Trying GitHub Pages and Jekyll

09 Apr 2016

tl;dr

I’ve blogged using WordPress since 2009 but been frustrated that backing-up posts wasn’t easy. Greater familiarity with GitHub is useful for my current product. GitHub hosts a free, static site for each user through GitHub Pages. GitHub Pages can be married with Jekyll to create a blog hosted on GitHub.

Intro

I’m writing this blog post using Markdown and publishing it as a static website thanks to GitHub Pages. The blog is powered by Jekyll. This post to explains how and why I’m doing this.

How

Jonathan McGlone has published an excellent tutorial. Follow it and you’ll create your own blog too. The tutorial assumes very little knowledge and covers Git (version control system), GitHub (hosting service for development using Git), GitHub Pages (free web pages from GitHub) and Jekyll (a ‘static’ site generator, based on templates). You’ll then start writing blog posts using Markdown.

5 Whys

Why am I cheating on WordPress?

1. GitHub

I’d like to become a more sophisticated user of GitHub and I assume that regular, practical use is the best way to learn.

2. Documentation

I’m a product owner and have written about the importance of separating my product backlog from my development team’s sprint backlog. However, I could usefully have more knowledge of their activity and feedback they receive from our users in the form of issues. We believe in the agile manifesto, including ‘working software over comprehensive documentation’, but what we’re finding is a need for more documentation so that we can remember and evidence user feedback and action we’ve taken as a result. Our delivery manager smartly suggested making better use of GitHub before creating a new artefact so any opportunity for me to increase my understanding of GitHub in a practical sense without becoming a drain on the team (i.e. asking them to spend time mentoring me) is valuable. Additionally, most developers seem to hate using Google Drive so I’m sure they’d be much happier if they could collaborate on documents with me via GitHub instead.

My personal website has been active for years and is clearly something I regularly work on, so re-creating it using GitHub Pages and Jekyll should give me opportunities to learn more about GitHub in a practical sense.

3. Backup

WordPress is awesome. Back in 2009 (when I became more interested in web development because of the products I was working on), WordPress was a fantastic way to get online quickly. I wrote a now defunct food blog called ‘The Boy Can Cook’ that had a regular audience in the hundreds and led to some cool things (reviews, events, freebies).

Working with charities, social enterprises and startups, WordPress has been (and continues to be) a great way to make your mark. Services I’ve led like Young Dads TV, Mind of My Own, and Disclose Me (to name a few amongst many) have all benefitted from the WordPress universe.

WordPress started with personal blogs. My personal website is where I have most regular contact with WordPress. My use of the blog has changed over time and now I don’t care how many readers I have, it’s a public place to figure things out, get insights from a handful of people and return to in weeks/months/time to see what my thinking was like at a point in time. I think of my blog as a public place for private thoughts. My posts have value to me and so I want to back them up. This is not easy in WordPress. It’s not impossible but it’s not as easy as other elements of the WordPress universe, so I’ve been looking for an alternative for some time now.

4. HTML

HTML is fascinating. HTML has emerged as a globally organised language and fundamentally changed the way we live our lives within twenty-five years. I recently heard a conversation between developers saying that websites written in basic HTML many years ago often remain functional and accessible. I’ve been playing with HTML on and off over the years, GitHub Pages gives me a chance to continue to do so (along with CSS) when editing the layout of the default home page and blog page of my site.

5. Time

I guess, ultimately, time’s moved on. WordPress was perfect for my needs when I first published a cookery blog blog back in 2009, and it was valuable for me to learn about it in order to inform services I’ve worked on over the last few years. I’m certain it’ll continue to remain valuable for the forseeable future. Now though, my technical understanding of HTML and CSS has increased and the world has moved on. GitHub, pages and Jekyll are more useful to me right now, so I’m going to get stuck in. Wish me luck!

Over

Do you use GitHub to get feedback from your users? It’d be great to hear how you loop it back into your Product Backlog. You can nudge me on Twitter and GitHub.