State of the website, September 28, 2021

The state of the website as of last night is that the webcomic part of it, the section that contains Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan and some other comics, is down. You can still find most of my comics on ComicFury, including new Danish translations of several of them.

I’ve had to take this step after getting an excess resource consumption message from my hosting provider, Hostpapa (formerly Lunarpages). Normally, this is the signal for me that it’s time to do some maintenance, so I updated my robots.txt to disallow the crawlers that were misbehaving, deleted a whole number of outdated scripts files they were misbehaving on (all of the Movable Type installation from way back when is now gone, including the content), and updated PHP to version 8.0. The latter of which broke Willowcms again, if only mildly. It still works, but it generates a very large number of error messages, which is one thing that may cause future excess resource consumption messages.

So this put the need to replace Willowcms on the agenda again, because it’s a one-person project and that person has enough on her plate right now. When I discussed this with Aggie, she became very interested, so I told her what I had looked into the last time I did reactive maintenance, and what my plans for the website would be if I had time/energy to implement them (I don’t – I barely have time for the things I want to do and do not want another time-sucking project in my life. However, I cannot imagine not self-hosting the bulk of my work, because you can never trust a platform not to sell you out).

So, I recapped what I did the last time this became anywhere near top-of-mind, which wasn’t as long ago as I thought it was: July of 2019. Then, the plan was to rebuild the webcomics archives with a static page generator like Jekyll or Hugo. I had even been in contact with a cartoonist/developer who had worked on a set of webcomic templates for Jekyll and who was willing to take input and feedback from me (thanks again, Yncke!) and experimented with building a site using files from Spun Off.

I also explained what frustrated me away from working on this migration at the time, which basically boiled down to feeling that I was replacing complexity in site management (PHP + SQL + Willowcms itself) with complexity in tooling: it’s one thing that I had to install the programming language Ruby to be able to run scripts that were written in Ruby, but while looking into how to work with it, I ran into a set of cultural expectations that made the process of web page creation in 2021 seem unnecessarily complex. It seemed to be not so much technically required as culturally expected that web developers stored both their code and their content in repositories such as Gitlab or Github, and that they built their HTML and CSS using frameworks like SaSS or Bulma (Bulma in particular does things that as an old school website author, I find abominable, such as using the HTML <i> tag as an empty placeholder to trigger CSS instructions that create buttons. WHY OH GOD WHY?). None of these are strictly necessary but each new reference to one of these non-mandatory requirements that were based on How People Do Things Now created a time-consuming distraction from the task at hand, and once I was distracted from the task at hand, it was easier for me to shift my focus to something that interested me more, like actually drawing comics. So that project fell by the wayside as I drifted away from it, until last night, when it was unexpectedly placed into harsh focus by my hosting provider.

Aggie, it turned out, was really interested in helping out with this as she had just placed herself in computer geek mode in an attempt to revive her broken desktop box. She heard me out and offered to investigate solutions. The first thing she looked at was the cpanel of my hosting provider, to see what alternatives to static site generators they might offer. See, this is the kind of lateral thinking I need in my life. I had never looked into Softalicious to see what it might offer out of the box. It turns out there are several flat-file CMS options available that might help me out, such as Flatpress and HTMLY that might be more straightforward to use than a static site generators, and offer some dynamic features if I want them. So I passed the project on to her. My initial take on flat-file CMSes versus static site generators is that for a new project, I would definitely prefer a flat-file CMS but for migrating 1300 pages of an old webcomic that I rarely update anymore, an SSG might still be the better option. More on this.
I also noticed that Nextcloud was right there within Softalicious, so I will be looking into installing that and moving away from Dropbox at long last. There’s a good chance that I will be spending more time working within my web hosting environment in the future, so I might as well make it worth my while, even if this means paying a little more for my hosting due to intensive use.