The importance of Web sites for academics

by Eszter Hargittai on June 9, 2008

A propos the discussion of CVs for academics going on the job market, I’ve been meaning to post about the importance of having some Web presence, especially a homepage one maintains with information about one’s work.

I’ve been continually surprised over the years about how many academics fail to take advantage of the Web as a medium for disseminating their work. This seems especially important in the case of those actively seeking a job in the near future.

Whenever I go to a conference, I’m on the lookout for students doing interesting work. Recently, I saw a few impressive presentations and wanted to follow up by learning more about these students. I know we’ll be hiring next year and I wanted to share information about these potential candidates with my colleagues. I looked them up online so I’d have more to go on. Nothing. This is an opportunity missed.

What should a basic homepage include? It should have information that a CV would contain, but the nice thing about a Web site is that it can easily include additional information. In the least, abstracts of published papers would be helpful. Of course, most helpful is to have full copies of these papers. While copyright issues may arise, preprints are almost always okay to post.

Although I don’t encourage students to post too many details about papers not yet accepted for publication, it is possible to mention one’s areas of interests and expertise and that will give visitors a better sense of one’s work than no information whatsoever.



H. E. Baber 06.09.08 at 4:06 pm

I’ll be following the comments to this discussion because I’d like to find out why those academics that don’t have web pages don’t have them. Are there still colleges that don’t provide faculty with space to put up web pages? Is it lack of tech support? Lack of information? What is it?

From my experience it’s something like this. First, many faculty wildly overestimate the technical difficulty of putting up web pages and the time involved in maintaining a modest website. Secondly, there’s little institutional encouragement or technical support: it isn’t a normal expectation that faculty will put up web pages; faculty don’t routinely get ftp software or html editors; techs aren’t around to help faculty or just tell them that it isn’t a big deal to put up a web page. Thirdly, the university spends its IT budget on buying and promoting COMMERCIAL products that are overpriced, clonky, and gimmicky–like WebCT and, most recently at my place, clickers. In addition to eating up scarce resources this turns off faculty because using lots of this stuff takes a substantial investment of time and doesn’t produce results that are worth it.


Righteous Bubba 06.09.08 at 4:29 pm

Thirdly, the university spends its IT budget on buying and promoting COMMERCIAL products that are overpriced, clonky, and gimmicky–like WebCT and, most recently at my place, clickers.

Indeed. There’s a lot of free web-space out there that’s pretty easy to use and budgets would be better spent on letting educators redirect to it rather than trying to keep everything in-house using stupid tools that people swear at.


Witt 06.09.08 at 4:31 pm

I’d like to strongly encourage ALL academics to maintain websites that includes their papers and articles. In the nonprofit field, the number of times I have been unable to access relevant research is incalcuable.

When designing programs, writing reports and articles, and evaluating our work, it is critical to have access to research — and yet most of us are barred from all of the journals. Our organizations can’t possibly afford subscriptions, and if we don’t have any institutional affiliation we have no way of gaining access.

For my own part, I e-mail professors directly to request a copy of relevant research, and almost always get a positive response. But I can’t do that in every case — there is just not enough time in the day.


Alison Kemper 06.09.08 at 4:46 pm

As a late stage PhD candidate, I need to put up a web site ASAP.

I have a teenaged sone, who does lovely HTML and Java, but I don’t need a bot or a game.

Who has a how to for the HTML challenged academic?


Righteous Bubba 06.09.08 at 4:52 pm


eszter 06.09.08 at 4:55 pm

Alison, the way we used to do this back in the mid-90s (and I don’t see why this still wouldn’t work in at least some cases although it gets trickier with more languages used now) is to view the page source of a simple Web site you like and copy parts of the corresponding code. Then you change that to reflect your own content. I realize for this you’d need some basic understanding of the code, but that you can find online by doing a search for something like html tutorial.

If you’re going to copy most parts of a page then it’s customary to give credit for the layout/design/whatnot source by linking to it on the bottom of your own page.

Much of my research concerns digital media uses and I’m doubly shocked and frustrated when people in that area don’t have Web pages.

