A free and independent blog setup

But still not easy enough for me to use it

It’s 2020 and I re-platformed my personal blog to Substack. (I can’t wait for Substack to support custom domains, but I got a good subdomain so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. )

A personal blog is a great project to mess around with, especially since it’s allegedly the best way show off your professional skillz™ if you’re in tech.

Historically, this blog has been a minimalist, poorly-coded bastardization of an example. I was oddly proud of it, though, because I wrought it with my own terrible HTML & CSS.

That said, it turned a corner this year.

First, I finally found the combination of 100% free services to host & edit it completely painlessly (Forestry.io, Jekyll, and Github pages).

Since I’m a cheapskate, I’ve never wanted to pay Wordpress $5 a month. I already felt I was shelling out for my custom domain each year, why pay more?

Part of the problem was also that I should have been able to host this blog for free on HubSpot (because I work there). But, whenever I started down that route there were too many power / custom features standing in my way. I wanted a simple, “just words” theme setup I liked, and I couldn’t get there. (That may be changing.)

So, I tried a static site on Jekyll and Github Pages. It took a little fiddling, but it’s pretty straightforward and allowed me to learn some HTML/CSS without actually needing to make the template myself. Cool, works.

The only real problem with this setup was that I’d have to deploy EVERY TIME I wanted to change a typo or tweak a sentence. And as soon as I opened my terminal and started editing the repo, it was all too distracting. …Maybe I should adjust the padding just a little… all of a sudden, it’s 2 hours later and I haven’t written a thing.

Even when I did manage to resist the temptation of messing with the layout, the writing experience was far from polished. I was stuck in a code editor wishing I could write the post in a text editor - something easy, like Medium. But that solution comes with the old, “you’re renting space on someone else’s platform” issue.

(And yes, I’m aware GH Pages is now Microsoft, “the enemy”, but at least it was on my domain - which is what those “don’t write on medium” posts are really about anyways.)

Then the other day I discovered the missing piece - Forestry.io. It’s exactly what you need to enable a Jekyll+GH pages site! It allows you not only basic layout control, but also the no-hassle blog post editing/publishing front end I found myself missing.

So if you’re sick of paying $5 a month for the pleasure of updating your Wordpress plugins every month, check out this awesome new stack. If you care about independent control of your blog, it could be just the ticket.

——— Update ———

So. Classic advice post where the author doesn’t take their own advice, right?

Soon after discovering this stack, I relented to the tyranny of “easy”. As you probably noticed above, the biggest friction to publishing isn’t in 'how' you do it, it’s in the effort of doing it at all.

Substack has begun attracting journalists and bloggers that now depend on it to make a living. This has emboldened me to ignore the SEO costs of not hosting the blog on my own domain.

In the spirit of YAGNI, I’m betting that 1) Substack will release a custom domain feature within a year and 2) I won’t have a large enough following for it to matter until then (or realistically, after).

It seems Medium is pushing in this direction too with their reinvigorated bid for relevance.

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