Notice: This entry was published 5 years ago and may no longer reflect my views today.
When I started blogging in 2001, I’d manually type my entries on Notepad and upload my entries to my blog through FTP. It wasn’t uncommon at the time when WordPress wasn’t around yet. Greymatter was the platform to be at, but you had to be hosted at someone’s domain or otherwise buy your own. I was on a free host on my first year of blogging as did many people who’ve just discovered web design. Not wanting to work with Blogger, I went the route of static pages. I wrote my drafts offline and published it all when I was ready.
I enjoyed writing static pages, but it certainly wasn’t the cool thing to do. FTP-ing entries? How pedestrian. A blogging platform was the ultimate experience. A GUI that you can access straight from a directory on your site? Funky fresh! And Greymatter wasn’t the only one; there was also Movable Type, and then b2 was released and that eventually became WordPress.
Over the years, blogging platforms evolved to do more than just blogging and make features more accessible to users. Drafts, pages, bins, plugins, themes… and you don’t even have to touch the code to use any of these. Blogging’s been made easy, and literally anyone can start one now.
A full-featured blogging platform was the thing to have if you wanted a successful blog, but these days there are complaints of bloat and unnecessary features, plugins for third-party comments that gathers all of your comments ever in one profile, social sharing buttons, monetization, and linkups. Who needs all these? There’s too much code to swim through now.
And so rises a new trend: static site generators. No bloat, no extra features; just plain blogging. The new idea is to type your entries on a text editor, generate static pages, and upload them onto your site… through FTP.
What a time to be alive.
So I’ve been trying my hand at static site generators. There are a number of them out there written in various languages, so you can choose which one you’re comfortable with. Jekyll is arguably the most popular one, written in Ruby. There are also Middleman and Nanoc for Ruby site generators. I read the documentation on all of them, and Middleman seemed like the best fit for me. The templating language uses embedded Ruby which I’m very familiar with, and it just looked like the easiest.
Installation was painless. Just type
gem install middleman on the command line (assuming you have Ruby installed already), and you can start generating pages. Templating was also a breeze with ERb.
As a direct consequence of my tinkering, I started a separate web development
blog blerg. I’ll probably use it for webdev posts beyond blogging and WordPress. Or maybe I’ll just keep whining about how frustrating it is to run a Ruby server on Windows. Who knows!
Static site generators aren’t just for blogging. You can use them to make pretty much anything. I’ve also been using Middleman to generate HTML email sets for work. I built a complete set of emails in a matter of minutes. Mmm automation. I’m planning on converting my portfolio to Middleman too in time. It’d be much easier to update in the future that way.
Now what does this mean for WordPress? Absolutely nothing. WordPress and Middleman meet the needs of two completely different kinds of people.
If all you want to do is blog, stick with WordPress. It’s well-documented, widely supported, and much easier to grasp. It’s great for someone who’s just starting out and don’t want to worry about themes or plugins much. Blogging nowadays is all about quality content, and if you’d rather focus your energy on writing than tinkering with your site, WP is a great option.
Middleman is for developers who prefer to keep to the same process with their blog as their workflow: text editor → command line → deploy. Super intuitive for those who do it on the daily, and there’s plenty you can do with it if you know what you’re doing. However it’s still young, so documentation could use some more work. If you mess up, sometimes you’re on your own. But once you grasp it and get everything working, it’s incredibly easy and powerful. I’ll keep you all posted on Middleman as I continue to use it in the weeks to come!
But through all this, simply keep in mind what your needs are for your blog. Don’t get too caught up what’s the latest or what’s cool. Do what works for you.
(Oh, and before h8rz come at me for using FTP in this day and age, like “gurl, use rsync or Github pages wahh”, FTP’s easy and also thatsthepunchline.gif)