I Made A Website

(or "How I Learned To Love Static Site Generators")

Tuesday, 2 May 2023 • 916 words

So, I've finally made my own website. And I did it without serving you 50 megs of JavaScript.

Snark aside, I'm not a 'web developer'. My job title (at the time of writing) is "DevOps Engineer", and surely my colleagues who do have job titles like "Frontend Developer" would probably hate my decision to forgo the modern web frameworks and just write Markdown files rendered using some templating engine. But here it is, and as you've probably guessed, it's built using a static site generator; 11ty, (Eleventy).

Ok, but why?

The Internet is going through a bit of a thing right now; mostly because the world's most divorced man has recently purchased the world's worst website, and whilst he goes about making it the world's worst website that barely functions, many of the terminally online have realised (in a sort of Stallman Was Right kind of fashion) that having their entire Internet presence on centralised platforms owned by billionaires with horrible opinions is probably not a very good idea, actually. If you've been on the internet for as long as I have, you probably remember how browsing the web has gone from visiting many hundreds of small websites, often written by young people from their bedrooms - an experimental and democratising period in the history of the web - to today's web that consists of six websites, each consisting of screenshots of the other five. All of which now prioritise ~shareholder value~ ahead of user experience, making horrible decisions (often called 'enshittification') that eventually topple their reign (see: Twitter).

There's a real beauty in web browsing that has been lost. Things are a lot more ephemeral than before; link rot is getting worse and will only continue to do so, especially as centralised sites die. It's only due to efforts like that of Jason Scott's Archive Team that much of GeoCities was able to be preserved. Today, I'd wager that most people are just writing posts on social media instead of their own sites (or using sites like GeoCities). The look-and-feel and identity that the personal web had has been all but stripped bare; so sites like cohost stand alone in the Alternative Social Media landscape as the most customisable social media.

At the same time, I've been wanting to craft a nicer web presence. As a Woman In Tech, having a place that I can direct people to in order to show them my work (and evidence what I am capable of, because patriarchy) is important to me. Alongside this, I've been following the IndieWeb project for a while after a friend linked it in the #development channel of my friend group's Discord server. So as I find myself at the intersection of these thought processes; I had to make a website.

If you're like me, a bit of an 'everything hobbyist' - a term once used by Emma Essex to (I assume) describe the kind of neurodivergence that means anything that interests you becomes a hyperfixation/hobby - you'll want to dive into making the perfect website. I wanted to make something flashy, slick, that was powered by the newest and hottest in frontend. But I'd get so bogged down in the tediums of writing 50+ React components, dealing with state management, writing (and re-writing) endless reams of CSS that I'd grow bored, pick up another hyperfixation, and forget about my perfect website.

This website, the one you're (hopefully) reading this article on, is probably the fourth or fifth such attempt at making that 'perfect website'. If there's one thing I've learned from my time in software engineering, it's that there's no 'perfect' in software engineering. Only the 'good enough'. Remember that phrase, "the perfect is the enemy of the good"? It applies here, too. Spending all my time making the perfect website meant I'd actually just created several half-finished git repositories and had no website at all.

As it turns out, what I actually needed for the perfect website was:

So I decided I'd use a static site generator. I don't particularly like Ruby, don't know Go, and I'm not hosting documentation - which meant that 11ty seemed like the perfect fit. And yes, I'm not making anything complex here - I could have chosen any one of the millions of options - but 11ty was easy to set up. It's one devDependency in my package.json, it's bloody fast, and extensible with JavaScript (with which I'm comfortable). I wouldn't have been happy with one of the more popular options anyway, because that's not my style.

So what's next then?

The plan for this site is fairly straightforward. It'll have a blog (so you can read my diatribe musings), links to my photography, and a Now page so that the curious can see what I'm up to. I'll be writing more about things that interest me, curating my personal space on the web, and most importantly - I'll be in control.