Over the past week I've moved away completely from the template-based hosting service I was using, to creating by hand both a new site for my company, and a custom Wordpress theme for this blog. I created both in Coda and BBEdit using nothing but HTML and CSS1, which I needed to learn a lot more about to do what I wanted2. Neither site is the most sophisticated example of web site creation imaginable, but I'm very pleased with how far I've gotten in the amount of time I've spent.
Previously I'd been using Squarespace for both sites. I would recommend Squarespace for anyone looking for that kind of template based system and isn't very comfortable mucking around in a text editor. I thought I might be that way when it comes to web sites for a while, but I'm really not. I love the opportunity to feel unencumbered in my creativity, and to learn new things, to much. The only technical problems I really had is that I wanted it to work better with MarsEdit and Markdown than it did.
The real reason I switched was to own more of my sites, create them using the tools I want and understand what went into them.
I think there's value in owning the things you make and not being afraid to get your hands dirty with something you're not yet comfortable with. You'll probably find out it's less intimidating than you imagined once you scratch the surface — creating a Wordpress theme, for example, was much easier than I thought it would be.
I don't mean that everyone needs to literally create from scratch every part of what they make. When I say own, I mean taking responsibility for the things you put into the world and making them the best they can be. Every person should pick the level of dirty they need to get to feel ownership.
I thought I wanted to be as hands off as possible when it came to my websites — and I was wrong — but for a lot of people using something like a Squarespace or Wordpress.com site is perfect and empowers them in a different way. I also could have rolled my own static blogging engine3, but didn't feel a strong enough desire to take things that direction. The thing that no one should be is afraid to challenge themselves or settle for a level of ownership below what makes them satisfied. After all, learning and creating new things is a lot of fun.
I edited some PHP too, which was mostly just tweaking what was there already. ↩
I wasn't starting from zero, but I did have to really grow my understanding of CSS. ↩
Played a bit with creating a blog system using Python — and I still might go that direction eventually — but felt that Wordpress had some desirable benefits, and also allowed me to get off the ground quicker. ↩