Website Unification

/ 19 January 2018

As anyone who has looked at my blog in a web browser in the past month has probably noticed, it looks very different than it did in early December. The purpose of this post is to alert readers who use the feeds to this fact, as well as to introduce the new website a bit to everyone.

If you have not yet seen my new website, I encourage you to go take a look, starting at the blog page (given what you are reading right now). Poke around, explore, and if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please contact me. You can comment here, or use my email address which is at the bottom of every page on my website.

One important advantage of my new website is that it is a single unified entity. In the past I had what served as my main website as part of my family’s PmWiki website, this blog was hosted in the WordPress Network my family runs, and assorted other pages were individual pages that actually lived under the domain. Now all of that is under one roof, so to speak, completely hosted on the single domain where previously just individual pages lived. Everything shares a single unified design, and it all is clearly part of a single entity. This makes for a website that is much easier to maintain, and one that is more sensible to visitors.

I’ve built this new website using Jekyll, which unlike PmWiki or WordPress, generates static websites on your local machine and then all that is on the server is HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other static resources. There is no computation going on like PHP (the language both PmWiki and WordPress are written in) inherently is. This provides a few awesome benefits. First, for visitors, the site is extremely fast and responsive (it is also, unlike my old websites, responsive in the meaning of that term that the website looks great on all sizes of devices, too). Every page should load near instantly. If it doesn’t, then there are issues with the server itself or your coonnection to it, not with the code of the site. Nothing computational running on the server doesn’t mean a boring website, it just means that the liveliness of pages, where it exists, is all done in JavaScript, within your web browser.

Another key benefit to static websites is security. WordPress, unfortunately, is susceptible to hacking, and even as bug fixes come out, new vulnerabilites become known. That in part is a fact of the technologies behind WordPress. However static websites, because they have no server-side computation, really cannot be hacked. This is an extremely convieient feature of this website for me. I won’t be dealing with hackers breaching my own website, even though I now and again do have to deal with that for clients.

Working with Jekyll is basically a matter of Markdown, HTML, and Liquid on a regular basis. SCSS for design, that then gets built into CSS. JavaScript for interactive elements. Plus Ruby, a language I’ve barely used but am interested in using more, for additions to the website building process (new Liquid tags, etc.). In simpler words, it feels like a breeze to work with my website compared to any of the three previous systems my website was using. The benefit of this is that I expect to be changing my website more often moving forward, so it will stay fresh for visitors.

As with every major transition there are also things that get dropped. Progress requires some sacrifice. In this case, one such thing is that I’ve made a conscious decision to retire the Day by Day name for my blog. Instead, the blog portion of my new website, which is the direct successor to Day by Day is simply known as Blog. This matches better the layout of my website, where a single word in the navigation bar at the top makes sense, and also as it is part of one entity that shares my name. But also, let’s be honest, I haven’t written on my blog daily in years, so that old name really does not match what it is any longer. Today my blog is usually a fewer number of longer pieces of writing, a very different thing from the daily journal of an elementary school kid, which is where it began.

Since the site no longer has anything computational, it also has dropped the email-based subscription mechanism that lent it. I don’t forsee implementing a replacement for that. Instead, the blog still has an RSS/ATOM Feed, and has carried forward the JSON Feed format that has recently emerged. All those feeds should just redirect from their old locations, and news aggregators ought to recognize the permanent redirects and update your feeds for you. If not just paste the website URL in to your reader and choose the feed you want to subscribe to again.

I like to allow my blog posts to be potential spurs for conversation. With no computation, I’ve migrated the commenting (now known as Discussion) aspect of my website to Disqus. This means to comment you’ll need an account there, or to log in via a social network. An advantage is that discussions on my website will be included in the wider community that Disqus is creating, and comments you make across Disqus-linked sites will be connected together. Since the web in general should foster wider conversation, I do like this aspect of the new discussion features. To access the discussions for any post just click the Discussion button below the post content.

Besides writing another area of content I built this website to showcase is the artwork that I do. This grew from a similar, but far more hard-coded, section on my old website, into including all the other artwork that was previously spread around my website. As I do more digital art over time I intend to post it here. Art, like posts, also have discussions.

I have done my best to maintain all old URLs and have them redirect to the appropriate new locations. Yet, I am pretty sure some have been missed, just because of how many there are. Let’s face it, I have had a large website for most of my life. I’ll fix them as I am made aware of broken links, but hopefully everything you try to access is still there.

My website is just as big and content-rich as ever, but now that everything is visually and systemically unified it will be far easier to update over time. I’ve made simplifications to site structure everywhere I could, so hopefully as new content is added organization will stay logical and not break down like it did in the past.

I hope that you all enjoy my website, and its deep integration of all the content that came before it into this single website I have moving forward. I, for one, was getting embarrassed by my old websites, and this new one at least is technologically and with regard to content fresh and has a bright future, and therefore something to be proud of. If you run into any issues with it, or have any questions or comments about it, feel free to reach out.