But overall, yes, skill is likely part of the issue that keeps people away (where skill includes the realization that it may not be all that difficult to do).


Righteous Bubba 06.09.08 at 5:07 pm

Alison, the way we used to do this back in the mid-90s (and I don’t see why this still wouldn’t work in at least some cases although it gets trickier with more languages used now) is to view the page source of a simple Web site you like and copy parts of the corresponding code.

These days there’s much more crap in the code often related to the use of the tools that Baber describes above.

You might have to stick with viewing the page source and stealing everything from [body] to [/body].

Now I will write something awful:

Microsoft Word will create web-pages for you. Use very plain fonts and don’t do anything complicated, but use “save as web-page” and you might be able to avoid learning anything at all about HTML. This may make IT people want to punch you.


anonymous 06.09.08 at 6:17 pm

What H.E. Baber said.

I’m feeling guilty about this post because my web site is not updated. It has my picture and the rest are just blank pages. I realize this makes me look like a bit of a loser. But then, getting a good webpage at my uni is not easy. The university does not spend money on programs for us and we don’t have good IT help. They spend all their money elsewhere, on programs faculty do not have the time to learn to use. I sort of got the webpage and running to post things for my students and then left the rest blank.

This post is motivating me to get it together and fix my website. I realize it is potentially advantageous to do so. I am concerned that it seems here to be regarded as really unprofessional not to have a decent website. I thought I was behind the curve but didn’t realize the curve is regarded as so standard.

I’m curious about why students shouldn’t post unpublished papers. I would love to post my unpublished papers. I realize that if one is prominent, posting is a bit like publishing. People will know it is yours. If you are a bit more obscure, is it unwise for faculty to post unpublished work? Do people really plagiarize from each other? That seems kind of crazy. I can’t imagine stealing ideas from someone’s unpublished work. Am I naive?


H. E. Baber 06.09.08 at 6:26 pm

M$Word–ouch. Dreamweaver is under $200 with an academic discount. It’s really worth it.

The source code for most web pages out there looks like [expletive deleted] so copying and monkeying is not for someone starting out.


Righteous Bubba 06.09.08 at 6:40 pm


Indeed. There was a wonderful flamewar when a developer from Microsoft using Microsoft product posted that they’d come up with an incredible new innovation: pop-up blocking! This was followed with a proprietary smiley that everyone using IE could see but everyone using other browsers – which had included pop-up blockers for quite a while – could not, so the joke was lost. Fun fun fun.

Those using Firefox should check out the free Web Developer which includes an HTML editor, found in the Web Developer menu under Miscellaneous>Edit HTML.


Dave 06.09.08 at 6:43 pm

Re. plagiarism of unpublished-but-circulated work – I have heard of it happening, yes, direct from a ‘victim’; and once the ‘offender’ has their version in official circulation, proving that they copied you [to a degree sufficient to make anyone who matters take notice] can be very difficult…


Fr. 06.09.08 at 6:53 pm

Google Pages can do the trick. I have seen a few graduates with googlepages addresses (it’s not always that easy when you’re a postgrad to get space on the uni server).


Eszter 06.09.08 at 7:01 pm

Do people really plagiarize from each other? That seems kind of crazy. I can’t imagine stealing ideas from someone’s unpublished work. Am I naive?

Oh yes, people steal! It’s unbelievable the cases I’ve encountered. Sometimes, you can give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they just didn’t quite understand how this works, but more often than not, I suspect they were fully aware of what they were doing. So yes, this is a main reason I think it’s best not to post work that has not yet been accepted for publication.


dave (not the one above) 06.09.08 at 7:03 pm

“Those using Firefox should…”

You mean people here might not be… that isn’t good.

More substantively. As a PhD student if I find an interesting paper by somebody I don’t know, one of the first thing I do is try and find their website. As a research tool for finding other relevent/interesting papers (even if only the title is up) they are incredibly useful.


