MechKeebs

After many months, I finally managed to launch a personal project that helped me learn a bunch of technologies I was interested in.

MechKeebs is (in short) a clone of r/mk where users can post their mechanical keyboard.

MechKeebs Home Page It wasn't intended to solve any problems, but I've learnt from a few great engineers that solving problems at my stage shouldn't be the focus. I should still obviously solve a problem when needed, but that will just come with time as I expose myself to more projects.

Technologies

Next.js

One of the most popular React frameworks is Next.js, created by Vercel. The site you're on right now was also of course built with Next.js, using static generation.

However the next/image component could be better. I couldn't get a masonry layout working without doing some dodgy tricks unfortunately.

I do know that they're aware of the feedback, so I'm hoping to see some more improvements on it soon.

Chakra UI

This was my first time using a component library like Chakra UI or MUI. It was fun slapping components together and making them just work for someone who hates styling. I felt very spoiled.

But my issue with component libraries is that they tend to feel bloated. I simply enjoy making websites with the most barebones look. Plus it's not really the library's fault as I don't think performance is their major selling point. A lot of great work gets put into these projects as they give accessibility support right out of the box.

After switching away from the default CSS Modules Next.js provides, I took a look at using Tailwind CSS for this site. I'm quite happy with it so far, so will most likely use it in future projects.

SWR

For keeping the data fresh, I used SWR, which is also created by Vercel. I found it enjoyable to use, mostly because of how minimal it feels. It just works.

For pagination, I used the useSWRInfinite hook. It feels like magic but it certainly does its job. Took me a while to figure out how to implement it, but the provided example certainly helped a lot. SWR also has a handy integration with Next.js where you could SSR the page, and later on have the data dynamically update on the client side.

The SSR + client side fetching combo was perfect, and I look forward to using it more.

Google Cloud Storage

Using Cloud Storage was quite easy to get up and running with the Node.js library.

I made the mistake of sending the image back to the server, then compressing it using sharp. It did not work well at all when I went to production, so I used some random library which turned out to work well.

Plus I definitely did not pick GCP because of obvious reasons.

DigitalOcean + Dokku

The most dev ops stuff I had done was doing a quick git push to Heroku to launch my crappy Python web app back in the day. But this time, I was looking forward to finally getting my hands dirty with dev ops work. I had $100 in credits provided by the GitHub Student Developer Pack, so I was ready to use the DigitalOcean + Dokku combo.

I also took the opportunity to learn Docker, which has been incredible. At the beginning I was paranoid about how how Docker images actually work, mostly for security reasons. There were many instances where I nearly pushed some secrets up to Docker Hub, but I refactored my code to accomodate for that.

You could check out the MechKeebs repo that contains all the images if you want.

DigitalOcean provides computing services, similar to platforms like Google Cloud and AWS but at a bearable scale. I created a $6 VPS (could last me over a year with the free credits), and slapped Dokku onto it which is now my own mini Heroku.

I can now use the same VPS to deploy other projects in the future without breaking the bank. I want to see how far I could go before my 1GB Memory 25GB SSD could no longer handle it. But if we're going to be real, I don't think I would gain that sort of traffic.

Some things I learned

  • Spend no more than a couple weeks on a project. I took way too long to get this out the door. I started in Nov 2021, and deployed it in Jul 2022. Obviously I didn't work on it daily during that period, it was more of a 1-2 month break and working in bursts. If I had instead abandoned the project I could've built other stuff in that time, which would help me identify patterns for a great project idea.

  • Skip the domain purchase. Before MechKeebs, the original project was SetupScope. As you could guess, it was a similar idea, but for desk setups. Users would've been able to pinpoint on an image the items on their desk, making it more interactive.

    I had bought two domains, setupscope.com and mechkeebs.com, which totalled me £32. Yes, £32 because NameCheap decided to not make it clear that the mechkeebs.com domain was on their marketplace. Meaning I had bought a domain that had expired a few weeks in. Unfortunately I purchased it again like a fool.

    Next time I will just hog a .vercel.app domain for free, up until I am certain to launch. I wasted so much time and brainpower on a domain that barely had any benefits. Still, having api.mechkeebs.com is pretty cool though.