Building An Open Graph Image Builder (Part 1)

I’ve been slowly updating this blog to the modern world from the ages when people wrote their XML-feeds by hand (yes, it was a thing). One of the “new” things Web sites nowadays have in their meta tags are Open Graph preview images (or social previews). These images are used to make preview cards in various places, for example when posting links to Twitter and other sites.

There are tools like Pablo for creating these images online. Recently I’ve switched to creating them manually with Pixelmator but I’ve long been looking for a Web-based solution that could be integrated better with my other blogging workflows.

Two days ago I happened to stumble on to ZEIT Now’s blog post Social Cards as a Service where they dogfood their own serverless platform by building a simple image generator tool that uses Puppeteer to render the images. I immediately dove in to the source code hoping that I could modify it to my own needs but it looked way too complicated for my taste. (In other words, I didn’t understand most of it.) The UI got me thinking that building a simple framework around Tailwind would probably be super easy and would allow lots more control. So I sat down for two evenings and came up with Open Graph Image Builder.

This is still a work in progress and I’m not sure how far I want to develop this but so far it has been a fun little project.

The Toolchain

My absolutely favourite frontend tool for simple projects like this has been Vue CLI. Problem with that is that as soon as you start thinking about publishing something, you’ll have gazillion things to glue together and configure before you have a production-ready site. (I should probably invest some time into a proper cookiecutter template…) This exactly is why I recently wrote Tulip, a simple one page starter template for Gridsome (which is just Vue with some JAMstack flavor).

Tulip ships with Tailwind CSS preconfigured so I was immediately ready to build something interesting.

The third weapon of choise was ZEIT Now. I’ve been following their journey for a long time because of Simon Willison but never actually tried the platform. As it was their inspiration that led me to this path it was only appropriate to try out the service with this project. The first installation and publishing workflow via the deploy button in Tulip repository was unbelievably easy, even easier than Netlify if it’s even possible. (Although I did have an issue with GitLab import. It didn’t work so I pushed my code in GitHub instead and after that everything has been smooth sailing.)

Example output:

Tulip starter for Gridsome preview

To Be Continued…

The project is just getting started and I want to learn the ZEIT platform a bit more to be able to write about it better. I’ll also probably implement a proper backend rendering for the images so it’ll be a bit more useful in practise.

In part 2 of this series I’ll dive deeper into the code, going through some of the challenges and design decisions along the way.

In the mean time, check out the project source code and follow me on Twitter!

Howto: Draft Posts With Gridsome

Gridsome is a Vue-based static site generator inspired by Gatsby. As of version 0.7 there is no official way to have a publishing flow that separates draft and published posts. For me this is a big deal as I like to iterate on my writings for several days or weeks before publishing them. Luckily, there is an easy way to add support for draft posts yourself.

Adding a New GraphQL Property

At the heart of a Gridsome site is a GraphQL data layer that you can use and manipulate in development mode. Gridsome fetches any sources you define into this GraphQL storage in development mode and during the build process writes the data into static files as instructed in your configuration.

The naive way of importing any data into Gridsome just adds it into the storage and it then respectively gets published as you build the site. A super simple way to implement draft functionality is to simply add an attribute to your data object and then filtering by this attribute when building the site.

Add the following javascript in a file called gridsome.server.js in the root of your Gridsome project:

module.exports = function(api) {   api.loadSource(store => {     if (process.env.NODE_ENV === 'production') {       const posts = store.getContentType('Post') => {         if (node.published !== true) {           posts.removeNode(         }       })     }   }) }

(Change the Post ContentType to match whatever your source plugin typeName has been configured to in gridsome.configjs plugins section. The default for source-filesystem-plugin is FileNode.)

Now, when you run gridsome build, the API that loads your sources at build time filters out each post that hasn’t got a published-attribute that evaluates to true. (Note that if you have a blog with lots of content and you don’t want to add a new attribute to all of them, you might want to reverse the logic, for example to if (node.draft !== true). I like to explicitly mark published posts, YMMV.)

For Markdown and Front Matter content you can now add published: false to your post meta to be able to filter out draft posts in production. (Modifying other content sources is left to the reader.)

My Goals for 2020

I don’t usually write (publicly) down any new year’s resolutions but as I feel like I’ve been finding more and more excuses of writing less and finishing fewer hobby projects, some public peer pressure would help me to maintain some focus. So here we go; my tech-related goals for the year 2020.

1. Publish Weekly Blog Posts

On this one I have to take a somewhat late start as January almost flew by already, but I’m targetting to write to this blog at least ~50 new posts this year. I love writing and I do write quite a lot but I’ve lost the habbit of doing it in the form of blog posts — and I want to get that habbit back.

I have tons of stuff in various draft posts and even more ideas about things to write about and I’m looking forward to make myself find a good publishing rhythm after a long hiatus. So stay tuned! 🙂

2. Release / Document More Hobby Projects

One of my biggest problems is that I love digging into new technologies and starting something but then never actually getting anything published (nor documenting the journey). I want to learn to be better especially in the documenting part as I know that it’s where I can contribute the most (compared to actual coding, for example).

3. Release At Least Two Serious Side Projects

I’ve been working on a side project called for almost four years without actually committing to getting it properly published. I’ve also sat on a good idea (in my opinnion) without moving it forward for a couple of years now and I really want to get both of these projects in a better place.

While Slipmat is more of a hobby project, the second idea is something that could actually be turned into a proper SaaS business if done correctly. Both of these require a lot of time to complete so I really need to learn to split things up in smaller iterations and move faster if I’m going to pull this off. I’ll be documenting both of these journeys here, so again, stay tuned.

4. Attend To a New Tech Conference

I’ve been attending to Python-related conferences since 2007. This year I want to find a new non-Python conference to find different perspectives into the world of modern software development.

5. Fix My Tooling

When I was younger, I was constantly obsessing over my tooling to make my workflows faster and better. Lately I’ve noticed that my hatred towards computers and technology has grown so big that I’m usually just happy if my tools even start. The Web tooling has gotten so big and complex that it takes serious time and effort to keep everything up to date — not to mention of trying to optimize things.

I want to make some time and rebuild some very basic stuff (starting with dotfiles) around my personal tooling, document them better and start to get back on top of things again. Continuous improvement, Kaizen, is something that I’m really passionate about so this is again a goal that is hopefully going to lead to some interesting and fullfilling paths.

So, there are my five fairly ambitious goals for 2020. Now, it’s time for some action!