The Hidden Complexity of Static Sites


Thanks to some help from readers Robert and Jimmy, I’m experimenting with hosting this on, which solves most of what I was looking for.

Every year or so, I get the urge to host this site myself, By that, I mean use one of the relatively cheap hosting companies and pay for every bit that gets served up.

But there’s a lot of complexity that’s hidden behind the sleek exterior of static sites. GitHub works as a de facto database and Netlify as a server. This allows me to update my site from my phone, which is often how I write my shortest notes. Then I push to my repo on GitHub and Netlify does a new build and deploys in the background.

The easiest way to do a static site that’s not deployed by some combination of the free GitHub type services and then built by another service like Netlify or Cloudflare is to just build the site locally on my computer and host the static files.


  1. Now I can only publish from my computer, which isn’t the end of the world, but a bit annoying
  2. Suddenly this requires a lot of web-admin know-how to get all the 404s redirecting properly, to not have rootdomain/static open a directory with every file on the site, and other odds and ends like that
  3. Even things as simple as an SSL certificate aren’t that easy to provision yourself

GitHub Pages, Netlify, and the rest make all of that just work out of the box. But the cost is that I’m now beholden to a “free” service, which is precisely what I don’t want. I have deep misgivings about the ethics of the “freemium” model. No, GitHub and Netlify aren’t the cesspool of Facebook or Twitter, but I still don’t like entire model.

Things get even more complex if I don’t want to build the site on my personal computer. Then I’ve got to set up a server with both Git and Jekyll, and honestly, I can barely prod all the Ruby Gems to work on my own computer.

There are people who do this on the likes of DigitalOcean or NearlyFreeSpeech, but, jeez, it sure ain’t easy. And I want to spend the majority of the time and energy allotted to my humble abode on the world wide web actually writing, not pleading with servers to work.

Granted, this problem has been solved. It’s called WordPress. For about five bucks a month there are dozens of companies that will have you up and running with your own site that checks all the boxes of what I want.

For now, I have no plans to migrate. I’ll keep pushing commits to GitHub and letting Netlify do its thing without paying either of them a dime. And the main reason I’ll continue to do that is that there’s nothing, that I know of — and if I’m wrong, please let me know, that does all that for static sites and is priced for regular people, something like five bucks a month so.

The simplest things are often far more complex than we can imagine, as is summed up, more academically in Tesler’s law or more vividly in Chickenshit minimalism. And we do end up paying for everything, albeit often in ways that we can’t predict. The freemium tiers and VC giveaways aren’t sustainable, and I don’t think any of us can say we’s going to come next. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up in a sort of knowledge desert; the easy UXes have collapsed because they weren’t profitable, and there are too few people left that actually can coax the machines directly.