How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Static Blog
Blogger provides an easy, integrated blogging service, but I have not been posting with anywhere near the frequency I had hoped for, and have recently started thinking of the reasons why this is. The list I cam up with includes:
- Page load times: To get syntax highlighting, a nice theme, etc., my posts have an incredible amount of download cruft.
- Editing Interface: While blogger’s WYSIWYG editor is fairly intuitive and the HTML editor is the appropriate power tool, I don’t like the fact I have to (1) be online, and (2) find a lot of situations where I want something in between a WYSIWYG and raw HTML.
- Offline Editing: Expanding on the above point, I travel a lot, and it would be great to be able to compose and view posts offline (like on a plane).
- Versioning/Backups: Blogger doesn’t allow for easily versioning of posts, which would be nice.
I essentially run a programming blog, and as such, I don’t need a lot of frills, bells or whistles. What I really want is text-based, powerful and configurable blog engine. Enter Jekyll.
Hello Jekyll and GitHub!
There are many stories of folks moving successfully to Jekyll, and the feature set really hit my pain points:
- All Text: All files are text, and either configuration, markdown, template language, or whatnot.
- Versioned: It’s all source, so place your source under Git, and you’re ready to go.
- Offline: The whole site can be generated or locally served without and internet connection.
- Markdown: There are other pre-processing options, but I just went with Markdown, and it’s really nice and easy to write posts now without jumping back and forth from a WYSIWYG editor to straight HTML. I stay in Markdown and everything (mostly) ends up looking correct.
- GitHub Support: GitHub’s default document generator is Jekyll, and (separately) has full website support with CNAMEs. This provides an easy means of both site storage / versioning as well as the actual serving.
However, this is not to say that a Jekyll site is everyone’s cup of tea. There are some drawbacks to this approach:
- Manual CSS, HTML, etc.: There are no built-in themes, etc., because you are crafting a site from scratch. Really, this isn’t too bad because other Jekyll-site authors often publicly version their source with permissive / public domain licenses at GitHub, so you can pull source for examples. Also, there are a lot of starter kits for static CSS / HTML sites. For me, it’s really a nice opportunity to get re-acquainted with site design.
Packing Up and Moving Out
The first step to migrating my Blogger site was to simply download all of the posts in a Jekyll-friendly format. I used a very simple script that a good job of downloading basic HTML from the Blogger feed URL.
I then took the HTML pages and further converted them to Markdown using the handy html2text script. From there, I had to manually edit the gremlins left in the conversion process, including redoing anchor tags, removing Blogger-specific extras, and getting local images into my source repository static media directory.
Jekyll has its own default (but customizable) format for blog post names. I
like it, but it is slightly different than Blogger, which all my existing
posts already use. Fortunately, each Jekyll post has a
allowing the post to escape the normal URL processing rules and use a one-time
Making things easier, Disqus has Blogger support. So, I first switched my Blogger site comments to Disqus, then used the Disqus blogger import tool, available at:
http://<DISQUS SHORT NAME>.disqus.com/admin/tools/import/platform/blogger/
I followed the instructions and started the Blogger comment import. I expected the import to finish quickly, as I only have a handful of comments at the time of the migration, but it ended up taking 6 or so hours. Searching the web, there are reports of the Disqus comment import taking up to 2-3 days, so the lesson is: be patient. Oh, and don’t get freaked out when your comments disappear entirely from Blogger in the meantime.
Once the import finished, I looked at my Blogger site and saw that all of the comments had successfully been transitioned over to Disqus. I then set up Disqus support on my post template using the Disqus “universal” installation guidelines.
Here is my finished atom.xml for this site for reference.
My Blogger site displays a few recents post excerpts on the index page, which I liked. However, there is no native “excerpt” functionality in Jekyll at the moment. Fortunately, a very clever hack enabled me to add post excerpts of my most recent couple of articles to my new index page.
And, We’re Up!
And that finishes my journey from Blogger to Jekyll and GitHub. As a final commentary Blogger does a great many things right and is a solid platform, but my use cases favor power and extensibility over many of the conveniences that Blogger provides.
Although it took some time to put my new site together, everything feels “right” to me. Even writing this first post for the new site has been considerably easier – I’ve been both online and offline composing the post in TextMate (which has Markdown syntax highlighting as well as spell check), and it has never been as easy or fast to write up posts, so here’s to hoping for a more consistent stream of posts in the future!