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New job and new site. Hello Google

Over the last few weeks, except for RSA, you might have noticed I have been very quiet. The reason behind my silence was that I was changing job and getting settled in a new appartement in Mountain-View.  I am now a research scientist at Google where I will work on trying to fix the Internet with a bunch of super smart people. To celebrate this transition and make it official, I thought it was a good idea  to re-vamp my website. Working on a new version, made me realized that I have been running this website for over 10 years so I thought it would be fun to do a retrospective of some of the site previous versions and its evolution. Let’s get back in time !
  
  

Bursztein.net is born

a famous gentlemen thief in Maurice Leblanc books. From the start my webpage was in French and English mainly because I was spending too much time on English speaking IRC servers.

PHP and ugliest design ever

In 2000, I started to host my site on my personal server (something I am still doing today). Hosting my site allowed me to use PHP (3 at the time) to write my site. I mainly used include which allowed me to separate the menu / design from the content. I also used it to display a random quote on the page. At that time I was very fond of  3d so I decided to do a pseudo “3d” banner. As visible on the screenshot the result was very ugly… I used this design for only a couple of months.

 

 

Javascript and an excess of tables

. I also randomize the image for a greater effect.  It is also at that point that I realized the limit of using <table> to design a website: I  used  36 nested tables for this layout…

 

 

 

The Phd  years

Shortly after stating my Phd, I decided to drastically change  the technology behing my website. Instead of using a hand-coded site, I decided to use WordPress as a CMS. I was already using wordpress for my blog  (which was at the time inftoint.com: from information to intelligence). I settled for very Apple-ish design as visible on the screenshot.  I experimented  with various designs but the Applish one remains my favorite

 

 

 

The Stanford years

I also merged my blog with my site. My goal was to have the fastest and easiest  site possible. To achieve these goals, I decided to switch back to a hand-coded site as I wanted to have more flexibility and a lighter framework that WordPress offered. However I did kept I kept using Wordpress for the blog. The version of this site was released,  in 2009. This is the system that was up until today. Over the last two year, the layout and underlying system have evolved a lot: for instance I  tried to  simplify the UI, I added a search engine and started to use a CDN (Amazon) for static files. Overall I feel that getting back to a custom site was a win as I learned a lot about speed and SEO optimization. Having a CDN helped a lot to absorbe the burst of download when the press featured our articles (I had about 2MBits of bandwidth at the time).

 

The Google years

At the end of 2011 between job, I decided to redesign and rework my site so it will became what you see today (let me know what you think of it in the comments).  Over the last three years, I have thought a lot of what was the purpose of this site is.  This reflexion lead me to the following drastic shift of perspective (a big thanks to Arvind here for sharing his insights)

Until 2010, I measured success by looking at the number of visitors which now I consider to be  the wrong metric for measuring success for me. I came to the realization that this site is about sharing my research with you and should be optimized for this. Accordingly in 2010, my metrics became the number of people who actually download a publication or share it with their friends.  I now almost exclusively look at this in Analytic as visible on the screenshot of my dashboard. I also monitor closely the bounce rate on the publication list page and the homepage because if people leave there they didn’t find what they were looking for

These metrics drove the simplification of the previous version and the introduction of the custom search engine. They are also the driving force of this new version.  As a result, this new version is designed to help people finding as quickly as possible what they are looking for, and incite them to read and share more .

Here are some of the choice made to help reaching these goals:  The search engine and social icon are more prominents and both on the top and bottom of the page.  There is now a breadcrumb to help deep-link page to be clearer. Similarly,  I added a small bio on the right column so people understand what this site is about regardless of the landing page. I also made sure that the important informations are above the fold for immediate access. To incite visitor to read more, I have implemented a recommendation system.

Regarding the design, I tried to make it more polish and tablet friendly. A major change is that, I finally took the time to write a wordpress theme that ensure that the blog design is consistent with the rest of the site. Hopefully this will make user experience with the site better. On the technical site, it is worth to note that the site use an adaptative design (try to reduce the size of the window to see what I mean).

To improve performance, I rewrote my javascript loader so everything except the CSS and a tiny bit of javascript is loaded asynchronously after the first rendering. Test shows that the page weight less than 300 k0 (with compression) and is rendered in less than 500ms on a decent cable connection.  The site uses extensively sprites to minimize HTTP requests.

Overall I hope you will enjoy this new version and will keep reading me Let me know if you like the new design, what you would change and if you found any bugs.

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Elie Bursztein

I lead Google's anti-abuse research team, which invents ways to protect users against cyber-criminal activities and Internet threats. I blog about web performance and security.

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Elie Bursztein © 2017
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