Can't we do better about blogging in 2021 already?

For the last 10 years I relied on WordPress for all my blogging (and website) needs. Over time I figured out, it's not about getting the website up and running. The difficult part is maintaining it.

If you ever had your WordPress site defaced – for whatever plugin- / theme-related security issue, you might end up becoming desperate about better approaches to get your "word out". With no time for weekly updates, plugin experiments and badly coded themes, I decided to dig deeper into the blogging jungle of 2021.

To be fair, WordPress started out as a blogging platform, but is now a full-blown do-whatever-you-want-Management system. I set the bar for the "perfect" blogging platform pretty low:

  • blogging only and content first (preferably with markdown support)
  • highly customizable, but easy to start – ain't nobody got time for a hundred settings
  • performance should be fast as F boi (with support for AMP)
  • low maintenance and operations burden

Chasing a Ghost

Ghost was the first option I considered with the memory of it starting out as the blogging underdog a few years ago. Turns out, they pivoted their business in the last few years and are now focussing on audience building with newsletters and stuff. Nonetheless it looked like a good match in the beginning: Basic setup was done in a few minutes and the website was up and running.

But... there is always a catch. As soon as the trial ended, I figured out, I won't be able to make any changes to theme with the starter tier. We are already talking about 9 bucks a month for a plain old blog. It would cost 25 bucks a month just to customize the theme (or even choose an own one). I mean, it's completely fine if you monetize on your audience and wanna have the flexibility of an ever growing platform, but for a simple personal blog... nah.

If the (former) direct WordPress competitors won't suite my needs, what about centralized platforms like Medium? It's a primarily technology focussed audience and the traction of those platforms might attract an even larger audience than a self-hosted blog. Skimming through a few posts of other authors and discussions in the interweb, the consensus of the blogger community seems to be clear: Nope.

Medium seems to be also focussing on Monetizing their content by putting up paywalls. That's a blocker for me: I want to have my content available for all audiences. Without paywalls. Without forcing users to register or paying for essentially free content. As the expedition for the perfect blogging solution is getting more and more frustrating, I question myself: Can't we do better about blogging in 2021 already?

10 years ago blogging with WordPress seemed to be complex, but doable with the right perseverance. Technology evolved and the internet became a striving place for every kind of content. But still, there seems to be no darn simple solution for blogging... This cries for a technological exit. Back to the roots, I'd say.

Grandma, let's built a website!

Every heard about static site generators? The concept is quite simple: Generate plain old HTML, CSS and JavaScript files. They can be served blazingly fast and are "statically manifested" against outside intruders. No need for PHP, Node.js, Ruby, Python or any other fancy scripting language. Just some files being served to a browser like in 1993.

But there is a catch: They need to be generated (if you don't want to write every HTML tag on your own). And this is where the generator comes into play. So my first idea was to use Jekyll (one of the most famous static site generators) and combine it with GitHub pages. The content would be written in Markdown and populated to the interweb through a fancy GitHub action pipeline.

As intriguing as this sounds to a technology enthusiast, this would result in shifting the maintenance burden "to the left". Instead of upgrading WordPress, it would now be upgrading Jekyll and fixing CI pipelines. Most of the ticks would have been checked with that approach, but I was desperate there had to be a better solution.

And there actually is: Meet Publii. An open-source static site generator with a WYSIWYG editor. It essentially combines the simplicity of the WordPress Gutenberg editor with the performance of a Jekyll site. Comes with builtin support for AMP, custom CSS / HTML, custom themes and different vendors / providers for hosting the static pages.

TLDR: If you are annoyed with WordPress, Medium, Ghost and Jekyll, try Publii.

This article was updated on October 22, 2021

Maik Hummel

Hi, I'm Maik. I do tech. Love building software products with great people. By day you can spot me building a Conversational AI platform over at Kauz. By night you might stumble upon me despairing of Kubernetes, Flutter or the world itself.