Fixing typos with Jekyll and Github

Published 8 August 2013

Github can help rid us of the most annoying part of the web: comments, typos. Blogging platforms, geocities, wikis and web 2.0, 3.0 wonders have marvelously democratized mass communication. In doing so, they’ve also exploded the volume of un-proofread prose available. You’re reading one of those dashed-off-in-Google-Drive, posted-too-quickly posts right now. And there’s a really good chance I’ll undermine my point about how to fix typos with Github with an unintended typo.

First, what’s a Github? Github is a place for sharing and collaborating on files; particularly the source code of software projects. The rise of Github over the past few years has greatly helped to accelerate the adoption of open source practices. The White House, Stanford University, and even Microsoft have all found value in sharing the kind of code that until very recently was kept closely protected. One of the main reasons to go open source with code is the free labor. By making code open source, the original author can receive changes that fix bugs and add features. And sometimes the fixes are simply for typos and snippets of code that never should have been there in the first place.

A few months ago I saw a colleague tweet a link to a new blog post. It was insightful, reflective and had many good points. And that one typo I saw distracted me just a little from those good points. I didn’t want anyone else reading the blog post later to have the same distraction. So I made a pull request to fix it. Pull requests are the formal way of requesting a change in a file be made. It was merged the same night.

I thought this process was pretty cool when using it on a basic blog post. Imagine how excited I was when I realized I could do the same thing with a major government site. The Jekyll pioneers at Development Seed started to hype the new Jekyll-built, all-open with blog posts a few months ago. I watched closely and as soon as I saw the link to the Github repo appear on the developers page I forked the repo and scanned for quick fixes. I found one and had a typo pull request accepted before the repo was moved to a more sensibly named location and the history was reset. I currently have three typo-ish pull request open in that repo.

It’s getting easier too. Using or even now just within it is possible to do these fixes entirely in the browser. Save the command line git tools for heavier lifting. This lower barrier of entry will enable more people to do the copy editing the web sorely needs. And once signed in with a Github account the doors open wider. Clay Shirky sees Github as a model for government engagement. The Knight Lab wants journalists using git. I just want you to fix the typo you found on this blag blog.

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