An early agenda

The past two years I’ve operated from the web site over at That was the web domain I hastily grabbed as I was exiting an editorial job I’d for a few years. Basically I needed a work address for future email to go to. When I worked with clients (which was what I proceeded to do), that was where the mail went but they dealt with me by name, as Robert, and that worked fine. 

I still think people should work with me by name, but as things are growing and branching out just a bit, I decided to launch an actual business entity. That’s PeakZebra LLC, and now (at least theoretically), that’s where the mail goes. Truthfully, I haven’t really pushed existing clients to move over to the new address and name — no real reason to. (I didn’t have to give any thought to whether I wanted to try out a fresh email start with–it didn’t exist yet).

So let’s call it PeakZebra. PeakZebra is focused not only providing content and SEO for B2B-focused technology vendors, but also on more technical, web-app-driven aspects of digital marketing. It’s focused on rethinking online content in light of the current search-engine-driven universe and particularly in light of Google’s increasing focus on page speed and mobile performance. I don’t know that WordPress is likely to be competitive in this new world. It seems clear that companies that want an edge in Google rankings are going to need to clobber the metrics Google is focusing on. For that–for most companies, at least–the easiest path is going to be serverless, which here I’m equating with JAMstack, since the major early contendors in the space are focused largely on JavaScript. 

The particular framework that seems to have the biggest uptake to date is Gatsby (or gatsbyjs) and you can definitely build a full-on pro web site with it. Sites built on Gatsby tend to be screamingly fast and there’s a compelling reason for that. On the one hand, the sites are statically generated, so that in theory the display is not waiting for some dynamic process to pull the guts out of a database and thread them together into a page. At the same time, they use React so that parts of the currently displayed page can reload without new, full HTML pages needing to download. So the pages can still be interactive, and indeed they can dynamically request services from servers as needed. (And yes, that gets us back to dynamic pages, in a way, but let’s talk that through in another entry). 

So I’ll be writing about my particular journey through the JAMstack world in more or less real time. My intention was to do this on a Gatsby web site–eating my own dog food and all that. But… 

I came to the sudden realization: I would probably be breaking my Gatsby sites for hours (heck, days) at a time. The point was to boldly learn lots and lots about JAMstack and Gatsby and all the other things… that would definitely entail lots of creative destruction. And what drove it home is that the Gatsby site I’ve been experimenting with, when copied up to a host service I use, sort of worked but sort of didn’t, then worked but didn’t show the changes when I made subsequent updates, then got just plain radically broken for the rest of the day. Like nothing at all showing in the browser kind of broken. 

I think WordPress is in for some tougher sledding in the next year or two, but I know how to make it work and be pretty. I know how to do stupid tricks like fly-in animation. Etc. 

So for the time being, most of my experimentation and research will be in the JAMstack world, but my writing about it will appear in WordPress, at least for the next few months. Actually, I also plan to do some mucking around in performance aspects of WordPress, but I’ll be doing that locally and on a hosted but completely safe-to-break site. I’ll link to that stuff as appropriate, but the writeups will be here. 

At present, I’ve got a rather basic site running on Netlify (here) — it’s largely the product of a couple Gatsby video courses I’ve worked through in the past couple of weeks: Reed Barger’s The Gatsby Masterclass and Andrew Mead’s Great Gatsby Masterclass.

The first of these links is behind a paywall at O’Reilly. One little luxury I’ve given myself for a few years now is a subscription to O’Reilly, which gives access to a pretty fantastic range of books (including plenty of stuff from outside O’Reilly), conference videos, instructional videos, and sandboxes where you can tackle specific tasks in a virtual environment. These days it’s $49 a month for individuals, which I’ll be the first to say is pretty spendy, but it’s still pretty rich if you’re trying to learn a lot of tech stuff from decent sources (and I’ll confess, one benefit to having been on board for several years is that I’m in a legacy plan that locked me in at an attractive annual price). 

But I digress. Here’s an agenda for what I’ll be digging into and building in the next while. At this point I’m reluctant to put specific timelines on some of these items, because I know I’ll learn things that will change up the plan, but this is at least in the order I plan to do things:

  • Sort out some glitches I’ve encountered in loading Gatsby sites to “traditional” web hosting sites. I think most of it boils down to things that are solved with a bit of tweaking of the .htaccess file, but I’ve forgotten anything I ever knew about .htaccess files, so I guess it’s time to back up and really figure out what’s going on. 
  • Keep building my knowledge of WordPress internals so that I can compare options for optimizing WordPress (and building apps within it) in order to compare them with JAMstack alternatives. I suspect that there are going to be plenty of instances where an organization may be best off sticking to the WordPress they have, just optimized for better performance (on mobile in particular). Of course, there’s also always the option of using WordPress as the back end for a Gatsby (or other framework) static site. 
  • Figure out the quickest, most efficient way to do basic “pretty” design within Gatsby sites. I realize I’ve gotten used to having most things regarding design handed to me as part of WordPress. I get how CSS works (in fact, I wrote about it professionally a million years ago when it first emerged…poking around on the web, it was in May of 1997. I know this only because somebody’s old web page about CSS has a dead link the article). I get how it works in a general sense, but man oh man has it changed a bunch in the past 23 (for chrissakes!) years. So I need to dig back into that, get straight on my floating and grids and whatnot. 
  • I’m not nearly as rusty on JavaScript, but it’s also a place where I’ve got to get my chops back, particularly as regards the client-side microcosm that is Reactjs. 
  • Out of this will emerge a still-pretty version of this blog that moves from WordPress to, well, I’m pretty sure it will be Gatsby, but who knows, the world is migrating even as I’m figuring it out. But something JAMstack. 
  • And while I’m at it, I want to sort out the ecosystem of JAMstack and things adjacent, of which there are a shocking number. 
  • Figure out how to build a concept I’m calling a Pillar Blog. Definitely more on this to come. 

I’ll flesh this out and put more structure to it as things progress, but there’s the basic shape of what I guess I’ll call Phase One.