Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Publishing on the Web, With Plain Text and Dropbox

In a previous post, I mentioned that Markdown is an essential tool for living in plain text. Markdown isn’t just for creating documents. It’s also a great for publishing content on the web. In fact, that’s what it was originally created to do.

What gives Markdown a lot of flexibility is that you don’t need to convert your content to HTML to view it on the web. A number of blogging platforms and content management systems, like the popular WordPress, let you use pure, unadulterated Markdown for your content.

But if you want to keep things simple and take advantage of a tool that you might already use, the Markdown is a great option for publishing a web site or a blog. And the tool that I’m talking about is Dropbox, a popular online file storage and syncing service. If you don’t have a Dropbox account, think about getting one. You get 2 GB of storage for free just for signing up.

By pairing Dropbox with another service, you can publish on the web quickly and efficiently. And in plain text to boot. What are some of those services? Let’s take a look.

Pancake.io

The goal of Pancake.io is to make websites simple as a pancake. And it pretty much does that.

Pancake.io, in some ways, reminds me of scriptogr.am. But whereas scriptogr.am is aimed people wanting to create a blog, Pancake.io is for developing a full-blow website. You need to create a Pancake.io account to use it, but once you’re set up the service creates a directory in your Dropbox Apps folder where you drop your pages formatted with Markdown.

Pancake.io formats your pages. But unlike scriptogr.am, you can add JavaScript to your pages to do some interesting things. Like what? You can create a form, embed a Google Map, or create a storefront. To do that, you’ll need a bit of technical knowledge.

Right now, there are only a couple of themes available for Pancake.io pages. That said, it’s pretty easy to set up a page —you can learn more about that here. And, like scriptogr.am, you can use a custom domain name with Pancake.io.

Duet.to

Like Pancake, Duet.to works with Dropbox to publish websites. The idea is the same: you save the files for your site in a folder in Dropbox, and Duet.to serves them to the web.

Duet.to goes a bit further than Pancake, though. The service offers a number of attractive templates for your site (great if you have limited design skills), support for email forms, and a content delivery network. The latter is a useful option because it can speed up your web pages. You can also use your own domain name with a site hosted with Duet.to.

While you do have to pay to use Duet.to, it’s actually quite inexpensive — $1.99 per month for one website. If you need to host more sites, you can pay a little more. The service does offer a 14-day free trial.

DropPages

While setting up a website with DropPages is a bit more involved than using Pancake.io, you can use it to publish a fairly attractive website using Dropbox. And once you’re up and running, your site is easy to maintain.

As I mentioned, setting up DropPages is a bit more involved. First, you need to create a new folder in your Dropbox account. That folder must contain .droppages.com. So, if I was going to set up a site in DropPages, I’d name the folder scottnesbitt.droppages.com. That folder name will also be the URL of your DropPages website. From there, you need to share the folder with the email address server1@droppages.com. If you don’t know how to share a folder in Dropbox, you can learn how to here.

It can take a while for your request for a site to be approved by the creator of DropPages. While you’re waiting, you can download a theme. The theme is in an archive, which you can extract to your DropPages folder in DropBox. But once everything is in place, you’re ready to go.

DropPages currently has three themes, which seem to be inspired by the kinds of themes used with WordPress. While you can’t use a custom domain with DropPages out of the box, you can upgrade your account (it will cost you 5 GBP per month) along with up to 1 GB of additional space.

Final thoughts

The combination of Dropbox, Markdown, and a third-party service can make publishing to the web easy, quick, and convenient. Best of all, you’re working in plain text.

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