integrates drag and drop elements to allow personalization of the contents. After signing up, the design interface places all of the editing controls at the top. The controls are then contained within tabs labeled: Elements, Designs, Pages, Editors, and Settings. There is no blank template available for Weebly; however, the designs which are available are all open-ended and simple to tailor. After deciding on a design, elements are added to your page by dragging and dropping items from the menu. Once placed on the page, objects can be clicked on to add content or dragged to a different position. The content possibilities range from simple text to multimedia. New pages can also be added, and navigation to the pages is built into the structure of the page, so a hierarchy is automatically generated by the tool. A few of the features are available only for advanced accounts and potentially useful for a more sophisticated portfolio, but for basic content Weebly provides an excellent service. The format restrictions work to create a more cohesive and simple page and do not hinder the editors creative process. The generic feel of the webpages created through Weebly may not be as eye-catching as Wix, but attention to the modifiable details will produce a clean and effective online portfolio. Generally speaking, Weebly is a manageable framework to begin web design and fashions a pleasing product to share with others.
The three web based design tools showcased here are not the only available products, and may not necessarily be the right fit for you. A few others such as WordPress (http://wordpress.com/) and PBWorks (http://pbworks.com/) do merit a mention. However, WordPress has more usability as a blog creator than for a portfolio, and PBWorks is more of a collaborative wiki tool. As you develop and grow your professional brand, your web development skills may also grow. When creating a website with one of the above tools, you may notice that your URL is identified by the web tool URL, and that your webpage may contain ads. This inevitable revenue aspect is now an accepted feature of using free web tools. However, many of the web tools will allow you to purchase a unique domain name and remove the ads from your page. Depending on your personal preference, the additional credit you gain from owning a unique URL may be worth the cost. However, these are considerations for later on in your portfolio progress. Remember while you are concocting your portfolio to keep it simple and accessible. The focus should be on organizing your online identity, connecting your profiles, and networking yourself, so get started, keep it updated, and share it!Works Cited
- Farkas, Meredith. "Your Virtual Brand." American Libraries 41.3 (2010): 28. Print.
- Markgren, Susanne. "Ten Simple Steps to Create and Manage Your Professional Online Identity." College & Research Libraries News 72.1 (2011): 31-5. Print.
- Pearson, Erika. "All the World Wide Web's a Stage: The Performance of Identity in Online Social Networks." First Monday 14.3 (2009): n. pag. Web. 6 May 2011.
Laksamee Putnam is a science librarian at Towson University, visit her online portfolio.