Ingrid Robeyns 06.09.08 at 7:28 pm

As for plagiarism, I fear Eszter is right. I have once been explicitely plagiarised (word for word, 8 full sentences) of an unpublished paper that was on my homepage; it now makes half a paragraph in an article published in an internationally refereed economics journal. If it was not because it was by a PhD student and because I would be worried to overreact, I would have blogged about this. After moaning to some friends, I let it go — yet I confess I was furious for days (the person who plagiarised, whom I happened to know, apologised when confronted with the ‘evidence’ and said it was ‘a slip’).
And the much more difficult to trace plagiarism, is, of course, those that are not word-for-word plagiarism, but simply stealing an idea, giving it a twist, writing it up, and sending it to journal. And much of that kind of plagiarism may also not be intentional at all, but simply sloppiness. Academic life is for many so competitive, that many do it in order to increase their changes at getting published. And frankly, reference to unpublished work in articles one submits are often seen as not very good, so the ‘norms’ in the publishing business are also creating incentives to plagiarise. So I agree: if you are not utterly famous, don’t put your original unpublished work on your homepage.

As for why people don’t have a homepage: I got my homepage as a birthday present, by someone who wanted to lure me to the Netherlands (hence it’s and not or or some other site). I think I would, at the time, have felt embarrassed to buy myself a homepage, thinking it as an arrogant thing to do. But in the meantime I have discovered that it is a tool for networking, also with people from the nonprofit and the global South who, as pointed out above, have difficult access to published work. And my homepage has also played a significant role in my trajectory on the labour market, in a very positive sense. Finally, it helps if you are going to meet up with someone, say in a cafe or at a confernece, whom you’ve never seen before: a picture makes it much easier to locate a person, and it’s so much easier to say “there’s a picture of me on my homepage” than to send a picture as an attachment.


sharon 06.09.08 at 7:28 pm

This tutorial by Dave Raggett tells you everything you need to know to create a basic webpage in HTML, in simple terms. (And points you towards some more advanced resources once you get the hang of that.)


Jacob Christensen 06.09.08 at 10:40 pm

Maybe the issue is implied in the post and some of the comments: Should a homepage (and perhaps a blog) be on your present employer’s site or your own site?

Back in 2005, I wanted to start a blog (instead of writing e-mails to 4 or 5 people, in case you wonder) and as my then employer didn’t offer anything supporting blogs, getting my own domain was the obvious choice – a domain and a small web-hotel come cheap these days.

As it is, I found having a homepage which is independent of employer useful – especially as I’m moving from one place to another.

Technical advice? As a coding n00b, even I managed to install and run WordPress which can also be used as a general cms. Mac users (… ducks …) might want to check out an application like RapidWeaver.

(In case anybody wonder why I didn’t go for the obvious – well, that one was taken, but I do hold in reserve)


stm 06.09.08 at 10:54 pm

Here are some extremely easy and free tools and templates to make a nice looking webpage with minimal knowledge:


Colin Danby 06.09.08 at 11:01 pm

Ditto on the ease. I like Netscape Composer (free!) which makes nice simple pages. All you really need is one page with links to papers you put up. Nothing fancy.

Is there a way to date-stamp material you put up? I had a couple paragraphs of a working paper turn up translated & unattributed on a reference website (and apparently on a CD-ROM these bastards were selling) and while I didn’t care too much about the material as such it occurred to me that, yeah, one day it might look like I got it from them not the other way around.

OTOH having stuff up and accessible to search engines means that people come across your stuff who otherwise wouldn’t.


Jacob Christensen 06.09.08 at 11:33 pm

Actually, somebody at Slate thought about that and argued that if things were available on the internet – the example was Google’s Book Search – it would also be easier to discover plagiarism, etc.

So the point could be that you want your stuff to be on the net first.

But it is not without complications – I will be participating in a major project the next couple of years which will end with the publication of a number of books. I’d expect that the prospective publisher wants exclusivity which means that putting up working papers etc during the process will be difficult.


Jacob Christensen 06.09.08 at 11:35 pm

C€#p – forgot the link to the Slate article … here it is:

(Anybody at CT is free to edit this into the previous comment)


Danny Yee 06.09.08 at 11:48 pm

Microsoft Word will create web-pages for you.

Please do not use Word to create web pages. I work in IT support at a university, and my experience is that when academics come to me with web pages created using Word the easiest approach is to throw away the HTML entirely and recreate the pages from the text.

