Introdution

Bye Wix

Greetings Dear Readers,

About this time last year was the time when I launched my website for public view, so to celebrate this occasion, I decided to make a complete overhaul of my site (still not finished). Unlike previously though, this time around I wanted to create it using “real” website technology, and not with a graphical drag-and-drop tool, such as Wix (which I used for my previous website). I also wanted this tech to be simple, easy to use, and takes a reasonable amount of time to create an actual website with. Wix has its advantages, such as extreme ease of use and zero required web technology skills to produce a nice looking functional website, but frankly, over a longer period of time it starts to get in the way. More about this a bit later. So what is a reasonably easy website technology, where IT enthusiasts such as me can get their hands a bit dirty, but still not too easy, such as Wix? The right answer is Jekyll. What is this? What is it good for? Please read on to find out.

Motivation behind move

But before we actually start discussing Jekyll, I should probably point out why I decided to move away from Wix. For those, who do not know what Wix is, I suggest reading a bit about it on Wikipedia’s corresponding page before reading on. So, back to the reasons: Surprisingly, probably the worst thing about wix is its strongest selling point, the editor. One could easily ask now how this can be, as I previously stated that it is easy to use, and requires no special knowledge to start working with it. I think this is exactly what the problem is. When something is designed to be so easy, it inevitably starts to get in the way for people who prefer performance over ease of use. And I’m just one of those people (hey, I’m using Gentoo. Need I say more? :) ).

So let’s get into some specifics. As you might’ve guessed, personal websites more often than not, are used to share some stuff with the world. This requires a periodic visit to your website editor to add content, and as such, we can consider it of high importance how easily you can add new posts. And this is where wix really starts to show its weakness. To be able to add a new post in wix, one has to go through at least 4 clicks (more if you have to log in), which wouldn’t be a problem by itself, but to load the website editor alone takes like 15 seconds (and 250MB of RAM) on a mobile i5 with broadband and another 10 seconds (and an additional 100 MB of RAM) to load the blog post editor. This might not be annoying for the first couple of times, but waiting like half a minute each time you decide to add a new post (assuming you just add one at a time) gets really tedious rather fast.

As mentioned, the editor is quite the resource hungry beast, so even simple tasks such as editing a post feels sluggish, but one could probably force oneself to live with all this, if it was completely free, which it is not. And this is where we arrived to the third(?) major problem: cost. Wix is free as long as you don’t want to do anything more than to create a website. Once you want something more (which you will), it will start to cost you quite considerably. What are these extra things one might ask? In fact, nothing fancy, just the ability to connect your new and shiny website to your own domain, instead of the wix provided long and unprofessional (ugly) address: https://username@wixsite.com/sitename. This little thing will make your purse lighter with (as of the writing of this post) 4.5 Eur a month. This simplest package will also include 500 MB storage, 1 GB bandwith and the still unremovable wix ad/banner on your site. Want to remove the ad? No problem, just add another 4 Eur to the cost (a 8.5 Eur/month total) and the banner is gone, and you’re getting 3GB storage and 2 GB bandwith now (which you might not want in the first place).

It is quite obvious at this point, that despite the fact that Wix is easy to use and will set you up rather quickly, you’re paying quite a few extra bucks for otherwise basic stuff. I understand that Wix needs to finance the development and maintencance of their great webpage builder tool and (which they really update periodically) and servers, so I’m not complaining about what they are charging, I’m just saying, that ease of use comes with a price. So considering all this, and the deadline coming for the renewal of the wix service, I decided to move away from wix. But where to? When in doubt, ask your bro I say, so that is exactly what I did.

An alternative to Wix

He recommended me to give Jekyll a try, so I did a bit of research what that is. Jekyll is, well, a simple, blog-aware, static site generator to be really short about it. Yet again, I recommend Wikipedia’s article on the subject. To cut a long story short, Jekyll generates a set of html files from simple (markdown) formatted text files, css (and optionally javascript) files and predefined layout files, all this commonly known as a theme. Some of the advantages of this approach, is that it creates a really fast website (no database or any sort of backendish stuff behind it), you can use git to version control the site, you only need to add and edit a text file to add a new post (and regenerate the index.html with a simple command jekyll build), and you can use markdown to format your posts.

Also, you do not need to build your site from scratch as mentioned before, as there are quite a few templates available for customization, which makes the process of building a site quite easy and fast. As a matter of fact, once I got a suitable template, it took even less time to set my new site up than it was with wix.

All this makes it sound like, that Jekyll is the best thing in the universe, but I must disappoint. It has its drawbacks. For example, I could not find a convenient way to resize and position images in a post, and inserting images in general is a bit tedious (need to insert a link for each image in every post). Also, it takes a bit of time to get one’s head around some of the basic concepts the config files use, which you really will need to do for complete customization. Also, if there is a bug in the theme, you’re on your own to fix it, unless the developer of the theme is willing to help (I also had/have some issues with mine). But otherwise I can’t complain about anything else so far. As for costs go, it really depends on what you need. If you have a github compatible template, hosting doesn’t cost a penny, as github supports jekyll directly.

If you want some different templates, you will probably need to host your site somewhere else, where costs can vary greatly. I must stress it out though, that it is not really hard to find dirt cheap services nowadays, where cheap really does mean cheap, like <10 USD a year. As you can see, it is much more affordable than wix for example, but there are tradeoffs obviously, like managing your own hosting, manually uploading new files (I think it is possible to automate it, needs further research), fixing/modifying templates, etc. But considering that this approach is cheaper, and more importantly, adding new posts is just a matter of opening your favorite text editor and issuing a simple command in the command line is a welcome light breeze in the face. If you are a bit more computer savvy person than the average, I most definitely recommend to go with this approach. I managed to customize and deploy a Jekyll powered site in less than a week (including the migration of posts, which needed reformatting), so it really is the way to go. Wix was great to make my first site with, but now it is time to move on.

Conclusion

What I can conclude from all this, is that setting up a personal website nowadays is not rocket science, one just needs to sit down, research a bit, ask around, decide what to use and go for it.

Once again, thanks for reading.