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A new website, made in the web

It's 2023 and you need your own website. Today, there are enough free tools online that you can entirely build yourself a new website, host it and maintain it completely through a web browser.

The modern web has mostly become four websites the past couple decades. They are powerful websites most everyone frequents, and arguably the easiest way for someone to make a name for themselves. But they are also controlled by megalomaniacs who value unlimited growth above your content and space.

But there will always be a place for your own unique presence that cannot be controlled by someone else. A place that you can really make your own.

My website is largely built and maintained within the browser, and although I keep a copy of the repository on my own hard drive, ultimately most of my time spent on it has been remotely. I'm going to walk through how I do it.

11ty to GitHub #

I started with a static site generator, 11ty, and used their starter blog, which allows you to get up and running with a simple blog website.

I made my own repository on GitHub using the starter as a template, and from there I began tinkering with the code and layouts using GitHub's Codespaces. Basically, it opens VS Code on your browser and you can just start working on the site right there. The terminal is fully functional, and so you can just run

npx @11ty/eleventy --serve

and GitHub will serve up a live updated version of your site, and give you a link to view it as you work. Move that tab over to its own window on the other side of your desktop and you can work and watch the site change.

Note that you only get 60 hours of Codespaces time on the free plan, so if you're done designing your site and don't need a live preview anymore, you can use to make changes to your codebase and make new posts.

GitHub to Netlify #

Once I had a decent looking site made on Codespaces, I commited my work to my personal repository, and then went to Netlify for free web hosting. I don't get a ton of traffic, so the free plan works great for my blog. On your Netlify account, you can log in with GitHub and just directly deploy your website's repository. Since I have a domain name, I set that up on the Domain Management settings in Netlify, and within a day I had my new website on my address.

GitHub Pages #

While Netlify does a great job of just building and deploying a site with no fuss, maybe you don't want another site to log into. Instead, you can host your website using GitHub for free by naming your website repository <username> and tinker with GitHub Actions. After some effort setting up your workflow, your website will become public at http://<username> and that can be your new, free home on the internet.

This is the config I used to build my 11ty site using 11ty-dockerless-build, and then deploy on GitHub Pages using actions-gh-pages. The github_token part at the end can be a bit tricky and will require some setup in your Github account and repository settings. You can get more info about the deploy step here.

name: Eleventy Build
on: [push]

runs-on: ubuntu-latest
- uses: actions/checkout@master
- name: Build
uses: extrawitz/11ty-dockerless-build@v1
- name: Deploy
uses: peaceiris/actions-gh-pages@v3
publish_dir: _site
publish_branch: gh-pages
github_token: (your auth goes here)

Alternatives #

GitLab will work similarly to GitHub, as it can also run VS Code in the browser, and they also have GitPod, which allows live updating just like Codespaces. Additionally, GitLab Pages can deploy and host your site with an arguably easier setup than GitHub.

I've also seen Glitch used not only to code and build things with a more accessible interface, but also to deploy and host websites. It looks very easy to set up and use, as it has everything built-in. There's even a pre-made 11ty Glitch project that you can get started with in seconds.

Final thoughts #

Social media as a whole isn't going anywhere. But individual sites gain and lose prominence, and they are constantly changing their Terms of Service and rules. It's important to have your own place on the internet with the words, images, videos and other things that you care about, that a massive compnay cannot dictate or remove on the whim of its shareholders.

While we are using services to set this website up that are controlled by companies, ultimately what we're making is a git repository that you can maintain copies of on your own hard drive and in multiple clouds.

This is your site, your data, and if you need to take it somewhere else because Netlify or GitHub go away, it'll be pretty easy to do so.