I've seen a few people proclaiming that 2014 will be the year that flat file websites become popular.
After testing a good number of flat file website tools, I completely disagree. These tools are unlikely to become popular because they are being really badly marketed. Flat file sites are currently only selling themselves to a niche groups of developers, rather than the mass market.
Let's take a tour of some of the best flat file website creators:
Getkirby.com has the slogan, "Kirby is a file-based cms" and secondary tag-line, "No database, just files and folders".
Statamic.com says, "Pack up your content, markup, and style. Leave the database behind." Then it says "Making websites just got fun again" and says it was built by and for developers and designers.
Pico.dev7studios.com say that Pico is a "stupidly simple & blazing fast, flat file CMS." It then starts talking about no database, markdown and Twig.
Octobercms.com says that it's "A minimalistic platform that gets back to basics." October says it "can be understood at a glance" and then starts talks about "Page Components" and an "Extensible platform".
Jekyllrb.com says "Transform your plain text into static websites and blogs." It says "Get up and running in seconds" and then shows the command line.
Do you notice who the target audience is for all these platforms? Developers.
None of these platforms are talking to ordinary users:
- Users don't care if the database is in a file or in MySQL.
- Users don't care about "big" or "small" systems.
- Users don't care about markdown. They've never used it before and will almost certainly perfer a WYSIWYG editor.
All of these platforms are by developers and for developers. None of them are talking to a wider audience.
Are you saying these are bad platforms?
No. Some of them are really good platforms.
What I'm saying is that they are absolutely not on the path to popularity.
These are great platforms, but only for a niche audience of developers and designers.
Will static websites ever become popular?
Possibly, in the future. I'd love to see some successful static, popular website tools.
However, in addition to solving the wrong problems, statics website generators are held back by several other problems:
- Many have commercial cores, which hampers adoption. Why not give away the core and sell add-ons?
- There are too many options. At some point one or two of these generators may break from the pack, as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla did with dynamic CMS's. But it hasn't happened yet.
- No community. There are no events, no marketplaces and little in the way of discussion forums for many of these products.
- Poor or non-existent documentation.
So who does get it right?
It's worth comparing the generators above to Ghost.
Ghost.org proclaims that it is, "Just a Blogging Platform" and has these delightfully simple instructions: "Just want to get a blog up & running? Hit the green button. Have your own server & want to install Ghost on it? Hit the blue button."
Ghost has a marketplace already Marketplace.ghost.org and is trying to build up a community. They have a forum at Ghost.org/forum and now have over 100 themes on ThemeForest. Whether you like Themeforest-style sites or not, getting featured on those sites is an indicator of popularity and support. Also, rather than try and sell the core files, they made money first via fund-raising and now via a hosted service.
Ghost emerged from the WordPress world and you can tell they've learned many lessons from WordPress.
It's very early to expect widespread popularity for Ghost in 2014. Ghost is still at version 0.3, it still used markdown rather than a WYSIWYG and it does use Node.js for which hosting options are still limited.
But, looking ahead, if any of these static site creators has the chance to become used by anyone except developers, it's probably Ghost.