Philip Mallis

My journey to Jekyll and back

Some of you may have noticed that I launched a new website the other day and migrated from WordPress to Jekyll. Well, now I’m back.

Why not WordPress?

For background I have been running a personal website since my council election campaign 14 years ago in January 2012. I started on WordPress at the time – back in Version 3.3 – when it looked like this.

Screenshot of a dashboard of WordPress running Version 3.3.2

As a non-developer this was a steep learning curve at the time. I knew nothing about DNS, web hosting or HTML. Over these years I have slowly taught myself some basic skills; although I’d say that I’m still very much a novice.

After all this time I recently decided that it was time for a change.

The reasons for this are partly because WordPress has changed and partly because I want to try something new.

For a personal website where the main aim is to present information and host blog posts, WordPress is now overkill. At the time when I started in 2012 it was ”the” place to start. It was easy to set up, lightweight and a breeze to write.

Now I find it too bloated and even slightly annoying to use. Its installation is still very easy and it deserves a lot of credit. But the Gutenberg Editor has never really grown on me and I found that I was having to stack more and more plugins on top of each other to get my website to do what I wanted.

The attempt at Jekyll

I started researching alternatives in late 2023 which eventually led me to find Jekyll. It’s a static site generator that has been around for a while and is lightweight.

These two factors are the main ones that attracted me. Ideally I do not want a database to host a basic website and a long history also means a higher likelihood of a strong user base and better documentation.

So I spent a lot of time figuring out every step of the way and testing things out on my local machine. Everything from installing Jekyll in the first place, choosing and testing a theme and migrating content, comments, etc.

For completeness I was using:

  • Jekyll for the main website
  • Remark42 for the comments
  • Mailerlite for the newsletter
  • Zoho Forms for the contact form

Then, yesterday, I launched the website. Unfortunately I then came across several non-negotiable problems that caused me to switch back here to WordPress. Examples included any URLs with a trailing slash returning a 404 error (expected behaviour with Github Pages apparently), Remark42 not properly importing past comments and a suboptimal search function that was NQR.

Overall I find Jekyll to be a lot more technical than WordPress. Even after months of preparation, there are still many things that I don’t fully understand or have spent a long time trying to figure out. As I said, I’m not a developer nor do I have any qualifications in this field. I’m entirely self-taught.

Why post this?

I think it’s important to be open and honest about what we do, especially when it doesn’t work. Hopefully this experience is helpful to someone else who is in a similar situation and wants to try it out.

Don’t let the above dissuade you. I’m sure that these are all solvable problems. The trouble is that I do not have the time or patience to figure this all out. It’s hard to move a website that’s operated using the same software for 12 years.

WordPress, for all its faults, is incredibly user-friendly for a self-hosted option. It is still free and open source and does what I need. Even though it may be bloated, the Gutenberg Editor is still buggy and is overkill for what I need, for me it “just works“.

It’s entirely possible that I switch software again. Ghost, Hugo and Publii were all contenders at various points. Or I may just end up sticking with WordPress – I definitely have some work to do.

But one thing is certain – it’s been quite an adventure and learning curve.


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Comments

3 responses to “My journey to Jekyll and back”

  1. Glad to hear the comments are back – after I made a special trip over to the airport to check the path to/from Moonee Ponds Crk trail 🙂
    If you need a hand with WordPress get in touch, I am a developer and use WP.

  2. Yes, there are so many traps for the unsuspecting. I settled long ago on WordPress with Elementor as my go-to combo.

  3. I’ve been tempted to move my WordPress blog to a static site built using Jekyll, but for me the dealbreaker is the ability to make scheduled posts happen.

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