Well, it’s that time again: I’ve decided to switch blog platforms. To commemorate the occasion, I thought I’d share a little bit of my personal blogging history.
Way back in the dark ages of blogging, my friends and I all got our first online journaling fix through Xanga. At the time it kind of filled the role that Facebook fills for a lot of folks now: it was a place to say whatever was on your mind whether it mattered or not, and get lots of random feedback from as many friends as you could collect. That was kind of nice, in a way …I think my Xanga site got more comments than all my other blogs combined since then.
Unfortunately, it was also quite ugly. Over time we all drifted onto more elegant platforms: most to Facebook, some to LiveJournal, and a few to things like Blogger and Wordpress, which we had all only just heard of. I think the reason I finally left Xanga was that I wanted to have a “real” blog, one that would be read by family and friends outside of my immediate college circle. And so, we move along.
Back in 2006 I was really into all things Google; it was only natural, then, that I would be drawn in by the appeal of Blogger. In 2006 I set up the perpetually-untitled jazzslider.blogspot.com, many of whose posts have followed me forward to successive platforms. For the most part I kept my Blogger site personal; I wanted to communicate with family and friends, but not necessarily shout my thoughts at random into the blogosphere.
I did, however, start to develop an interest in tech blogging towards the end of my tenure at Blogger. I had recently gotten a full-time position as web developer for UNT’s international office, and was starting to think of things to share. At first I posted these tech pieces on my Blogger site …but then I discovered Wordpress.
Wordpress had, and still has, quite the following among the web developer crowd. It was elegant, highly functional, and just felt more mature than Blogger at the time. I originally started In Defiance of Titles (the Wordpress version) as an experiment with the platform; I figured I’d start posting my technical content there, keeping Blogger around in the meantime for personal stuff. It didn’t take long before I realized that Wordpress was a lot more fun to use, and just started posting everything there.
Wordpress took me through some of my most productive blogging experiences; I wrote an extensive series on building a home NAS appliance, along with a few PHP and Zend Framework development posts, a few of which even got syndicated by phpdeveloper.org. By late 2009, however, I was ready for a change.
In 2008 I had accepted a position as a systems administrator in the UNT Central Web Support office. It was a different sort of work than I had been doing before that point —very little development. While I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to learn a new skillset, I missed programming, especially working with Zend Framework. To keep up my chops, I decided to write my own custom blogging platform, quaintly titled “Blahg”, on top of Zend Framework and Doctrine.
When Blahg was ready, I also took the opportunity to start self-hosting on SliceHost at jazzslider.org; this gave me complete control over my entire blog platform, all the way down to the operating system. I loved it; having my own custom solution really gave me a lot of control over how my content was published. I still kept the Wordpress blog around for the SEO value of my major series, but Blahg was all I really wanted to use for a long time.
Recently, however, I’ve started to feel the cost of running such a custom solution, in more ways than one. For starters, my SliceHost account is running me $25 per month —way too much when you consider that there are free platforms out there that do most of the same stuff. Besides that, the cost of maintaining custom software is more than monetary: anytime I wanted to improve something, I’d have to code it myself. I enjoy that, but I also enjoy writing …and that’s why I have a blog, after all.
That brings us up to the present day. A couple of days ago I ported all my old content—Blahg, Wordpress, Blogger, and even some Xanga—into an instance of Octopress on my home server. Octopress is a wrapper around the Jekyll static site generator, which allows you to generate a completely static website from a collection of flat files living on your local computer. You can then publish the generated website to any host that supports static content …no need for fancy databases or scripting languages. The best part is that you can write your posts in a wide variety of syntaxes, including Markdown —which has quickly become one of my favorite writing tools, even for non-web content.
I’m hosting the new site in the Amazon cloud, using their free usage tier to cut the costs (at least for the first year). Ultimately, all this means I can run a full-featured blog site, retain full control of the presentation, and pay exactly nothing per month to do it. Sounds good to me!
So there you have it: six years’ worth of blogging platforms, all resolving down to a good old-fashioned static website. Life does take its turns, doesn’t it?