Site Redesign and Workflow

In my previous post I stated that I would be leaving the Blogger platform to better work into my flow. As part of that I have additionally redesigned my site so that things are hopefully easier on readers. Here is the workflow that I have developed that will work best for me, but first some notes on the redesign.

Making Changes

I personally was not liking the look of my site. Additionally I was not seeing any use case where having Google Ads on my site was of any benefit to me or my readers. So since I was going to be changing my workflow and migrating away from Blogger, I decided to take some time and rebuild the site layout.

As I had decided that I would use a static site generator, specifically Pelican and more on that below, I started reviewing the available public domain themes. I ended up selecting svbhack as the base, took some design queues from Text and Hubris in the use of the Font Awesome icons, and made my own customizations, which you can view in my dcnet-theme-svbhack repository.

Over the past four years or so my blog has been hosted at blog.darrelclute.net. The reason for this was as I was moving to Blogger after leaving an employer, at the time Blogger did not have the ability to utilize a naked domain as Google refers to it. Now that I am no longer utilizing Blogger I decided to make a change and migrate both my blog and my main site to the same site. Hopefully anyone subscribed through an RSS reader will receive the appropriate update to their configurations. I have setup the former blog to redirect with a 301 to the appropriate location on the combined site.

I've also made some changes to how feeds are generated. Instead of separating out personal posts to a separate site I am going to leave them as a single site. Although I don't expect to post many personal posts I am thinking of my potential readers. In addition to having a feed for all posts, I also have separate feeds for each category. I will also be migrating away from FeedBurner. I am having FeedBurner redirect subscribers to the all posts feed, so if you do not wish to get all of my posts please update your RSS reader appropriately.

That is about it for the changes to the site, let's delve into how I plan to become more effective in authoring content, by looking at the planned workflow.

Authoring

After reading Greg Ferro's book on blogging it became clear to me that I needed to rethink my workflow. Part of my problem with authoring over the past few years can in part be directly contributed to the blogging platform I had chosen. The biggest problem with this for me was that there was not a good method to interact with the platform from the command line. Now you are probably thinking to yourself:

Whoa, did he just say command line?

Yes, as I have extensively and nearly exclusively utilized Linux on the desktop for well over 12 years now, I can accomplish things much faster from the command line. In fact the majority of my writing is completed in Vim utilizing either LaTeX or reStructuredText. And I maintain my resume in LaTeX. Through reading Greg's examples of using Markdown, I easily saw how I could correlate that to utilizing reStructuredText which would be a better fit for me.

My last post I partially wrote out in reStructuredText before publishing just to ensure that I could start building my new workflow. I knew that I wanted to have my posts and such stored in Git as I have gotten quite used to it being part of many of my other workflows. With also being a Python user for my programming I completed a few quick Google searches and found Pelican.

Pelican is a static site generator written in Python. It will take a source file in reStructuredText or Markdown and generate a static site that you can literally host anywhere. It also utilizes Jinja2 for the templating language, which I've been utilizing frequently with Salt. So with some background you are probably wondering what my actual workflow is.

Quite simply I have a directory on any number of computers that I can simply pull the latest repository contents to and go. I have a basic structure of how the content is laid out so that I can keep track of items as well, which I have outlined here:

repository|
          |_____drafts
          |_____pages
          |_____<categories>

In this layout I start all writing in the drafts folder, I keep a file there for quick notes and each draft is separated out by slug as I start writing it. As I am also utilizing Git I also ensure that I commit any changes upon saving a file. The pages directory contains all static pages for the site, also in reStructuredText. The <categories> folder is actually more of a variable, I have a corresponding folder for each category. As I promote a post from draft to published, I simply relocate it from the drafts folder to the appropriate category.

So with the authoring of articles no longer requiring me to utilize a platform I can better focus on the task at hand. I no longer need to have my browser open to be able to be working on articles. This also has the advantage that I can work completely offline, which can be extremely beneficial when working without Internet access. Now that I have some generated content I just need to publish.

Publishing

Utilizing a static site generator like Pelican opens up where you can host your site to being nearly infinite. One of the things that I wanted to accomplish with the publishing workflow was that I would not have to generate the site pages locally and push them to the server. With utilizing Git this is fairly easy because I can have a post-update hook deploy on the server. But where to host? Well being a proponent of PaaS solutions and already leveraging Google AppEngine I decided I'd look down that route.

I could have simply deployed it to Google AppEngine as they have Git support now, but there has been something I have been recommending lately that I thought would be better to deploy to. I decided that I'd utilize Red Hat's OpenShift Online service as I have been extolling its enterprise version for Private PaaS deployments. Going through to build out the initial deployment was far easier then building out on Google AppEngine. OpenShift Online utilizes Git as the base means of deploying the application. This means that as soon as I push the repository back up it will build out the site, or at least the new pages.

You are likely thinking that if I'm auto deploying that my drafts would be published every time I push the repository. Thankfully Pelican has a configuration option where I can exclude directories from generation. This is quite beneficial for being able to maintain a single repository.

Since I am using OpenShift Online it is fair to clarify that the directory layout above is actually a subset of the actual Git repository. A minor detail but worth having clarified.

Why Static?

So with a static site, many people think that I'd loose the ability to have dynamic content on my site, such as comments. As many of you know services such as Disqus provide a means to host comments for you, it simply gets loaded through your call of some JavaScript code they provide. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch for most other dynamic content you may want on your site to be provided in this manner.

A static site is easier to maintain as you don't have to worry about your platform changing on upgrades. Using a hosted service like Blogger or upgrading your own install base of your favorite platform can unexpectedly change how your site behaves, or a lack of doing so causes your site to become defaced. Additionally a static site will scale far better then a dynamically generated site. If you need something dynamic, utilize a service or have a specialized application that provides that functionality through JavaScript. It is far easier to scale out a subset of functionality that is dynamic as opposed to making the entire site dynamic.

My site only has a single author, but that doesn't mean that this setup would not work for a site with more then one. Git is a version control system, designed to be distributed. By utilizing Git you can either provide everyone necessary with write access to the repository, or you can have them submit pull requests to the editors. People tend to be a bit put off by version control systems before or just as they are starting to utilize them. But don't let that hold you back from trying it out, it helps with tracking changes and differences, and correcting mistakes when they arise.

Closing Thoughts

Change is a good thing at times. I decided that as part of changing my workflow for article creation I would also refresh my site. I have already noticed an increase in productivity with the new workflow, and now that the site is published in its new format things should hopefully be simplified. In an industry that is constantly changing it is good for you to induce changes upon yourself at times instead of having them forced upon you by external factors. Take some time and think about the last time that you made a change for your sake, it may be time to make changes for yourself.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, the contents of this website are © 2005 — 2016 Darrel Clute and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Built using Pelican. Theme adapted from pelican-svbhack.