Blog in scrabble lettersIn my last few jobs, I’ve done a lot more writing. I’ve learned to work with static site generators (SSGs), such as jekyll and 11ty. I even moved a database driven side project to Netlify. Here’s an interesting survey about SSGs from Redmonk, if you want to learn a bit more. I am also a longtime WordPress user, and think it has some tremendous strengths. I wanted to capture my thoughts on these two options for building your website.

Here’s why I’d pick WordPress for a content heavy site:

  • Avoid any kind of compilation pipeline or step
  • The authors don’t have technical chops and want WYSIWYG
  • You want more than a blog, with additional functionality pulled from the wide world of plugins. Also, themes!
  • You want to allow people to just write, without software getting in the way

Here’s why I’d pick a static site generator for the same:

  • Need performance and scalability at a low low price
  • Wanted ‘set it and forget it’ security (you can’t hack a static HTML page)
  • Authors are technical enough to write markdown and to leverage the data driven possibilities of an SSG
  • No need for interactive functionality, beyond what JavaScript/JAMStack can provide

Like any other choice in software engineering, these two solutions offer tradeoffs.

I think that SSGs are far better for simpler websites, and in some ways they are a more sophisticated version of very early websites. I remember writing a perl program to take a usenet file and turn it into a set of web pages in the last 1990s. (It was jokes, if you must know the content.) When you build and deploy a static site, you know exactly what you’re getting, but you can also extract common functionality to shared files. You will have to compile it, however, and typically uses a version control system, which can be a lot for some non technical folks.

WordPress is fantastic for just getting going. I can get a blog started in 15 minutes that can be used by anyone who knows the basics of Microsoft Word. The flip side of the speed to first page is operational complexity, slower performance (all things being equal), as well as a more complicated application to secure.

I will say that as a developer, SSGs are growing on me.

PS I know some people have combined them both, and using WordPress as the backend and publishing a set of static pages is really appealing. I’ve done some preliminary work on this, but haven’t found a great solution out there.


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