Let Me Upgrade You


Goodbye Wordpress, Hello Blogdown

Back in December 2014, I wanted to start a blog. Given that the whole process sounded daunting I started with a free Wordpress site. Now that I’ve become comfortable with R code and the RStudio IDE, I decided to start blogging in my natural habit too… so, I rebuilt my website using the blogdown R package!

Why the switch? Because now I can:

ggplot() + geom_map(data = spr1, aes(map_id = Zip.Code), 
      map = np_dist, fill="gray40", color="gray60") + 
  expand_limits(x = np_dist$long, y = np_dist$lat)+ 
  geom_point(data=datadistn, aes(x=X, y=Y, col="District (Neighborhood)"), 
      size=1.5, alpha=1)+
  geom_point(data=datachartn, aes(x=X, y=Y, col="Charter (Neighborhood)"), 
      size=1.5, alpha=1)+
  geom_point(data=datadistc, aes(x=X, y=Y, col="District (Citywide)"), 
      size=1.5, alpha=1)+
  geom_point(data=datachartc, aes(x=X, y=Y, col="Charter (Citywide)"), 
      size=1.5, alpha=1)+
  facet_wrap(~Rpt.Type.Long, ncol=2)+
  ggtitle(expression(atop(bold("Mapping Philly Schools"), 
      atop(italic("Data via OpenDataPhilly; 
      Visual via Alex Albright  (thelittledataset.com)"),""))))+
  scale_colour_manual(values = c("Charter (Citywide)"="#b10026", 
      "District (Citywide)"="#807dba","Charter (Neighborhood)"="red",
      "District (Neighborhood)"="blue"), guide_legend(title="Type of School"))+
  labs(y="", x="")

Making the Blog in RStudio

To build out my blog locally, I followed a few simple steps. I first installed the blogdown package and Hugo, which is an open source static site generator.


Then, I created a new R project in a new directory with File>New Project. It was then time to generate a new site and set the theme. Here are all the Hugo themes to choose from. I picked a functional, simple, aesthetically calming hugo theme – XMin!4

I then generated a new site:

blogdown::new_site(theme = "yihui/hugo-xmin")

This command creates a whole filing system (for an example site) in the new directory you created. This is fabulous since then you can just edit the pre-built system to deduce how things work. Key things to know:

Creating a brand new website locally takes just a few minutes using the above steps. However, migrating my content from Wordpress meant copy-and-pasting posts into .md files in the content folder and then completely reformatting the posts for markdown (i.e., adding bold, italics, section names, code chunks, latex math, footnotes, images).7

Deployment with Netlify

Once I rebuilt my blog locally, I followed the blogdown book’s suggestion and used Netlify to host the website. Netlify is incredible – it uses continuous deployment from my Github repo to host my blog. So, when I push changes to Github, the site updates. It is that easy. Also, Netlify is FREE!8

I followed exactly the steps from section 7 of Alison Presmanes Hill’s blogdown post for Netlify deployment.9 Essentially, after building my website locally with RStudio, I moved the whole directory to a new Github repo,10 and then created a Netlify account and followed their clear-cut steps for connecting to that Github repo.

After a few minutes, my site was deployed and available at https://hopeful-wescoff-036500.netlify.com/! I quickly changed the title, so then it was https://thelittledataset.netlify.com/.

Custom Domain

At this point I could have used an rbind.io domain for free and been done, but… I still wanted to use thelittledataset.com.11 Using the same domain as before is the best case scenario since then old links will still work.12

If you (like me a week ago) don’t know a lot about websites, let me explain a few things. There is a registrar of a domain and there is a host. I bought my custom domain through Wordpress back in 2014 and previously used the Wordpress free hosting plan. I pay $18/year to Wordpress for my domain name thelittledataset.com. However, now, Netlify is my host instead of Wordpress. In general, it is nice for the registrar of a domain and the host to be the same, however Netlify doesn’t accept inbound domain transfers. But, there is good news:13

If you registered your domain with WordPress.com, you don’t have to use WordPress.com as your host. The domain you registered is yours, and you can use it with any host you want.

So, I kept my domain registration with Wordpress and just changed the domain’s nameservers to “point” at Netlify.14 So, I still pay $18/year for my domain name to Wordpress, but now I host through Netlify. Goodbye unwanted advertisements, hello improved functionality and workflow!


Now, my blogdown-built website exists at https://thelittledataset.com/! Upgrade complete.


Here is my Github repo, where all the source files for my website live! Damn, I love reproducibility.


If you want to make your own website with blogdown, I highly suggest reading both the blogdown book and Alison Presmanes Hill’s relevant blog post.

  1. Since I was using the free plan for Wordpress, they would put ads at the bottom of my posts.
  2. To edit Wordpress post drafts, you have to be online.
  3. See! I am a footnote.
  4. Another plus: this theme was created by Yihui Xie, who literally wrote the book on blogdown with Amber Thomas and Alison Presmanes Hill, so you know it’ll work well.
  5. The subfolder depends on where you want to insert the image
  6. Clicking Tools/Addins/Insert Image and uploading an image writes the html command for inserting the image and puts the image in the correct folder.
  7. That process took me about 20 hours since many posts were complicated to recreate as .md files. Here is the post that took me the longest to move because of all the new LaTeX math additions.
  8. It also offers free https, which Github Pages does not. More on https here and here.
  9. I specified hugo version is 0.47.1.
  10. I followed these steps to move all the files to a new repo.
  11. Also, I hear that rbind.io sites are sometimes blocked by IT departments… so, I don’t want that.
  12. You must make sure the slugs for the new posts are consistent with the old ones.
  13. Here is more on changing name servers on Wordpress.
  14. I follow instructions through Netlify’s domain dashboard. I use Netlify DNS, which gives me the custom hostnames assigned to your DNS zone that I need to assign to my domain via Wordpress.