KISSing my site01.07.2018
Some time ago I migrated this very website from Wordpress to Jekyll. During the process I not only enjoyed discovering how simple a personal site can be (again), but even felt… the spirit of liberty.
I’ll put the “freedom” part first. I always preferred to keep my content on a server I own (or rather: rent - I’m paying for basic, cheap shared hosting and was an adopter of free ones (60free by OVH, anyone?)).
You should do that, too.
I’d say if you care for what you say or show online, you should also do your best to protect it from (accidental/service end-of-life) loss, arbitrary moderation or account hacking. Massive, centralized portals won’t give you this. I understand using Facebook or Medium for spreading your idea or piece of writing, but I wouldn’t make it “canonical” (primary) source of truth.
In the case your content doesn’t matter to you - what’s the point of posting it in the first place?
Of course hosting providers also dissapear (I’m desperately thinking about my parkour team’s website I kept on webpark.pl, now existing only on Schrödinger’s CD at my family house). Backup services retire (I fleed from Ubuntu One, and lately I worried a little about hubiC). But you can always freely move your data without worrying how to structure it or how many characters your thoughts need to fit within.
I’m thinking about another funny effect of letting Facebooks of today web die as a place we put all our activity on: the renaissance of custom, personal websites linked together. Instead a few “to-go” services that feed us with content, we would pick a bunch of individual addresses to follow and check once in a while. Add hyperlinks and we would learn how to waste time online again - how cool is that?
Back to technical matters, I managed to cut out PHP + MySQL parts entirely. Similar to fixie philosophy - the less “moving parts” you have, the less probable a breakdown is.
Due to my commitment to dead-low hosting expenses, I have limited number of available databases. Heck, I need to juggle them when I feel like creating a project that uses MySQL (I know, I know - I’ll eventually upgrade to VPS). Jekyll is a huge win - because it generates 100% static pages, the content lives where I believe it should - in plain text files.
Smashing Magazine had a fascinating case of its own conversion to static/serverless workflow. It turned out to handle pretty sophisticated cases, in example where posting comment triggers rebuild and deploy of the commented article, or where specific content parts are updated through git pushes coming from authors.
Alike Smashing Magazine, I used to run my website on WordPress. This engine is known as de-facto standard for blogging, and from perspective I think I chose WP based on the brand rather than educated decision. My main considerations regarding “then vs. now” functionality are:
- The built-in WordPress visual editor looks attractive and easy. But I remember switching to text mode often to make corrections because I wasn’t happy with generated markup (empty paragraphs, boundaries of styled elements). Writing markdown is no worse than that; and after a bit of practice it even feels more WYSIWYG than editor.
- One of the most popular WordPress plugins (with over 2 million installs) is WP Super Cache, which… serves users pre-generated HTML files. The plugin docs predicts that static content would be presented to “the vast majority of your users” (as much as 99%). If so, is it worth to mantain server-side scripting with its overhead for the needs of the few power/commenting users?
If you use WP Super Cache plugin, please consider turning your website into fully static one.
Remember the probably-lost-forever parkour website I mentioned earlier? In junior high school it was my IT project for an extra grade. I handed it over on a floppy. Not to mention that I only needed to worry about fitting vanilla content on a disk (no framework necessary), running it was trivial for my teacher. Would I get an A if it wasn’t static one?
For me the case was simple. I had 0 comments before, so I didn’t consider any discussion plugin at all. I don’t mind getting e-mail or Twitter message in response to my writing.
Your mileage may vary, though. The discussion itself can become a piece of information that extends the base content and is worth “owning”. There are options for running a commenting server detached from the website. I’ve also seen disputes that consisted of multiple posts on two blogs - I like this way especially because it allows more structured and insightful discussion.
Imagine my surprise when I noticed “Add analytics” note on my TODO list. I feel the Google’s service is being plugged into everything by default, just like jQuery used to be “must-have” for interactivity or WordPress is treated like “silver bullet” for blogs.
In a typical article-based website, backend is on an exclusive service for the content. The quality of writing, UX, SEO, even the author’s personality all have greater influence on site success than the technological stack behind it. In such scenarios, all the complexity we add is often less than optimal use of our time. For me MISSing (as in “Make”) my website made me more focused on the value that perfecting my CMS, plugins or deploy process simply wouldn’t deliver. I know I want to “K” it like this.