Pretenders: Static blog generators for bloggers who prefer to code

I manage a couple of small sites that don’t currently need the full power of WordPress, so I started looking at some of the static-page blogging engines; software meant to give you all the neat features of WordPress (such as navigation and built-in search), but using Markdown files behind the scenes to create static pages for simplicity, fast load times, and better security.

I may not have tried every one of them that are available, but I did try (in no particular order):

  • Octopress
  • Gumdrop
  • Nanoc
  • Middleman
  • Jekyll
  • Nikola
  • Kirby
  • Mako

As it turns out, there are dozens of such static-page blog generators, some in PHP, some in Ruby on Rails, etc. Each requires that you install a bunch of files on your computer (or server, if you have that kind of access), go through a painstaking set-up process, navigate often-confusing config files, and clear other hurdles. Then, of course, you get to try to figure out how to get your blog to look the way you want it to look. Some seemed better than others, but each was a lot of work.

If you are able only to do the install on your local computer, then after re-generating your static pages you must upload them to your server. If you’re doing your hosting with Github, some of them offer hooks to make this easier, but it’s still a separate operation.

In the end, I gave up the search and stayed with WordPress for a couple reasons.

First, getting any of these static-page blog generators running is a time-consuming and daunting task. If you’re not already a programmer familiar with — say — Ruby on Rails, the learning curve is steep indeed. WordPress is famous for its “five-minute install” claim, but in reality, it often takes less than this, given the one-click installers available through cPanel with many web hosts.

Second, none of the static-page blog generators seemed suited for a blog with more than a few entries. Most store all the blog-entry files in a single directory (AKA folder), so if you have 1,500 entries (or more), you then have to deal with at least one humongous folder filled with files (or other folders, depending on the engine you choose), that contains all your posts.

Third, it didn’t seem to be a good trade to exchange many, many hours of my time that it would take to implement and maintain a static-page blog generator for the fractions of a second that the server takes to present WordPress pages to visitors.

Fourth, there is little-to-no back-end help, as there is with WordPress’ admin section.

The seeming simplicity of static pages is alluring but illusory if you want to deliver the true blog experience to your visitors. As for fast load times and security, going with a good host (such as WP Engine) takes care of both issues, and regular updates from WordPress and others go a long way toward reducing your threat exposure when using WordPress.

If you’re a programmer and you want to add running a blog generator as a hobby, that’s one thing. If you’re a blogger (or want to be), WordPress is the clear choice.