Boris Smus

Interaction engineering

From Wordpress to Hyde

I've used Wordpress for a couple of years now as my web publishing platform of choice. I customized it a little bit, and made a custom theme for it. But nothing is perfect, and neither is wordpress. As a result of relatively heavy use, I've collected a list of things I don't much like about it:

  • Can't upload source code since it restricts allowed file types.
  • Can't easily edit files with a regular text editor.
  • Painful theme customization.
  • PHP makes it unpleasant to extend.
  • Constant security upgrades required.

All of these things separately are perhaps small and insignificant, but together add up to create a certain barrier to blogging.

Static files

A blog is mostly static. Why should my article be stored in a database? It's hardly ever queried or searched. Comments are perhaps the exception here, but services like Disqus implement commenting with embeddable JavaScript. And in general, dynamic parts can be handled in client-side code.

So I looked to static site generators. There's about a million of these, the most prominent of which is Jekyll, written by the github co-founder. Ultimately I chose Hyde for it's use of Django templates and Python.

Migrating the old blog

The old blog was written in HTML, but I wanted to switch to a format that can be written faster, such as Markdown, Textile, or many others. To do this I used a tool called exitwp, which parses the Wordpress export and generates Markdown files appropriate for Jekyll. I forked exitwp and hacked it to generate files better suited to Hyde. Thanks Thomas Frössman for exitwp.

I did spent a fair amount of time tweaking the export, replacing Smart YouTube URLs with real YouTube embeds, and eliminating Syntax Highlighter markup.

Customizing hyde

Hyde is basically built on top of Django templates, so is customizable with template tags and filters, written in Python. It comes with a bunch of them, including ones that parse markdown and other structured text formats into HTML.

Surprisingly I didn't need to customize Hyde much, although I did fix a couple of bugs, which the author, Lakshmi Vyas accepted. Anyway, I feel much more future proof now than with Wordpress, since I can easily write extensions in Python, or in the worst case take my Markdown-formatted blog posts and easily export them to many different formats.

Dynamic stuff

The bit of custom JS for the site layout is written using jQuery.

I use the excellent highlight.js plugin to highlight code snippets. The jQuery timeago plugin does a great job of converting absolute dates (April 1, 2010) to relative dates (about a year ago). Finally, Disqus powers comments, which I migrated from the wordpress database.

New design

In my great wisdom, I decided that since there's so much flux in the blog, why not add some more chaos by switching to a new layout too? Here's the old layout:


I recently heard from sage advice from some experienced writers. Among things that stuck were:

  • Optimal posting time is 9am PST
  • Writing personal posts is OK sometimes
  • Show personal information in the sidebar

The last part is expressed in the new design. Overall the redesign was an exercise in typography, CSS3 features and responsive layout.

Google fonts is a nice collection of web fonts. I decided to switch from Myriad (used on to a serif for the main body for a change. I ultimately went with PT Serif, which seemed like a nice improvement to Georgia, which is probably my favorite serif web font.

I used a bunch (too many?) CSS3 features on the new site. Most of these are CSS box-shadows, gradients, transformations and transitions. I used SCSS.

Also, following the responsive layout philosophy, I wanted the site to scale well to a number of different resolutions. For example, the sidebar moves to the end of the articles if the window is too narrow. Also, in the projects page, the number of columns of projects is flexible. This is achieved through CSS media queries.

For posterity, here is the new layout at the time of writing:


New domain

I also recently bought from a fellow in Germany, and will be migrating my site there. I'll keep the blog intact for a while, but will place an annoying banner there, and disable commenting. I guess I should also switch the feedburner feed to point to as well.

Not long ago, I wrote about how switching from webfaction and apache to slicehost and NGINX greatly enhanced page load time. Well, this seems to have happened again. Over the same time period, the average response time of my wordpress instance was 934ms:

old perf

Over the same time frame, my static blog, hosted on the same machine, responded on average in 371ms:

new perf

Oh, finally, the site is fully open source on github.


Thanks to a bunch of people:

  • Sol, Kat and Jon for giving useful design feedback!
  • Noah Levin for awesome CSS3 tweaks
  • Steve Losh for his Hyde migration write-up

You, for reading this post and continuing to read this blog. Until next time!