Pretty much *anything* is better than Microsoft Office generated HTML.

If you’re after a simple HTML editor, Kompozer – – isn’t too bad, but there are lots of options.


Danny Yee 06.09.08 at 11:54 pm

Further advice for academics:

* have your own, portable email address and don’t rely on your insitution providing continuity after you leave (we do, but central Uni IT doesn’t)
* get your own domain name (you can still forward your email to gmail and use the web interface there, but you get long-term independence)
* if your institution has bat-shit stupid intellectual property assignments (as we do here at Sydney Uni), make sure you first publish your content somewhere else (on your own web site, possibly) under your own copyright. Then you can safely stick it into your institution’s online course system labelled “reused with permission from “. (If you work at a real university that doesn’t insist they own all work done by their staff, this may not be so much of a problem.)


Alison Kemper 06.10.08 at 1:24 am

Fabulous. Thanks, folks!


Righteous Bubba 06.10.08 at 1:45 am

Please do not use Word to create web pages. I work in IT support



Keith M Ellis 06.10.08 at 3:54 am

“Microsoft Word will create web-pages for you. Use very plain fonts and don’t do anything complicated, but use “save as web-page” and you might be able to avoid learning anything at all about HTML. This may make IT people want to punch you.”

With apologies to danny yee and others, I agree with righteous bubba here. Mostly because Word is available to everyone and easy for them to use. It makes terrible HTML—really, really bad—but it’s gotten better over the years and any modern product out there these days is going to produce overly complex HTML anyway.

Furthermore, speaking as a dinosaur from the pre-web era who prefers writing my web pages in HTML directly, unless you’re extremely proficient with these technologies you’re not going to write a good-looking page by hand anymore. Professional, attractive pages now require a great deal of lay-out page design awareness that both requires some design skill and a great deal of technical HTML skill to write by hand. For the average user, it’s better to just rely upon a widely available, well-supported tool that uses good looking templates to produce WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) web pages. Word can do that, for all of its faults.

If you want to make the IT people like danny yee (and formerly myself) happy, then run the resulting code HTML from Word through a tool like tidy.


Oisin 06.10.08 at 4:23 am

Post 17 above mentioned homepages with blogs. I’m a PhD philosophy student, entering my 2nd year; is maintaining a blog a good idea for a PhD student, in addition to having a homepage? Or is it perhaps a bad idea? And if so, why?


christian h. 06.10.08 at 4:32 am

Good looking web pages? Why? You want to put some essential information out there, not win a beauty contest.

The vast majority of professional web pages in mathematics I know are basically an institutional header, maybe a photo, some text, and a bunch of links to papers and stuff.

I hate nothing more than a “pretty” web page where I have to look for the information through all kinds of clutter.


Keith M Ellis 06.10.08 at 4:54 am

“Good looking web pages? Why?”

Because anything less these days smacks of incompetence or indifference. That’s not the impression you want to give, especially in this context.

I’m not saying that the context is something like a IT person’s website. Not at all. In fact, something too pretty, too complex and layout-intensive will be the wrong impression for an academic to make. But the sort of site that one saw by academics in 1998 (which was half the people I knew ten years ago) just looks outdated and indifferent in today’s context. Yeah, KISS is a good principle, especially in this context where it’s an especially prized academic virtue (in some quarters, at least), but there’s nevertheless a distinction between simple and elegant and simplistic and amateurish. I feel that anything hand-coded in the basic HTML a novice can learn will result in the latter, not the former.

That’s not necessarily true, of course. Someone who knows better could write a carefully targeted design guide that a novice could follow that would produce an elegant hand-coded page for the average academic. It’s worth Googling for something like that.


Doug 06.10.08 at 8:20 am

“The vast majority of professional web pages in mathematics I know are basically an institutional header, maybe a photo, some text, and a bunch of links to papers and stuff.”

Done right, that is a good-looking page.


Danny Yee 06.10.08 at 11:22 am

I’m not convinced about the merits of a web CV produced from a Microsoft Word document designed to look good when printed. The results could be better than a page made with a simple HTML editor, but they could also be a lot worse.

