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My journey to a self-hosted blog in 2023

A weekend-long investigation to get up to speed on the current blogging tooling and platforms.

Stumbling across a recent discussion about How to Start Your Blog in 2023, I decided to dust off my long-forgotten WordPress blog I launched back in 2019. Surprisingly, the site was running just fine, with the auto-update being on, which is a rare scenario these days.

I didn’t want to create another blog using WordPress. First of all, technology changes fast and WordPress being on the market for 2 decades now, my internal desire to explore something fresh took over. Secondly, there were a few SSGs (Static Site Generators) mentioned in between the comments – that I’ve never tried before – it felt like a good opportunity to fill this gap.

Hugo – a modern SSG solution, lightning fast!

My first candidate was Hugo – using familiar GitHub to host website files and free-of-charge CloudFlare Pages (alternatives available – I only used it since my domain was registered here). I’m not a big fan of writing text in a Notepad window or directly in the terminal using markdown… would rather prefer a visual editor. However, having my every post “version-controlled” and backed up by the biggest code repository hoster was convincing enough.

I got the site up and running relatively fast and was amazed by its responsiveness. Hugo was lightweight and refreshing, like a walk near the ocean breathing the fresh air. Getting back to my old WordPress instance felt like using the computing power of an entire data centre to render that single home page!

The excitement started to fade away as soon as I touched the images – there was a lot of manual activity required. While increasing complexity – like adding paid members, thinking of a Stripe integration, or anything more sophisticated than writing a wall of text – felt like either impossible or taking more time to configure than I could afford. I realized many of these would be one-off actions but I had more stuff to explore, so I moved on.

Ghost – a 21st-century WordPress killer?

I have heard about Ghost before and didn’t pay attention due to their initial $25/month hosted solution. I felt it was absurdly expensive for a non-profit blog while WordPress-hosted one was under $10. It surfaced again when a WordPress employee published on their blog a serious comparison between the tools. I rarely (never?) saw WordPress getting so worried they would post something like that.

Fast forward to the mentioned discussion and I’m giving Ghost another try. Instead of choosing their now available $9 option, Hetzner has a running promo of $25 credit promotion to try their cloud VPS platform, so I gave it a try. Psss… you can add another $20 credit following my referral link.

Coincidentally, my old WordPress was running exactly there, so I quickly spawned a 2 vCPU / 2 Gb RAM machine and rolled up my sleeves to remember how exciting it was running my own server a few decades ago. Even though Ubuntu 22 has got some new syntax (the last one I used was Ubuntu 12!) but the majority of the config files remained at their old location. With a few stupid minor hiccups, my new shiny blog was up and running, so I spent the next few hours exploring available integrations and customizations.

Ability to connect Stripe out of the box, get your readers tiered down in different paying brackets, and the newsletter taken care of through Mailgun, I spent another few hours fighting to get an archive page generated properly but without luck. So I decided to finally do what I intended initially – get into blogging and finish this article as an opener.

Medium, Substack, and (maybe) other blogging platforms

Both remaining viable options for people focused on writing only, I’ve intentionally omitted those for several reasons:

  • There are no integrations possible and earning options are strictly decided;
  • Getting paranoid over my data stored somewhere with little control I have over it. I don’t believe my blog is extremely precious but since I’m growing older and grumpier (or companies getting more careless about our data), the idea to keep my data on a German VPS backed up daily seems to be comforting enough to me.
  • For Medium specifically, I don’t like their approach to forcing you to create an account on the mobile application before you can even read the platform – that seems to kill the whole idea of free access to the information.
    Also, Medium still doesn’t support Google Analytics. Not a big deal, I’m just being picky on this one.
  • For SubStack specifically, charging $50 for a custom domain is something I can’t resonate with. And I tried to think about it several times, believe me. No, thanks.
    Being discovered on this platform is way harder than what Medium offers – I couldn’t verify this myself but I stumble across this feedback here and there when it’s mentioned.

I won’t delve into the remaining blogging platform for the sake of my weekend time. Maybe that’s a subject for another research once I’ll get bored with Ghost.

Closing thoughts

It’s great to see exploding variety of tools and platforms for blogging. While someone new to the genre might feel overwhelmed about where to start, the rest would benefit from choosing any product they could think of – from dozens of ready-to-go-$x-per-month services ending up with a well-known Frankenstein Swiss knife like WordPress. You can precisely choose one according to your taste, needs and budget, provided you are willing to invest a chunk of your time in the initial research.

What a time to be alive blog!

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2 responses to “My journey to a self-hosted blog in 2023”

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  1. Clayton Vazquez Avatar

    I’ll immediately snatch your rss feed as I can not to find your email subscription hyperlink or
    e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Please permit me
    know so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  2. Sergio Botulidze Avatar

    I have added it now, thanks for the suggestion.