Well that didn't last long. A few months ago I was pretty excited to switch from WordPress to Octopress. Now I'm rolling my own site with Harp.

Blog Dreams

It's always been a dream of mine to build a blog.

I had a personal site back in school that I kept up to date sporadically and entirely manually. My site was mostly an about page, though I remember putting up a few pages on personal projects—blogging wasn't a serious thing then. There was LiveJournal, but it was too emo for me. I made a few desultory efforts to build some kind of structure around my site, and at some point I realized I wanted a blog and tried to build one from scratch. I can program, I thought, how hard can it be?

Hard enough, it turned out: I've started building at least three or four blogs over the years and finished exactly zero. At one point I threw in the towel and opened a LiveJournal account and I've used off-the-shelf solutions since; this site began as a WordPress blog.

What's different this time? For one, things are easier. More people have done it and blogged about it, so it's easier to find useful information just by searching the right keywords. But blogs aren't rocket science: I knew what I was doing, I just never finished. The real difference is a matter of trivial inconveniences or lack thereof. When I need a way to specify content separately from layout I don't have to figure it out myself, I just use jade and markdown and serve it up with Harp.

It helps that I've done professional work with web technologies and know a few good design patterns, and it also helps that I have a clearer idea of what the finished product will look like.

Working under these conditions, where the answers to my hardest questions are minutes away and I'm free to just build, has been an absolute pleasure. Two weekends later, give or take, and I have a functioning blog. And the best part is it's under my control. I don't have to deal with software that was designed for the least common denominator. Instead Harp just does the minimal amount to make things easy and then gets out of the way.

I did have to put together a few moving parts: Disqus comments, Google Analytics, an RSS feed, posts and pages and index listings, a minimal theme, importing old posts. There's a bit more work left, but I'd say I'm 90% done. If you're curious, check out the code.

Why Not Octopress?

The directory structure is a mess. That alone is a compelling reason, but I was also pretty disappointed with the available themes and discouraged at having to learn arbitrary conventions to build a theme of my own. Also it's based on ruby, which not generally my cup of tea (Harp is a Node.js module). YAML front matter? Jekyll plugins? No thanks. At the same time Octopress is not a huge project, which paradoxically made it more attractive to move away from: when I got stuck on a problem I could always spend a little time to figure out how Octopress solved it. I did that once or twice, but I'm honestly not sure how much it helped. Sometimes the best encouragement is knowing that something is possible at all.

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