Adding Hidden Layers to Websites via Secret Subdomains

Random fun idea: adding layers of content and modes of interaction to one’s website — say, for example, mine! What might this look like?

This line of thought was inspired by some convoluted test I did to confirm that my site was up and running after switching hosts a while back. This process had me add an extra test subdomain and do some link shenanigans, and I ended up making one called “secret.brendanschlagel.com” — it was the first thing that came to mind besides “test” and I liked the idea of a hidden space, accessible only to people in the know. Similar to how any city functions differently, and means different things, to visitors and locals, it seems like it would be cool to have a part of my website that reveals itself in layers, perhaps a repository for things I don’t want to be fully public but still would like to share in some capacity.

Or perhaps it isn’t exactly another part of my site, but an entirely different version of it, that only reveals itself in certain contexts or interactions. The concept of responsive web design is simple yet powerful; perhaps this line of thinking could be extended further, and we just don’t play with it enough. Typically it means adjusting page layout based on device size. I’ve seen some that do get more creative, like Liz Danzico’s “Bobulate” which switches color theme from dark to light to match the actual day / night patterns in the viewer’s location — a fun twist that you don’t see very often.

It might be useful to spend some time thinking of other ways a website could either interact with the user and their specific context, or simply provide a greater variety of ways to navigate and interact with it. And yeah, subdomains…a cheap and easy way to create new sites-within-sites; a rich vein for nerdy fun. So, a list of some that might be fun to create for my site(s), as yet entirely hypothetical:

secret.brendanschlagel.com — a semi-private, hidden area revealed perhaps only to close friends/family, or to newsletter subscribers; I could post cool links or half-baked ideas or personal reflections that I don’t share elsewhere.

parallel.brendanschlagel.com — somehow presenting / theming the site in a different way; perhaps displaying a different content structure, or the same basic structure but with extra stuff inserted at the margins, or even certain things rewritten from a different perspective.

yourname.brendanschlagel.com — could be either parlor trick or highly useful and innovative networking device! I could, after meeting someone interesting, quickly put together a one-pager with a personalized curated list of articles or other resources, links to more of my work, and other fun things. I could even have a template for this, making it super simple to make a new one for favorite new people I meet.

inverse.brendanschlagel.com — similar to parallel, except explicitly devised for the purpose of creating some sort of alter ego, or sly paradoxical quasi-refutation of my individual character; a public persona, refactored

query.brendanschlagel.com — this could be interactive; a place for people to engage with things I’ve written, ask random questions, query my personal API (a thing that, to be sure, also does not exist yet, but would be interesting to consider!)

What’s the difference between implementing these sorts of things using subdomains (e.g. secret.brendanschlagel.com),and simply creating additional pages on my site (e.g. www.brendanschlagel.com/secret)? It’s semantic, but I think an important perceptual distinction — secret.brendanschlagel.com implies more of a root-level branching of the site, whereas www.brendanschlagel.com/secret feels more pedestrian, indicating a page named “secret” on the regular main site. Partly it’s just convention; I like the subdomain implementation because it’s less commonly used, especially for this purpose…but I’m not sure the details matter much.

The more general point I’m getting at is that there are a lot of tropes and expectations when it comes to websites, in both form and content, and there’s always more we can explore in experimenting with the medium. Not just on a technical level (though that’s great too) but in terms of weird content structure, subversion of expectations, hidden delights, added layers of meaning…all kinds of potential!

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