Part of the reason I started this blog was so that I could experiment with different technologies, workflows, and design elements. Up until today, I had used Wordpress as my blog software because it seemed like the industry standard and was easy enough to get set up on my web server. Wordpress, however, proved somewhat difficult for me to try to modify because of all the interconnected parts. Trying to make a theme was an exercise in trying to not break features and plugins that I had installed. Since that prevented part of the purpose for making a blog, today I investigated the use of Jekyll as a blog software.
There are quite a number of reason I looked in to Jekyll. It stores posts in plain text, so my data is more portable. Text is one of the only file formats that has stood the test of time. Additionally, it is easier to version and does not take up very much space to store. This, in turn, make it easier ot keep multiple backups of the data. Jekyll also generates static pages, which decreases the page load time while also reducing security risks. Additionally, I like its workflow as it is very much like working with a program: make a change to the source file, commit it to version control, compile it, and then publish it to the web root of the server. Now, most of these qualities are also true of static site generators in general, but I chose to go with Jekyll because it is blog focused and there exists a non-trivial number of existing blogs powered by Jekyll, so there is plenty of source code for me to look at.
It might seem counterintuitive to take a more minimalistic approach and then throw on a framework with plugins on top of it, and in some respects, you would be right, however, I think that Octopress strikes a balance between utility and staying out of my way that Wordpress passed a long time ago. The closest approximation in main stream blog software that exists to this is Tumblr, but it does not allow quite the level of customization that I would like and it also cannot be hosted on your own server, which is something that I require in my software selection. There is always the danger that Octopress will become bloated beyond usefulness, but if that ever happens, I can revert back to using plain Jekyll easily, since all of my posts are in portable text.
Over the next couple weeks, I will be working on customizing the theme of this blog to get some experience with it and test out some color matching principles that I have been learning. When looking for information on Octopress, I came across a blog post by Wynn Netherland, a Texas-based Designer, talking about blog themes. Apparently, when Wordpress first became popular, its default theme was pretty good as well, so a lot of people did not change it. It became a hallmark of a Worpress powered blog. He observes that Octopress is doing the same thing and posits that you should customize the theme of your blog because it is, well, yours. He summarizes those thoughts below:
Content is your voice, but design is your on-stage presentation. Make no mistake, content is still king, but if your blog looks like all the other blogs in your niche, you've got to work harder to get your voice heard. If you haven't customized your blog, when a reader is dropped onto your blog from Twitter or Reddit or wherever, you're missing an opportunity to identify yourself with the great post that brought them there. So the real question is why wouldn't you customize the look of your blog?
For me, my blog is more than an outlet for sharing thoughts on design and development. It's my own personal laboratory to play around with front end tools, CSS techniques, and just have fun -- just for me.
Ultimately your blog should be just for you, too, whether or not you tinker under the hood. It can't be just for you if it looks like everyone else.
If you would like to use Octopress for your own blog, you should check out the following posts or pages:
- The Official Octopress Website
- Blogging with Octopress by Matt Gemmel
- Markdown Syntax by Daring Fireball
Have any thoughts of your own on blog design and customization? Share them in the comments below.