Back in 2000, I made a mini-website to host and compare a handful of translations of poems by Rumi and Omar Khayyam. The purpose of the site was to make available samples of alternatives to the sappy, New Age Rumi “translations” by Coleman Barks (who doesn’t even read Farsi), to offer a comparison of Khayyam translations, and to give my new boyfriend something fun to look at between coding jags.

After a couple of years, I put the whole site hosted at on ice, and I had assumed that the Persian material would have fallen off the internet by now. Turns out, not so much. I recently discovered by accident that my Persian poetry pages were on the first page of Google’s results for “Persian poetry,” and that they were still getting quite a bit of traffic—more than they ever got in 2000, certainly. I took a look at the files themselves and was a bit chagrined to see tables used for layout (though CSS for type control) and various other technical sins, but that’s how we had to do it in 2000.

My tastes have changed in the last ten years, and I’m more interested in Donne than Rumi these days, so I’m not likely to spend the time required to fully update the pages now (though I did go in and bump up the type size a little so I could actually see the words). Were I to build such a site now, I would certainly:

  1. Use CSS for layout
  2. Build it on WordPress to ease updates
  3. Take a more academic approach to the texts and supplementary material
  4. Consider illustrating them with something a little less rooted in the tradition of European fairytale Orientalism than Dulac’s paintings, glorious though they are—although it’s probably appropriate to put Dulac and Fitzgerald together, given their culturally similar starting-points.

…but you know, the text is there. And as far as Google and its users are concerned, that seems to be what matters.

It was a different web in 2000—a mostly pre-Wikipedia web, even—and for all its faults, it made available a lot of hand-rolled and often useful content. So I’m going to leave the pages up, be glad that modern browsers are as forgiving as they are, and get on with the business of making new things that will look just as funny in 2019 as the Rumi stuff looks to me now.

It’s not that the medium doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have worked at A List Apart for ten years if I didn’t believe it did. But the message (still) matters more.