So I’d follow Keith’s other advice – find someone else’s web CV that looks nice and works well and just copy it. (The layout, that is, not the actual content!) I think I read somewhere that 95% of CVs in job applications are based on just three Microsoft Office templates.


Eszter 06.10.08 at 11:54 am

So I’d follow Keith’s other advice – find someone else’s web CV that looks nice and works well and just copy it.

I thought that was my advice (about working with someone else’s homepage, that is).;-)

And yes, most programs (ever since they’ve started coming out) add a ton of useless code. I agree that one can achieve a simple yet functional and appropriate homepage without much elaborate coding.


GK 06.10.08 at 2:46 pm

While I was on the job market last year (in political science), I had a website with my cv & links to pubs. I had statcounter on the page so I could track hits, and what surprised me was that, judging by the domain names of site visitors, I had viewers from only one of the universities at which I had interviews (and no viewers from the other places to which I applied, but that’s not so surprising). Based on that experience, I’m skeptical of the idea that hiring committees look at these things.


GK 06.10.08 at 2:51 pm

Does anyone have recommendations for the best-designed academic websites?

I’m partial to Patchen Markell’s:


J 06.10.08 at 4:59 pm

Any advice on how to get one’s page to show up on Google searches? I submitted it to the Google scroll months ago but it’s still not up.


ozma 06.10.08 at 7:31 pm

How the heck do I get a webpage like that Patchen Markell guys?

One that I can constantly update myself. Is there a blog template that you could use to do that?

Oh, I want that webpage!!! Do I really have to understand how to create webpages to do that? Why hasn’t someone invented some typepad/blogger/wordpress thing to do that for us…EXACTLY like that?


Hugh 06.10.08 at 7:35 pm

When I was applying to prospective grad schools, I emailed supervisors from my portable, personalized-domain email address (which was, like Ingrid’s, a christmas gift). All the emails were very short and didn’t mention the website which is attached to that domain name. All the responses were along the lines of “based on the work experience listed on your website, I would like to meet with you”.

So I call that success. Also, when I arrived for a visit, the existing grad students wanted to chat about some of my stranger jobs and hobbies, which was a nice ice-breaker.


Colin Danby 06.10.08 at 8:07 pm

Let’s make the obvious distinction. If you want something like the Patchen Markell page linked above, which is kinda fun, you’ll need to pay a designer or do a lot of learning. If you just want to put up a CV and a few papers, extreme simplicity is best: get the visitor to the content as quickly as you can. Don’t be intimidated by design snobs like Keith Ellis.


Righteous Bubba 06.10.08 at 8:11 pm

If you want something like the Patchen Markell


New acquisitions and current favorites (5.14.2007)

His page is so wonderful to use that the frivolous fun part of it hasn’t been updated in a year.


Danny Yee 06.10.08 at 11:13 pm

His page is so wonderful to use that the frivolous fun part of it hasn’t been updated in a year.

And it uses frames, and not properly. Navigate through the site and notice how the URL in the address bar doesn’t change. Some tests with Google will show the effects of this – none of the sub-pages are indexed.

So beware of sites that look good but don’t actually work. You’re better off with a boring, plain site that works than something fancy that fails key functions.


Keith M Ellis 06.11.08 at 9:34 am

“Don’t be intimidated by design snobs like Keith Ellis.”

That’s probably the first time I’ve been called a “design snob”.

The web is a lot better designed and thus a lot more readable than in the past. Thus, when we encounter sites designed like it was still 1998, they look out of place.

Take a look at a site of mine, a very old (the first, in fact) site on the Monty Hall Problem. This should resoundingly refute the “design snob” accusation.

The site badly needs a redesign for the same reasons as I’ve been giving: it looks archaic. It needs to be split up into several pages, it needs more white-space and navigational aids, among other things.

Unfortunately, I’m very much not a design snob and my HTML hand-coding skills pre-date complex sites with complex style-sheets. Which is what is needed these days.

That’s not to say that an academic site with limited scope—say, a CV and a few other things—can’t be simple enough to write by hand. But it should conform to current design standards, using a black-on-white color scheme, lots of white space, and is well-organized and easy to navigate.

