Ryan  Burns, phd
May 13, 2013

Moving from WordPress to Jekyll

A couple weeks ago UW shut down my web hosting because I am on research leave. They shut it down despite the fact that your website serves as a public “face” for people you’ve only contacted through email, so it’s especially crucial during research leave. I was able to have UW restore my file system long enough to grab a backup, and I migrated the page over to a Jekyll page on GitHub.

I haven’t even made half the transition yet, but I’m liking it a lot more than my WordPress page. It took a lot longer to set up, but that was because 1) it works really well with a number of distributed plugins, each one I had been missing (see examples below), and 2) WordPress uses a character set that didn’t convert easily into markdown.

Despite the claims that everything is online “these days”, I often find myself without a solid internet connection - in an airplane, a motel or someone’s home, driving in the middle of nowhere… So it always bothers me when technologies are available only online. That’s one of the cool things about this GitHub+Jekyll setup: I can develop while offline, test it on a local server, and then upload them when I’m connected. This partly goes along with the lack of the admin interface that some people decried in Wordpress. Without the need for an admin interface I can just develop everything locally on my hard drive if I need to.

It’s super, super simple to edit in comparison with WordPress’s endless layers of PHP. Trying to edit the appearance of themes in WP was always a pain in the neck for me, partly a result of my limited knowledge of it. Oh, and try adding a line of JavaScript! Ugh! With GitHub and Jekyll, it feels more open and free (libre) because I can copy, paste, and edit code from others’ GitHub pages.

So, for the platform, here’s my current setup and immediate plans. I set it up on Jekyll (thanks to these super helpful links). This was quick and easy partly because Ben Balter wrote an excellent script to convert WordPress sites to Jekyll-compatible markup. I decided on the Left Jekyll theme, which will look nice after some customization, I think. I’m using Disqus to manage my comments, and messing around some with IntenseDebate. I’m also trying to figure out if, and how, Prose.io can help me with text editing so I can move out of my super good TextPad but into something a little more streamlined.

In purely pragmatic terms, being able to host the site for free on a platform I don’t have to worry about is nice, too. To be frank, I think it was pretty crappy how UW shut down the site so abruptly without a concern for my use of the site. Don’t have to worry about that with GitHub: it’s institution-agnostic.

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