Dropping wikis?

Longtime readers may recall that when I was at Calvin, from my freshman year on, “my website” meant “my Calvin web-space.” I started this blog my senior year, then (when my Calvin website vanished after graduation) started to develop “static content” on other, more awkward hosts, eventually moving to some Bitbucket wikis. I’m now considering another move. Here’s “my Web history,” the change I’m considering, and my rationale; I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

I started “my website” when I had to for an introductory computer course at Calvin. Not long thereafter, I started “blogging”—though I didn’t call it that—on Facebook. And I gradually expanded “my website.”

My senior year, I began this blog—for reasons I’d rather not admit—and started by reposting all the “Notes” I had written on Facebook. (In retrospect, it would have been better to backdate the posts here to when I had posted the Facebook equivalents. But it’s water long under the bridge now.)

Later that year, when the loss of my Calvin web-space (after graduation) became imminent, and at about the same time as I started posting to this blog more regularly, especially reposting the poetry I had previously posted to “my website”—I started to create equivalent “websites” using Google Docs and Google Sites. (I also started using WEbook as an alternate location, a sort of backup, for my poems and essays—just in case WordPress went away and my computer crashed.)

Last September, I finally found a DVCS host that would support private repositories without charging me for them, namely Bitbucket. Each repository optionally came with an integrated wiki, so I moved content from Google Docs and Google Sites to those wikis. I did this because I found the wikis vastly easier to edit than a Google Doc or a Google Site: I’m far more “at home” in a standard command-line text editor than in a word processor in a browser. (For example, I had been trying off and on for months to get the Strategic Primer “Starting Package” of advances into a table on a Google Site, and found it such slow going that it was really not worth it. But this was no more than five minutes’ work in the wiki.)

Then, this past March, WEbook went down, and while investigating this I found warnings from people who had read its terms of service more closely than I, so when it was brought back up by a self-described “group of fans” I decided to cut ties with the service. With my writing, including most of what I post to this blog, in a DVCS also hosted by Bitbucket, I no longer needed WEbook as a backup.

But when I come to think of it, I don’t really need to use a wiki as a backup either. And even more than a Google Site or a set of Google Docs, a wiki (or at least one provided by Bitbucket) doesn’t really work very well as a website. It’s too obviously “user content” inside the frame that Google or the wiki host provides. For a publicly-editable hypertext encyclopedia, and other such knowledge-bases, a wiki works rather well, but my needs are rather different. The one real advantage a (standard) wiki provides is an easy way for a tech-savvy reader to be notified of changes.

Then, recently, I became aware of a somewhat new Web-hosting service aiming to provide the same service as the old Geocities (now defunct and vanished after having been bought by Yahoo). And after mere moments’ consideration it seemed to me that this is really what I’ve been looking for—or almost.

So, while I really don’t like breaking links (or even just “moving”)—again—I’m now seriously considering removing the publicly-readable wikis from my DVCS repositories and replacing them with websites, perhaps on NeoCities or another similar free provider, perhaps using Bitbucket’s limited static-site option, perhaps using Github (via hg-git since the few times I’ve tried to use Git for a project I’ve essentially bounced), as the NeoCities blog suggests.

NeoCities (like most other similar sites) has the disadvantage that it will take definite effort to update while keeping a versioned local working copy, because it requires the use of a graphical interactive interface to upload changed files. I’m absent-minded enough to forget this, and it would become tedious really quickly. They’re making it deliberately tricky to automate. But, on the other hand, I could upload files—like the monthly releases of the Strategic Primer “assistive programs”—that I don’t want to put under version control; I have to upload those to Bitbucket’s “downloads” section by hand already.

Using the static-site support Github or Bitbucket provides lets me write pages locally, manage them with a version-control system, and upload changes in batches automatically. But version control (or, rather, the fact that every file put under version control stays in the history of the VCS even when it’s removed, increasing the disk space used by the repository, and while changed text files are stored efficiently, changed binaries are not) limits what kinds of files I can afford to include.

And while Github offers per-project sites using a specially named Git branch (something that I would want to have planned for in each repository from the beginning, and I’m not sure how well hg-git supports it anyway), other than that both sites only allow one static site per user, so I’d have to have everything under one site again. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, but it is a limitation that “my dream” runs into: my Shine Cycle, my poetry, Strategic Primer, and my political and technical thoughts are not necessarily connected, let alone interesting to the same people (and I think that diffusion of topics has hurt the readership of this blog; were I given a chance to go back to 2009 or before and start over, I would start one blog for each topic), so I had imagined one site for each. “Sub-sites” in one repository aren’t too connected, though, and a single repository is easier to keep in sync between computers and to remember to update, so this limitation has its advantages too.

To summarize: I advise against linking to any of my “wikis” in the immediate future (and I suggest checking links to them every so often); watch this space for news; and … do you have any thoughts about any of this?


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