Why Static Site Generators are SuperCool

@smashingmag recently redesigned their online magazine using the @GoHugoIO Static Site Generator. Their switch away from WordPress was a humongous endeavour and shone a light on the performance gains from serving static HTML files.

Peformance is just one of the gains. Arguably as important is the lowering of barriers (both price and knowledge) to publishing a website.

Like a lot of Hotness, static sites have been around for a long time (see StaticGen for a full list and Smashing Magazine for more reading).

The usual process is that posts are written using Markdown, generated into HTML with a build process, then committed to a Git repository, triggering deployment to a website.

This is cool but has always a bit on the… technical side. Who wants to teach their clients Markdown and Git? But the supercool are the new tools now available for managing a static site:

  1. There are a good number of super-simple and super-cheap hosting options for static sites. I’ve mostly used Netlify and they have a very slick workflow and interface (and the pro version is free for Open Source projects). I used Surge.sh just yesterday, really simple publishing of any static files. And I’ve heard good things about now as well, and they even have a desktop drag‘n’drop app. In the old days, I used to use Heroku.
  2. People are building GUIs for static sites rather than having to rely on text editors and terminals. The one I’ve started playing with is NetlifyCMS by, er, Netlify. It’s a React app which interfaces with your GitHub repo. It looks simple enough for clients to use.
  3. Comments have been an weak spot of static sites. Third party services like Disqus have come under a lot of flak. Webmention by the IndieWeb is promising though somewhat challenging to set up. Of particular interest is Mozilla’s offshoot project called Talk which is being integrated across washingtonpost.com.
  4. Image hosting. Now, there are 3rd party options such as Flickr but then there are the privacy and tracking issues. The ability to host your own responsive images cheaply and easily would be ideal. Object Storage as offered by Amazon S3 web services looks like the right technology. Digital Ocean recently announced Scalable Object Storage at $5 a month with hopefully a more accessible interface. If only someone would build a web app to upload images to a static site…

All of this means that Static Site Generators are very cheap to deploy with increasingly lower technical barriers to setting up. With comments and cheap image hosting, I think we’re moving towards a more Open Web.