I haven’t re-written my MHP site because for it to be what it needs to be, it needs to be something completely different than what it is. Not to mention that my entire approach to explaining the problem has changed in the last ten years. But the site still works well as-is, so until I have the time to re-evaluate my pedagogical approach in the context of a web site design, write a Java applet to simulate the problem, create (or have someone else create) much better looking graphics…it’s going to stay as-is. But I certainly wouldn’t want this dinosaur presenting my professional face. Fortunately, I have no professional face. I don’t work. So it’s not a priority.

But what’s being discussed here is someone’s professional face. As much thought should be given to the website design as would be given to one’s CV or research presentation.


Eszter 06.11.08 at 12:32 pm

I don’t like sites that have an intro animation and I agree with Danny Yee that frames are a bad idea (e.g., for most people, the material is hard to bookmark).

I happen to like my own Web site‘s design (shocking, I’m sure:), and it’s been the same for quite a while relying on basic HTML (although some serious manipulation of the table tag to get the layout I wanted).

I think a professional page could be appealing and completely functional without fancy style sheets or even fancy HTML.


eudaimonia 06.11.08 at 1:28 pm

Sites that are too flashy, like Patchen Markell’s, or the even more lovely the Spanish Department at Berkeley are, I think problematic for academics–it distracts from the content (and for job-seeking new grads, makes it look like you have too much time on your hands).

Its best if your site looks like it isn’t designed at all: unfortunately this effect requires some knowledge to achieve. The elements of typographic style applied to the web is a good place to start.This site for example, is legible, sober and professional looking.


Kieran Healy 06.11.08 at 3:08 pm

I like my page just fine, and (apart from the blog) it’s hand-coded. Markell’s site looks pretty good once you get past the pointless flash intro.


anon. 06.11.08 at 4:12 pm

Another reason to have a web presence is to monitor who looks at the page and be variously intrigued, surprised, pleased, or disturbed. Recently my web page got repeated, frequent, visits from an IP that could only be the parents of a woman with whom I went on one date. Chalk one up for “disturbed.”


Keith M Ellis 06.11.08 at 8:14 pm

Eszter, yours is quite nice and pretty close to what I had in mind. I get the idea of the colored bounding boxes, but I suspect just having them be white and only implicit would look better.

I think that your page, along with an all-white background and some (subtle) typographic design applied to it would be very, very good.


Brad 06.12.08 at 1:47 pm

Since someone mentioned the Firefox Web Developer addon, I figured I’d throw in another Firefox addon: FireBug.

It does many of the same thing as the Web Developer addon, although its a little more about debugging than editing. However, the “Inspect” feature is an amazing tool when used to inspect other people’s websites and learn how they accomplish things, and for debugging display problems on your own sites.


Danny Yee 06.12.08 at 1:49 pm

I guess my web sites have changed a bit since 1997, but they’re still Web 0.5 – static html, no javascript, no flash, no databases, in some cases no images… Like Keith’s example, they still work fine.



clew 06.13.08 at 2:45 pm

There are several ways to export LaTeX to HTML; latex2html, or tth. I prefer the latter for math, don’t know how it is for fancy layout. (Don’t like fancy layout. Markell site required many extra mouse/kbd actions to see all of it. Pfui.)



David Hunter 06.14.08 at 7:31 am

I’ve simply used blogger with a somewhat tweaked template for my online CV.
I tweaked the template to remove the ability of people to comment, and the date/time stamps for each area. It still uses the date/time posted to underwrite the hierarchy of the areas of my CV.

The reasons to use blogger were:
1. Built in content management system
2. Minimal coding needed with guidance available
3. Independence from my current university
4. Easy to maintain and update
5. Looks (I think) professional
6. Free.
7. RSS feed (Okay so this is somewhat sad, who wants to follow someone’s CV? Well it allows me to update into facebook automagically and keep things updated there as well.)

If anyone wants a copy of my tweaked template then just send me an email if there is sufficient interest then I’m happy to post a how-to on one of my blogs. It really is easy though.

PS the biggest hassle of an online CV is keeping it updated – just like an offline CV, I have a reminder in my calendar to update it once a month.

David Hunter

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