Notice: This entry was published 4 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!

(I also have a landing page now. It’s open-source on Github! Feel free to clone and vandalize. If you wanna plug yourself, be my guest!)

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)

Comments

  1. Ahahaha! I used to do the whole write blog entries on NotePad and upload them via FTP before I used Greymatter. Oh, man. The memories. Let’s just say I’m glad I got away from the FTP method, but this new static site generators are interesting. I’d no idea such a thing existed until I read this entry. I may have to look into it more, just so I am on top of things XD;
    Tara recently posted…Slow Cooker ExperienceMy Profile

    1. It’s really fun to mess with from a dev standpoint :D I think Jekyll’s the easiest to transition with if you’re not familiar with Ruby. But you don’t have to know Ruby to run it, like how you don’t have to strictly know PHP to run WP.

      There’s also Jekyll Now to make it even simpler.

  2. That is pretty hilarious that there has kind of been a full circle rotation, of starting as uploading the files and now doing the same again, but obviously this time it is a bit more advanced.

    That sounds like a really incredible platform to use. I have missed so much in the last few years that I stopped paying attention to design, if I find the time and passion I will have a look at it too.

    I was thinking about WordPress and CMS the other day. I am pretty sure that there will be a shift. Ghost might even become the WordPress of back then, and WordPress for content/business primarily. But, you never know.
    Kya recently posted…Christmas Card ExchangeMy Profile

    1. I tried Ghost too! Looks fun to work with. :D It has the same vision as site generators of “just blogging,” but it still has a GUI so it’s a good happy medium for people looking to switch to a lightweight platform.

  3. Blogging via FTP, man, I remember those days. I remember just how much more time it took to publish my posts because I had to upload via FTP.

    With static-site generator blogging, are there ways to create archives efficiently in case the entries grow? I wonder how that would work. With wordpress everything is effortless, I wonder how static-site generator blogging handles growing entries.

    I really like your blerg, by the way. I look forward to more of your adventures in webdev. Also, how do you like your new Air?
    Kristine recently posted…Acute Care: 5th WeekMy Profile

    1. Definitely! My blerg’s front page is basically an archive. With Middleman, you treat the archives as a for loop and call each entry that way. I haven’t tried the others in-depth, but it probably works the same way.

      I love the new Air! Sooo light, haha. I got it so I can run Ruby servers locally without any problems. I actually got a refurb but it looks good as new.

      We were so fashion-forward with FTP blogging. Like, ten years ahead! XD

  4. I’ve honestly never heard of static site generators, so this is news to me! Then again, I might still not really understand what exactly they are. The only newest blogging CMS I know of/have heard of is Ghost, which probably isn’t new anymore.

    I kind of want to toy some with these now, too, but I haven’t much of a clue what Ruby is! D; Gah. I do like the theme you have set for Middleman, though, and I think it’s awesome developers have something other than WordPress to use now if they’d like to use that instead.

    I feel so old talking/reading about FTP … I still use it from time to time, just because it helps save a physical backup of my sites/sites’ files, and when people don’t know/understand “the point” of using FTP, it frustrates me a bit, to be honest. >.>
    Liz recently posted…What I wish I did to my blogMy Profile

    1. Hmm, I think the best way to describe is static site generators is… okay, so you know how you have separate header/footer includes to make templating easier? They automatically insert that into every page (like pasting them manually), so you end up with pure HTML pages that don’t need includes or a database. So your site will load faster.

      That’s the greatest advantage to them. It’s a bit hard to explain for me without resorting to “generating pages,” haha. I think it’s something you have to see for yourself. I might write a demo post.

      You don’t need to know Ruby to run generators! Just like how you don’t need to know PHP for WordPress exactly. I personally recommend Jekyll for beginners just because it’s popular so it’s easier to google help for that, and the templating language is simpler than embedded Ruby. You should totally check it out!

      (Btw, I fixed your comment. :D)

  5. the first time I knew about blogging through having access over cpanel / ftp, i didn’t know about greymatter. in fact, i just knew about its existence now as i read your entry. back then, i posted things using the cutenews cms and it was the it thing everyone used for blogging platform. moving few steps forward, people started using fanupdate to replace cutenews because cutenews gave lots of spams. actually, there were two ways i thought about: static post or use CMS. i’m actually surprise you didn’t mention cutenews here LOL i thought everyone knew or and used it back then…. :P

    and then i discovered wordpress and how it’s more secure and advanced, a very neat platform compared to the crappy cutenews and ugly fanupdate. (not to mention the level of difficulty and complexity wordpress has grown over the years). though i admit i was pretty confused with the whole static site generator thing, i think this is a handy tool for developers who want to do things faster.

    i’m still trying to grasp the differences between the usual blogging platform that gives you access to commenting, etc and this static web engine?? my head’s probably not in the game right now that’s why i’m such a noob LOL

    when you said blogging via ftp, what i understood was you had to keep on changing your index.php’s paragraph to update to the latest news…or did i get that wrong? haha if that’s what you meant, i never actually did that with blogging. too troublesome, too much work. the fact that web is so evolving right now is just so…confusing. so many things to learn, so many new things getting developed wow i haven’t been paying attention at all. x__x
    Alice B recently posted…Reload Me, Soldier!My Profile

    1. Greymatter was a thing in 2001. CuteNews surfaced a few years later. I did use it for a short while. I never had any problems with spam, but I guess I didn’t use it long enough. I switched to WP after that.

      The main difference is static generators output plain HTML pages that don’t need to fetch includes or anything from a database, so your site loads faster. You also use less bandwidth since you don’t have to fetch anything, so if your traffic spikes, your server can handle it better.

      To write a new entry, you generate a new page which is basically the permalink to your entry. You do this with the command line. And then the templating system will list out the entries on your index page. The actual blogging is still automated. Usually, there are no comments so you have to use Disqus or some other third-party commenting system.

      And then you just use the command line to output everything into static HTML pages, and then upload those through FTP (or rsync, there’s plenty of ways now). I’m gonna be writing a demo entry in the future since people seem interested, and it’s hard to explain without a demo. :D

  6. This is a trip down memory lane! I used to have fansites hosted on geocities and then, eventually, an actual fansite hosting company but that was still around 2001-2002. For the photo galleries, I used html, and since CPG didn’t exist back then either, you had to manually code how you wanted the photos displayed, categorize the pages, and name those pages the title of the event (which the name of the page ended up being incredibly long like /englishnationalballetannualchristmasseasoncelebrityparty.html). That was work. That was A LOT of work! God bless WordPress and Coppermine.

    I’ve been looking at other blogging platforms and have heard great things about Ghost but I think I’ll keep sticking with WordPress for a long while :)
    Amanda recently posted…Where for art thou domains?My Profile

    1. For sure! I still like WordPress. :D Plugins are so convenient to have, plus I’m in too deep with the permalinks. XD

      I miss Geocities so much! That was the end of an era, when they closed down. I used to manually edit every page too and coded tables for my galleries. So much work! I wonder how I didn’t go insane.

  7. I think I remember using something called CuteNews about 12-13 years ago! Holy cow! I actually need to get back on this side of the fence, because I haven’t dealt with too much coding or developing in recent years. I’m behind. I feel like an old dinosaur! Everything’s evolved so much. Yet, I felt like I was so cool using FTP when I was 12! Lol I’d really love to learn the developer side of things.
    Shayne recently posted…Thanks ♥My Profile

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