I’ve moved my blog from Tumblr to Github Pages. While Tumblr is a capable blogging platform, I had become frustrated with it. I began longing for a way to write more simply and yet with more rigor — with simple, plain text.
The flip side of my appreciation for sophisticated markup vocabularies like TEI is my love of its plain text underpinnings: clean, precise, portable. The plain text-based Markdown format (explained nicely and briefly by Brett Terpstra) is perfect for writing, especially for the web. Github is hardly alone in supporting the increasingly pervasive Markdown, but Github’s Markdown support is solid. That said, there’s more to Github Pages than Markdown support.
As Konrad Lawson has written, Github is a promising platform for writing and collaborating on text of all kind, from prose to syllabi. I’m not new to Github but hadn’t considered this before reading Konrad’s article. Until now I’ve primarily used Github to house my own XQuery, eXist-db, and XML projects and code snippets (or, in Github terminology, gists) and to contribute to other projects. I’ve come to appreciate its rich version control tools and how it facilitates collaboration. Github Pages brings one more possibility to those Konrad mentioned: your work can be published as public web pages, in whatever form you choose: blog, tutorial, syllabus, book.
I’m particularly excited about using Github Pages for own articles that involve XQuery or XML code, since it does a great job adding helpful “syntax highlighting” to code and allows me to embed my gist code snippets directly in a post. It was a cumbersome and time consuming to get code to look decent on Tumblr (or other sites I’ve tried to post code on before), meaning that I spent time on appearance that could’ve been spent on substance. As you’ll see in the old posts I’ve adapted on this site, Github Pages nails the challenge of XQuery syntax highlighting—quite a feat—and, best of all, required no extra work on my part. It’s no coincidence that I began to investigate Github Pages at the time I began to contemplate a future series of posts involving lots of code.
Before I took the plunge, I decided to search for podcasts to hear informed discussion about Github Pages and Jekyll, the static site generator that undergirds it. I was lucky to find a very recent episode of a show called The Web Ahead that focused on Github Pages and Jekyll.1 Convinced that the pros outweighed the cons, I spent a few hours over the course of a week tinkering with Jekyll, installing it locally, getting a feel for the system, and importing my old articles.
Finally, I’ve posted the full source for this blog on Github, where you can also track its short history so far. You can even see the plain text source file for this article - written, of course, in Markdown.