So the Jekyll default installation using jekyll new is, albeit beautiful, a little bit bare bones, which is probably deliberate.

Adding a sidebar

Mostly I felt like there was a lot of unused space on the index page, so I started to customize the index.html and added a sidebar-right.html file to include in the index page (modular is always good).

<div class="sidebar-right sidebar"></div>

And I added some content in the form of short FAQ-like messages titled “Did you know …”.

<div class="sidebar-right sidebar right column-4">
  <p>Did you know ...</p>
  <ul class="fact-list smaller">

But I wasn’t satisfied. There were a lot of big and ugly <a> tags in there and the whole thing felt so … static. Actually writing a <ul> element by hand in html felt just … wrong. Fortunately I had just learnt about jekyll collections and was using them to create some project pages. So I created a new collection called ‘quick_facts’ and refactored the messages into individual .md’s containing markdown source for the messages, plus the YAML Front Matter and added this little line instead of the giant blobs of text from before.

<ul class="fact-list smaller">
  {% for fact in site.quick_facts %}

    <li{% if forloop.last %} class="last"{% endif %}>{{ fact.output }}</li>

  {% endfor %}

The if forloop.last block adds a ‘last’ class to the last element to allow me to add some pretty separators using border-bottom.

Now if I want to edit a message, instead of digging around in lines upon lines of raw html code I can go straight to the message file containing some nice markdown source. The best feature in my eyes though is that if I want to add, replace or delete I just have to add/replace/delete .md files in the _quick_facts directory and it’ll process them automatically.

Displaying excerpts and descriptions

On the website I’ve had before I was using Drupal which by default displayed a kind of teaser on the overviews. I liked that so I replicated it in Jekyll.

But I wanted to do more, or more precisely I didn’t realize at first that Jekyll offers an excerpt attribute on he document objects and so I added something of my own making.

{% if post.description %}
<p class="small light-font">
  {{ post.description | truncate: 100, '...' }}

Which would, if a document object had a description attribute print the first 100 characters of it in a smaller, lighter font.

However I discovered that the document objects actually have an excerpt attribute which will generate a teaser based on the content itself, so I combined the two. Furthermore I found out that you can simply add your own custom variables to the _config.yml which will then be available via the site attribute, so I refactored the teaser length such that it is set in the main config as quick_view_length. And here’s the final result:

{% if post.description %}
  {% assign desc = post.description %}
{% else %}
  {% assign desc = post.excerpt | remove: '<p>' | remove: '</p>' %}
{% endif %}
  <p class="small light-font">
    {{ desc | truncate: site.quick_view_length, '...' }}

Now it will either print the first paragraph of the page (jekyll’s default excerpt style) or a custom description, if you provide one, perhaps if the first paragraph is not very representative of the rest of the content.

You can check out how it looks on the homepage.