Static Site Generators & the IndieWeb

Static Site Generators (SSGs) are a way to publish on the web with negligible costs and minimal overhead, as they create static HTML files which can be hosted on a Platform as a Service (PaaS) without need of a database. Combined with reactive frontend User Interfaces (UIs), enhanced PaaS features & integrations, cheap mass storage for media files and the offline capabilities of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), there is the opportunity for the massive growth of decentralised publishing along the lines of IndieWeb principles.

What is great about this whole area is that it does not rely on one technology stack or service provider. Because it is “just” plain HTML, it is ultimately portable.

Barriers

Currently I can see 4 overlapping barriers to this growth:

  1. Technical
  2. Cost
  3. Workflow
  4. Connectivity

1. Technical

The majority of people aren’t inclined or able to school themselves in the technical skills currently required. I’ve been building websites for 20 years and I still balk at the prospect of setting up Webmentions. This stuff needs to be push-button easy.

2. Cost

If you’re setting up a WordPress, you’ll need a database with hosting, which will cost you about $5 per month. That is prohibitive for many, in terms of price and expertise to set up. PaaS companies like Netlify, Now, Surge.sh etc. have greatly reduced these barriers to entry. But image & video hosting is still a pain point, in terms of cost and workflow.

3. Workflow

Currently, I don’t know a way to easily publish resized & responsive images to my SSG blog from my mobile. Likewise, SSG interfaces like Netlify CMS at the moment don’t work on mobile.

4. Connectivity

To hook up my blog and status posts using RSS news feeds to my social networks, I currently have to use two 3rd party services (HootSuite and dlvrit). That’s more setup than most people can stomach. Connecting your posts to your social networks needs to be as easy at the hosted WordPress.com service Sharing options:

Screenshot of WordPress.com Sharing options

What we need

What we need is good push-button User Interface (no terminal or text editor required) that is accessible no matter the device or skill level. Netlify CMS, an Open Source project from Netlify, has an admirable aim:

We're hoping that Netlify CMS will do for the JAMstack what WordPress did for dynamic sites back in the day.

To that end, these are some of the things what we need:

  1. Decent user interface for creating (configuring) websites, rather like point 5 of the famous WordPress 5 minute installation.
  2. Simple social connectivity, like the WordPress.com example above, and including options for self-hosted comments like Staticman and the more ethereal Webmentions.
  3. User interfaces, like Netlify CMS, need to be responsive and work on all devices.
  4. User interfaces/applications need to be Progressive Web Apps, so that they can be used with limited internet connectivity (offline).
  5. SSG templates need to be marked up with socially aware, ie they need to be marked up with microformats for social networks.
  6. Someone really needs to build an image hosting service that is practically free, hosts different sized responsive images with title, description and EXIF data and can be used from a mobile (as this is what most people use to take photos…).

How can I help?

I’m glad you asked. You can:

  1. Put these jumbled thoughts of mine into some sort of order.
  2. Follow what Laura Kalbag and Aral Balkan are doing for an independent web.
  3. Build a Static Site Generator theme that uses microformats (see Indiego theme for some ideas/pointers)
  4. Build a simple social connectivity app.
  5. Make Webmentions easier to use!
  6. Work on a fix for the Slate editor so that it works on mobile
  7. Write some more lists…

Thanks for Laura for push to get these thoughts out there 🙂.