A personal website is useful in the current age, both as a marketing mechanism for me, and an outlet for things I want to share with everyone. Perhaps not many people read my blog posts, but my research code and my class outlines will hopefully be used by others.
There were several problems with this approach: * It takes forever to code pages from scratch. Partly because I didn't know a ton of HTML at the time, but also because I'm not a designer. I could never get things quite right, and it was hard settling on a design. * When I wanted to change the design or some other element, it also took a ton of time to manually change every page. But, by coding everything by hand, there wasn't a way to template anything.
To avoid this massive time sink, I actually coded a manual template engine by making a Perl script which formatted plain text blog posts into web pages. The Perl script would convert each text file on-the-fly. It seems a bit ridiculous, but it was the only way I could figure out how to do it all on my own.
After a whole of having a hand-coded site that I never really loved, I went completely the other direction: Wordpress.org
I self-hosted the wordpress-generated site on one of the many computers in my control, forwarding my domain to my home IP.
Wordpress is awesome in the fact that it does everything for you. There are thousands of themes, which make things look 1000x times better than what I could implement, and has hundreds of plugins that handle any other task you could think of. Collapsible text sections? Easy. Really fancy, touch-enabled jquery slider? Done. For a long time I appreciated this ease of use, but not everything was perfect.
My friend Brian recently put Jekyll on my radar by wanting to use it for a big project at work, and I began to play around with it. Jekyll is a blog-centric web creation tool. It allows you to make template HTML files, which have content fed to them from various markdown files. It then converts all the templates, markdown, and other files into a site of static HTML images. No database queries like wordpress or others, which makes it naturally faster to load and less strenuous on any hosting system.
Because everything is a text file (HTML or markdown), I can edit it in anything I want. BBEdit on my Mac, and the awesome ByWord app on my iPhone and iPad (I'm using the iPhone app right now). Way better than the subpar Wordpress web editor and questionable iOS apps.
Another great plus of Jekyll is that it is in the good graces of the GitHub gods. GitHub launched a cool new initiative called GitHub pages, where GitHub will give you free hosting if you sign up (username.github.io). Of course, this would never work with Wordpress as it requires a database, but Jekyll sites, since they're all static, will work perfectly fine. Additionally, github will host all your pre-compiled Jekyll files, so you don't even have to run that compilation yourself.
With my site now being hosted via GitHub instead of through my slow connection, large images will load almost instantly instead of several seconds.
There are lots of other considerations as well:
While it took a while to transfer my Wordpress Theme to Jekyll, now that it's there it's mostly smooth sailing. Still missing a few pages, but those will easily be converted over in the coming week or so. And future additions to my Education and Research sections will be a lot easier thanks to the markdown content.