On walkabout in life and technology

18 Months of Octopress

A lot of reviews are written by people who played with the product for a few hours and report their first impressions. This is all about a product I have been using for 18 months every day: Octopress, the blogging platform behind hiltmon.com.

Before Octopress

I consolidated to hiltmon.com from a series of sites based on Wordpress and a static site generated by RapidWeaver.

The Wordpress sites drove me crazy. Wordpress itself was (and still is) buggy, inexplicably complicated and slow to render. Even though I became “expert” at Wordpress customization, I still found the experience of updates, fixes and customization to be heinous and painful.

Which is why the precursor to this blog was generated using RapidWeaver for the static parts. RapidWeaver made it easy for me to create photo streams and pages. But the process to update the site was the same as for manual, static sites, invariably requiring editing several files and pages even though RapidWeaver took care of the navigation for me.

Why Octopress

I wanted a blogging platform to produce:

  • A site without any dependencies on third party services like databases and execution environments. A web server should be all that is needed so I could run it anywhere.
  • A site that was blazingly fast to render for the user and could be cached on the server to enable even faster web access.
  • A site that used the latest HTML5 and CSS3 standards.
  • A site that did not require me to edit more than one file when making changes – a site where the navigation, sidebar, headers and footers would all magically updated as needed.
  • A site that looked great and focussed on readability.
  • A site that I could write using Markdown.

Octopress fit the bill perfectly.

Setting it Up

The initial setup of Octopress was very simple. I followed the installation instructions at http://octopress.org/docs/setup/, configuration instructions at http://octopress.org/docs/configuring/ and setup rsync deploy following the deployment instructions at http://octopress.org/docs/deploying/. And it just worked.

Later on, I changed the asides list to add my information block and to display products and tweets. And even later I added a logo to the header, the ad at the right, a new font and the donation button.

Customizing It

Given that Octopress is a wrapper around the lovely Jekyll, you need command line fu to operate it. The commands are simple and well documented, start with rake -T.

Since I am lazy, I scripted up the set of commands to create new posts and publish the site and wrote about it in Octopress Post and Publish. After 18 months, using these macros are habitual.

Seeking Annoyances

I only have two annoyances with Octopress, both of which can be resolved but, well, I never actually needed to do so. Because they really are not annoying at all.

My biggest annoyance was that I had to give up my beloved MarsEdit for blog writing. Sure, I know there’s a scripting hack to make it work, but I don’t want multiple copies of files everywhere. Given that Byword and Marked have come out since, this is no longer an issue. But I do miss MarsEdit.

The other annoyance is generation time. I use the rdiscount markdown plugin so it is the fastest. And I do rake isolate posts while writing and previewing so that I can write and preview in real time. It’s just that the whole site generation takes some time. This too is no longer a real annoyance because I now have an SSD. And in the upcoming release, I expect partial regenerations to be available.

My Octopress Experience

Since I switched to Octopress 18 months ago, I have published 385 posts containing 217 images. I have updated the core product a few times without issue. The blog has survived some pretty heavy traffic days. And yet I have been able to stay on the cheap Dreamhost hosting. And I have moved my Company sites over to it as well: Noverse and Shukaico.

Brandon Mathis (@imathis), the developer behind Octopress, has really done a top-notch job with this platform. You can see the care and hours he spent in making the platform work well and look amazing. Most Octopress installs don’t even change the default theme because it’s just awesome. And some top bloggers like Matt Gemmell use it. Brandon also happens to be a seriously nice guy and is very responsive on Twitter.

In short, switching to Octopress 18 months ago was a brilliant decision for me and I still love the platform, the look and writing workflow. If you are looking to replace your outdated, heavy blog with something technical and beautiful, I cannot recommend Octopress more.

Follow the author as @hiltmon on Twitter and @hiltmon on App.Net. Mute #xpost on one.