I need to know how to build a website. Why chose a medium I have no expertise in? Because it's most appropriate to the study, so I just need to work hard overcoming a missing skill set to realise it. I can't jam the theory into ill-fitting media.
Besides, learning something new is always a good thing.
So I asked the asinine question on Metafliter, and got a a fantastic avalanche of carefully considered answers. The consensus seems to be that I'm attempting something difficult, but not impossible. Something which will be laborious and slow to accomplish, but which will leave me well equipped with web development skills for the future. I got a lot of detailed, step-by-step advice about how to approach the task, like the following, one of the best answers:
So you can see what's involved.
I'm actually going to take this advice, and learn CSS and XHTML, adding to my knowlege according to the various Mefi replies after I have confidence in those areas. As for the demands of my PhD program, however, it's probably not realistic to get a site up and running this semester, and as a very big part of the work is planning the site, on paper, I will get down to that concurrently. That's going to take a lot of work. A lot of thinking.
My greatest fear, at this stage, is this: The site is heavily dependant on the participation of others, and without that participation, it's just a portal of no consequence. I can strong-arm all my creative, brilliant friends into contributing for the sake of my survival early on, but I will have to reach beyond that to really get it going in the way I want it to. Must I promote it? What happens if no one comes to play?