Why I Stopped Building My Own Websites
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the [Drag and Drop Editor]
As someone who builds websites professionally for very large corporations, when it comes to my personal presence on the web, you might expect to find me neck deep in the weeds obsessing over the details of some Preact static site generator (or whatever the technology du jour is at the time you are reading this). And you wouldn't be wrong.
I used to, yes.
And I still make at least a vague attempt at demonstrating skill when it comes to the Monactor website, since it is the public face for the technical leg of my endeavors. At the time of this writing, however, that website has literally not been updated in almost five years (it still has a 2015 copyright in the footer, because, why lie? At least someone looking will know how ancient it is).
And you know why I haven't updated it?
Because I don't need it.
My business at this point is word of mouth. People come to me with projects. If it's a fit, I take the contract. I don't cold call, I don't drive people to my website to see my work. My background speaks for itself, and the people I've worked with speak for me without even being asked to.
And if you look around this website, you might have the notion that I'm pretty busy outside of all that work, as well.
It's true. The number of side projects I have going at any given time is... well, it's borderline insane, to be honest. I seem to be worse at focusing down the older I get.
Instead of following the old adage of "do one thing and do it well" I seem to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that I can do 20 without suffering loss of quality. And to some extent I do actually pull it off, but the cost is that if you look at my output through any one of the surfeit of possible lenses, the frequency with which my personal projects are actually completed ... is .... extremely .... slow.
Which brings us full-circle to the point. This website had previously been running on a Linode server and produced via static site generation with all posts written in markdown. And that was great. Until I wandered off for a year and a half and didn't run the build at all during that time. I came back to create a new post, and I found everything broken. I couldn't even generate the site, let alone add content. And I didn't have time to investigate. I literally only had time to write the post and upload it.
So I put it on hold.
A few weeks later I had time and came back in search of the culprit. It seemed an old version of a package was causing an issue, so, brilliantly, I updated everything. Which broke.... well... everything. Basically, I had been using Foundation via npm as the base for the styling on the site, and while it wasn't the original source of the problems I encountered, when I updated, some very critical things changed because several versions had passed since I built it all. So it went from bad, to much, much worse.
Now, mind you, if this was a build I was touching every week and constantly refining and tweaking, I would have none of these problems. But that's the sort of thing clients pay me for and I rarely have time to do such constant and routine maintenance on my own sites, even if I wanted to. Not with the sheer number of non-billable, personal projects I'm trying to work on at any given time.
And so my personal site sat outdated, and I sat without the ability to write a post and get it out there. And I pondered this situation. My little static site had backfired on me. It could no longer be generated.
At first, I started looking into tools I might want to use when I inevitably rebuilt it all, and made a mental note that I would want to squeeze this in sometime before the end of the year because I had things I wanted to write. So I looked at Gatsby and I looked at some of the Preact static site generators.
But then I was going through a personal branding course over at lewismocker.com (one of my mentors) and he tossed together a pretty decent looking site in a couple of minutes on Wix. The challenge of that module was to go and do the same, aimed at non-techies. But I thought, you know, why not? Let's see if I can get anywhere close to the original site design using Wix.
And I did. I have a handful of minor gripes that I need to fix, but I was able to pull in all my fonts, and photography, and put together a version of the site that I didn't have to think about and didn't have to make mental notes to maintain so that I can write my one post a year. And with an intention of increasing the amount of content I'm putting out into the world, anything that can simplify the process of publishing is a win.
So I realized then that maybe, just maybe, letting someone else maintain the platform and really just worrying about the output, maybe that's where I should be focused for my personal web of influence.
And so I made the switch.
What you see here is not the result of my pain and labor in terms of what drives the build and what delivers this text to your screen. I'm not hosting it on my own server, and I haven't spent hours perfecting every last bit of styling (yet)... No, really, I can't even access the CSS. So those photo captions that butte up against the sides of the viewport on mobile that are driving me nuts? Yeah, I can't even do anything about that at the moment, that I know of.
But I don't think I've really lost anything for this purpose. At the end of the day it's still my design that you're seeing. I just didn't code it by hand. And the time I gained in NOT doing that means, for one, you can actually read this post because it actually got written, and I don't have to FTP anything to a server to get it in front of you.
And that, as far as I'm concerned, as a benefit, far outweighs the bragging rights of having built everything from scratch and then never touching it again, only to have it die off in obscurity as it ages itself out into oblivion.
Here's to more writing, and less fussing.