Jon Simpson

Wordpress, Jekyll and Web Publishing

22 Feb 2009 — wordpress, web publishing, weblog, meta

In 2004, when I was looking for a good way to publish content to the web, Wordpress was the promising newcomer. It seemed the thing to use, and I jumped into it. Here and now in 2009 Wordpress has become a bloated and overcomplicated headache for me due to the huge number of features I don’t need that have crept in over the many versions (I jumped in at 1.2, it’s currently at 2.7).

Also posing me a headache has been Wordpress’ profile, which now seems to be such that any installs not up to date are at serious risk of being hacked, defaced and generally abused. I received a “Malware Notification” about certain pages on my site from Google in April 2008, and there have been other occasions where ads and hidden spam links have been inserted into the posts through various exploits. That and all the comment spam. Wordpress-land just doesn’t seem like a nice place to be anymore, and it’s been a constant pain to look at the sorry state of my site.

Having grown tired with Wordpress and wanting to do something positive about both the site and my enthusiasm, I stumbled across Jekyll - a ruby static site generator focused on providing weblog & simple page functionality with markdown at the core. My previous experience with Markdown has been favourable, and being able to write entries in a text editor and upload plain HTML files instead of the whizz-bang AJAX/MySQL/PHP editing interface of Wordpress seemed very appealing.

Working with Jekyll for a while did expose a few issues that I wasn’t keen on. I found that it’s rather specific path structures & general inflexibility in what information was carried from post to template were two main concerns, problems which could have been fixed relatively easier. A major stumbling block though, was the move to static generation of HTML. The immediacy of editing the content being served is lost, and it felt like introducing another step to the process.

Having come tantalisingly close with Jekyll to what I wanted, I was inspired, in an act of true procrastination over the winter break, to roll my own custom weblog/site system. I have spent the last couple of weeks bringing forward the old content and rectifying 301 redirects for old URL’s and I’m really loving the new system. It’s written on PHP1, with ports of John Gruber’s Markdown and SmartyPants libraries for the content formatting. Blog posts have become plain-text markdown files in the file-system, and no MySQL is involved - a major plus, as it allows me to store the site in svn, and write from anywhere I can work with my repository.

The new design is on the minimalist side, I find it refreshing after the clutter of Wordpress, and as I brought forward the old content it became obvious that this style places a much sharper focus on the actual text. A lot of insignificant content has been preserved in the archives, but I’m not one to break links where it can be helped - and a few of the old posts seem to have healthy inbound links. I had a very nice walk down memory lane recalling some of the off-beat posts about my degree and events several years old.

I have said many times in the past that a renewed vigour would follow a change in site design, structure or publishing system here. I’ll refrain this time. Maybe that’s a change too?

  1. PHP continues to be my staid companion in web development, much to the pain of my need for the new and shiny. At least the object model in PHP 5 is a vast improvement.