Lazy Homepage Design

tech, web publishing

I built my first personal homepage in 1992, soon after it became possible to do such a thing. Sadly, over the years, putting up your own website has become more difficult rather than easier. To just point to one problem: Google won’t index your site if it isn’t secure, and getting a security certificate attached to your site is a bit more complex than just learning HTML.

Another issue is the demise of an entire category of software which used to exist to create simple HTML pages for you. Still, if you want something that is as easy to use as editing a document in a word processor, with a publishing workflow that will produce something indexable by Google, there are a number of options out there, they just aren’t obvious or easy to find.

For a while my preferred choice was to create the site using an app called Notion. Notion has a built-in function to make pages public, but there are a number of third party services you need to use if you want to ensure that your website properly indexed by search engines, or if you want to use your own domain name. It works well enough, but for some reason it never worked great.

My new favorite method for lazy web publishing is to use Obsidian. Unlike Notion, which has its own proprietary document format, Obsidian uses plain text files (my preferred way of working). Obsidian has their own publish service, but it is quite expensive. Fortunately, they welcome competitors into their plugin marketplace and this Digital Garden plugin does exactly what I need for free.

The idea of a digital garden” is to create a kind of personal Wikipedia. And that was what I was looking for when I first discovered this plugin. You can see my Digital Garden here. But it was so easy to use that I decided to move my personal homepage to this workflow as well. You can make prettier pages using tools like Wordpress, but this workflow is so much easier for me to use. And it does the job well enough.

Publishing this way is completely free, except for the need to pay for your own domain name.1 It isn’t ideal for image heavy sites, but for most academic websites it will be perfectly fine. The Getting Started instructions are pretty straightforward and I don’t think they require a lot of technical savvy.

The only issue I ran into was that I didn’t like the Vercel hosting service they seem to recommend. However, in the documentation are instructions for using another free hosting service called Netifly, which worked much better for me. Once it was set up, updating the site is a breeze. (You can pay Netifly to host your domain for you if you like. I use Namecheap and Cloudflare.)

(The tool I use for this blog is even easier to use. I use a service called Blot that is simply a bunch of text files in a folder on Dropbox.)

  1. One caveat is syncing your Obsidian notes between devices. There are ways to do it for free, but the best solution is a paid Obsidian sync subscription. This wasn’t an expense for me, because I already signed up for it. Note that academics can get 20% off with a school email address.↩︎