I had several goals when creating this site:
- Give myself a simple workflow that lets me focus on creativity, not the tools
- Create clean, uncluttered pages that load quickly
- Be independent from the dominant web giants (Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google) and blogging platforms
- Avoid services or technologies that track users or harvest their personal data
- Avoid services that rely on ads and other sponsored content
- Avoid lock-in to specific vendors by using free open source tools
I decided at the outset not to host blog comments - partly because of my non-tracking approach, but also because I don’t want to deal with spam or worry about content moderation.
These goals fundamentally drove my choice of hosting platform and development tools.
I’m using GitHub Pages as my hosting environment. GitHub is a web-based content hosting service, and is itself built on the open-source Git version control system. GitHub Pages is a service offered by GitHub for hosting static websites - sites whose content is prepared in advance and which does not use information harvested from readers when they visit the site.
My content creation workflow is a standard one for GitHub Pages:
- I write the pages on my development machine using the Atom text editor. Compared with something like Microsoft Word, Atom is clean and minimalistic. It has one job to do (edit text) and it does it well
- I insert simple Markdown formatting instructions to get headings, bullet lists, etc. Atom gives a live preview of the Markdown so I can check that the formatting is broadly correct
- When I’m happy with the text, I upload it to my GitHub repository using the GitHub web interface
- GitHub then automatically processes the raw text files using Jekyll to create the static web pages you see in your browser
- I check the new content in a separate browser (usually Opera), using additional browsers (typically Firefox, Safari, Edge and Chrome) if the change involved page formatting or similar
If you want to try this yourself, there are some really great tutorials that explain the steps needed to create a GitHub Pages site. The set-up process basically involves creating some folders and files that provide the framework Jekyll needs to automatically convert text files in a GitHub repository into web-pages. The tutorials typically provide full examples, although you’ll need beginner-level awareness of html and css to change the default template settings.
By default, a GitHub Pages website will have github in its web address. However, it’s relatively easy to create your own custom domain (in this case, www.non-kinetic-effects.co.uk) and make it point at the GitHub site (although this will typically incur a small registration fee with a third party registration service).
Now that I have the site up and running, the tools aren’t getting in my way (unlike some - I’m looking at you, Blender) and I can completely focus on the creative process. The individual tools are reasonably well documented and so far I haven’t hit any fundamental show-stoppers. The only things that required a little trial and error were the process of pointing my custom domain at GitHub (by editing the CNAME record from my domain registration account), and making the site responsive to different device types (page width and image re-sizing).
Just as my site went live, GitHub announced that they were going to be acquired by Microsoft. It’s not yet clear whether Microsoft will keep GitHub ad-free and free-to-use, or take actions that degrade the GitHub service. However, because I have a non-GitHub URL and am using open source tools, I can move the entire site elsewhere if necessary, and readers shouldn’t notice any difference.