The Story of How I Moved to Static Web Hosting

I remember hearing about Jekyll years ago because I do a lot of Ruby development, and Jekyll was a popular Ruby based blogging platform that would come up in my searches. I remember back then I found it to be a little odd. Why would I use a flat file based blogging engine? Isn’t something that uses MySQL and executes code on the server every time a page loads better? What about a WYSIWYG editor, or an admin interface? Back then Jekyll seemed like a lot more work without many benefits.

So what changed?

Once I wrote a blog post about recording telephone calls and posted it on Hacker News. At the time my blog was self hosted on a virtual private server. My post became popular, and I made it to the front page of Hacker News. Then I started getting even more flabbergasted when my post made it to the top four.

Then My Server Crashed

My self-hosted virtual private server could not keep up with the amount of requests my post was getting so my blog started timing out and my post started dropping down from the number four spot. Ever since this incident the performance of my website and the number of requests it could handle was an issue I always kept in the back of my mind. I was always looking for little tweaks I could do in my Apache httpd.conf to make my server handle more requests. Things like disabling keep alives, finding the optimal number of processes I could have running that wouldn’t eat up my limited VPS RAM. It would have been nice to run my web server in a threaded mode, but I’ve read so many warnings about running PHP on threaded servers that I tried it.

Then I read an article about a trend in web development to develop websites as static pages that could be hosted on content delivery networks. The benefits were of course fast delivery and the ability to handle unlimited number of requests. It was an interesting idea for sure.

Wordpress Fatigue

Finally, I started getting tired of Wordpress. It seemed like no matter how much I tried, or whatever Wordpress theme I used, I could never get my site to look the way I wanted. Over time this caused me to lose interest in blogging, until I hardly posted at all.

I’d been using a commercial Wordpress theme designed for platform building. It was a good theme used and endorsed by a successful blogger. But after I’d handed over my money the theme was largely ignored by its developers. Even on the user forum people were wondering what was going on. This went on for about two years, when suddenly out of the blue I get an email from said the theme’s blogger asking me to pay another $123 to receive the latest version he was now using on his website. It was like he was holding the update ransom and I had to pay up before an artificial deadline passed and the price would increase. He kept sending me emails telling me how time was ticking and he didn’t want me to have to pay full price for it.

This blogger’s background is in marketing he certainly does it well. But that’s the thing about Wordpress, it’s core user base is a marketing culture, and there’s lots of money to be made in Wordpress. It’s apparent in Ottawa. I’ve met lots of people here who’ve built businesses on it. In Ottawa if you ask someone to build you a website, they’re going sell you a Wordpress site. But I’m not a marketer, and thinking about it doesn’t get me excited.

Getting tired of the marketing culture of Wordpress, I decide it was time to find a different approach to blogging.

Jekyll and A Fresh Approach to Blogging

I decided to take another look at Jekyll. I immediately noticed the improved project website. The documentation is now easy to understand, and the directory structure of a Jekyll project reminds me of a simplified Rails project. What’s very appealing to me is Jekyll’s workflow, which is similar a development workflow:

  1. Write blog posts on my local machine in an editor.
  2. Test it locally.
  3. Commit it using git.
  4. Push it to production server.

Best of all, all the code for my site is write in front of me in very accessible text files. If I want to change the look of my site, develop a new feature, it’s all there. I don’t have to read some documentation on a complex PHP API.

So that’s why I decided to switch to Jekyll and static hosting from Wordpress. I feel excited again to be blogging, and saving money in the process.