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The perfect blogging platform – some principles

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What do we want from a blogging platform? Is your current favoured system just right? Or do you want more? Or less?

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I use now-fairly-unfashionable Jekyll to build my own blog and I’m happy enough, although even with a headless CMS like Forestry it can prove infuriatingly obtuse to write posts on a phone. And getting comments and webmentions working on a static site is only for the most dedicated tinkerer.

So let’s imagine we’re building a platform primarily for writers rather than developers. We may want some customisation options, but they shouldn’t require any coding knowledge.

What features does it need? I’m going to assume you’re following an indieweb philosophy, so that means hosted comments, webmentions and simple, configurable syndication to all the major social networks. We want to be in control of how we tweet even when we’re not on Twitter.

Because this is indieweb we need an RSS feed(s). An email subscription would be grand too (perhaps as a chargeable extra).

Maybe you’re using a few different platforms at the moment. That’s cool, but we want to be able to publish everything from our glorious website. At least in principle. So we need a range of formats – images, notes, asides, quotes, links, videos and, of course, longer form pieces such as blogs and essays.

Categories, tags and archives are maybe a given. Maybe? We should have an option to turn on and off as many of these features as possible. We want to be able to build a simple (paginated?) stream of posts, or a rich taxonomy.

Proper search. The facility to create new pages such as About, Contact, Now.

I wonder if I’m inventing Blogger.

Now, the editing experience is important because you’re not going to stick with a platform that’s horrible to use. This is tricky to define, but I’d say we need a website and native apps for smaller devices (sorry PWA folks). Easy OS integrated sharing so I can publish a picture in two taps. When you are writing it’ll be with a rich text editor and/or Markdown.

This is probably where we should introduce the word “minimal”. We’re not building shops, a brand or an intranet – just a blog. That makes the admin area more focused. A text box and some form fields – no Gutenberg; well set words, images and videos are our preferred weapons. Minimalist design, in its purest, not-just-taking-things-away-or-hiding-them sense.

It must be fast. Defensive javascript – no sliders or pop outs but a sprinkling to enhance the UI where necessary. It won’t be a SPA. Think the Basecamp approach.

We’re nearly there, I think. We should offer self-hosted or hosted options so we can truly own our site, and allow simple importing and exporting to Markdown and json (and importing from WordPress’s format). Let’s add an API while we’re at it.

I do want to keep configuration to a minimum, so no theming. That’s odd on a self-hosted system, and probably needs bottoming out. Something like Medium? As for what we can change – logo, author photo, tagline, description, typeface (Google/Adobe fonts integration?), palette. Maybe some other typographical options like font size, measure and leading would be fun and enhance the writerly feel. Two layouts? Single column or content/sidebar? Inbuilt accessibility warnings. Dark theme.

And that’s it. What do you reckon? I’d go for that, I think. But is there something else it needs? Or should be rid of?

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Gary

You’ve got me thinking of / remembering Dean Allen’s Textpattern from back in the day – a time before smartphones. It was, I think, only self-hosted. And it’s still going strong – Textpattern.

Leon

I do remember Textpattern, and I guess Textile was a pre-cursor of Markdown. The website still has the same white, yellow and black colour scheme.

Yes, a simpler version of these “traditional” CMSs is probably what I have in mind – Kirby, for example.

Incidentally, really like your art work and want the Elvis wall in my house. Also hard to disagree with the cheap lager part of the manifesto :-)

Anna

I like initiatives like Stackbit, although I haven’t used it myself (yet). It let’s one create a working JAMstack website with just a few clicks. You basically choose a theme, your SSG and hosting of choice and BAM! It seems like a good step towards making all this more accessible to more people.

Leon

@Anna,

Thanks for your comment. Stackbit looks very interesting – if I was building a site for someone I like the idea of them being able to edit the page itself rather than use forms in a back end. This kind of relates to my post on how WordPress’s Gutenberg approaches editing.

I could build in the webmention and replies stuff, although (as you can probably tell), static sites (Jekyll, in my case) and comments are fairly difficult to get working together particularly fluently.

Anna

@Leon

Fairly difficult indeed! If you’ve written about how you implemented comments and search on this site, could you point me to the relevant articles?

I’m thinking about writing online too and was considering third-party solutions for comments.

Leon

@anna

Unfortunately, I haven’t, mainly because it would take me days to write :-)

The basic set up is:

  • I’m hosted on Netlify, so use the forms feature for that (I think you get 100 free submissions a month)
  • When a form is submitted I get an automated email
  • Netlify works with Zapier, which can listen for a form submission
  • Zapier sends the form submitter an email saying it’s been received
  • Zapier then adds the form entry to an [Airtable][https://airtable.com] table
  • I use the jekyll-get-json plugin to read comments from my Airtable table’s API
  • Whenever the site is built the new comments are added
  • There’s some code that makes sure comments are assigned to the right post

It’s pretty complicated, but I fancied the challenge and don’t want to use a third party like Disqus.

If I was starting out I’d probably go back to WordPress. It does all this stuff out of the box.

You should definitely start blogging, though, comments or not!

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Poorchop

The ability to write in plain HTML, a secure and robust comments system, speed, the ability to self-host, no need to set up a databse, and zero JavaScript—these are the only things that I really need. Tags and search would be ideal. RSS feed is also a must if...

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