Micah Godbolt

Choosing a Blogging Platform

One of my first major decisions when starting this new blog was going to be platform. I come from a Drupal development background so one might expect me to fire up a new Drupal 7 site, or be adventurous and showcase the new Drupal 8. But for me, the overhead of dealing with an entire CMS was way more than I needed for what I was trying to build. On top of that, even as a Drupal dev, I spend more time in JavaScript than I do PHP. So with static site generators being "so hot right now", I set out to find the right one for me.

Navigating the sea of choices

There are over 125 different static site generators on StaticGen, and I certainly didn't have time to try them all before deciding, so I had to narrow down my search. Here are the ways I did all of that narrowing:

Must NodeJS based

  • As much as I love Jekyll, Middleman, I'm not really interested in using a Ruby based site generator. It's not so much that I don't like Ruby, it's just that I've been spending the last year trying to move our stack away from Ruby (LibSass, Sass-lint, non-ruby style guides). So the last thing I want to do is add a Ruby dependency back in!
  • Plus, everything else I do is written in JavaScript, so it seems natural to try and find a NodeJS powered site generator as well.

Must have a great community

  • Part of having a strong community is having a strong set of leaders who are moving the project forward. As much as I love open source, I have been stung quite a few times recently by relying on projects that have fallen stagnant or been put out to pasture, and no longer maintained. So one major criteria was to find a project that was part of a strong organization, and had a large list of contributors from within that organization, and from without.
  • The community is only as good as the people you end up interacting with. For me, those people are going to be maintainers of the generator repo and individual plug-ins, blog authors, and anyone I meet through twitter or other forums. There is no room in my workflow for people with horrible attitudes or excluding behavior. I will only support, promote and contribute to a project that respects all of its users.
  • Oh, and a Slack channel. A Slack channel would be nice.

Must be extensible

  • The best open source projects are built around a codebase that can be extended and added on to. The Sass community is amazing for many reason, but one of them is that Sass is a framework that can be built on top of. Because of Sass you have amazing projects such as Susy, Bourbon, Breakpoint, and Foundation which harness the power of Sass to build libraries that empower the Sass community to do amazing things.
  • I expect the static site generator I choose to be pretty powerful out of the box, but I want to make sure it is built in such a way that it can be easily modified and enhanced. I know I want a NodeJS based generator, so creating new functionality should be as simple as writing a small NodeJS module.

Must have support for popular templating languages

  • Much of the work I've done recently has been harnessing the power of modern templating languages. My original go-to JS based language was Swig, but as I just found out that it is no longer being maintained, I decided that I wanted to find something that used Nunjucks.
  • For me, a powerful and extensible templating language is the key to having a successful static site. Nunjucks bring in template inheritance, includes, looping through data, built-in and custom filters, and other modern conveniences for turning the data provided by the site generator into the markup that I want to use.

Making my decision

With all of these requirements, and a good deal of searching, asking and inquiring, I eventually landed on the Metalsmith project. As a NodeJS based project under the SegmentIO umbrella, with a great deal of plugins from Segment and 3rd party contributors, I felt pretty confident that I could build a solid foundation out of this platform....Oh yeah, and they have a slack channel too.

So now that I had a base to start with, I'll spend the next few entries going over how to get set up with Metalsmith, some of the pains that I went through, and all of the many joys. Thanks for following along. See you all next time.