Naming Things is Hard

Static site content management systems

I've got two blogs hosted on Netlify using 11ty-based blogging systems—this one, which I generally brewed up myself using 11ty, and then my book blog site, which I recently revamped using 11ty-base-blog.

I don't update either enough, which is fine, I'm busy, but when I do, it sure is nice to have an interface to my content that doesn't require me to load up my code editor and directly interact with my files. To that end I use two separate versions of something that, once upon a time, was called Netlify CMS; for this site I use Static CMS, which forked off Netlify CMS a while back when it looked like Netlify CMS was dying on the vine, and for the book blog site, which I set back up sometime last year, I use Decap CMS, which is what Netlify CMS officially “became" when Netlify decided to officially not do it anymore.

What's worth noting off the top is that neither of these “CMS” options involve a database: they're both essentially interfaces that allow web-based editing of markdown files hosted in the site's git repo which in turn is published and hosted through Netlify (or, presumably, possibly, some parallel or similar system). I'm not sure how well this actually would work for teams collaborating on a site, or if it meets the needs of non-technical users who have a technical person handling site set-up but don't themselves require or possess technical know-how; I do not it makes it much easier for me to let the “content” and “nerdy code detail” sides of my brain drift from each other in time and space.

Set-up for both systems is fairly similar—there's an admin folder that needs to be published as part of the site deploy along with a settings or configuration file to gives the interface knowledge about the structure of the site-specific content files; all this feeds into a JavaScript-based interface. Authentication, at least for me, is through Netlify Identity. Honestly I'm pretty much at “just follow the tutorials and docs” levels of understanding here and I got them doing basically what I bare-minimum need them to do; it's not too hard, for sufficiently flexible views of what “too hard” might mean for you.

That said recently I realized that neither interface has let me know just how out of date my current versions were; for either site I was running 2 to 3 major versions behind. Luckily updating mostly meant pointing the scripts at the new versions and doing some minor under-the-hood cleanup, relatively minor because I'm not doing anything too crazy with either site. Fairly painless upgrades, in the end.

And, wow, what a difference it makes, particulalry on the Static CMS side. The thing I'd liked more about Decap CMS was that it offered an editorial workflow system—the ability to naturally save content in draft form before hitting publish. (I had a “draft” flag on posts already so I could do this, but it's nice to have that baked into the system.) When I ran the upgrades I was fairly convinced I was going to wind up moving both sites to the same system, but now I've got this site running the newest (I think, unless there's already a new version I'm not aware of) Static CMS version, and now it too has an editorial workflow system in place. Plus the overall interface has gone through a huge upgrade; there's a dark mode and just a general polish that, last I checked, Decap CMS doesn't quite have yet. It's real impressive, and if I had to recommend one or the other, I would probably go with Static CMS.

At least, that's what I'd go with today. Decap CMS does seem to better integrate with Netlify's deploy preview system, so draft posts actually get fullly-previewable links on live “copies” of the site, which is really nice; maybe that's avaialble in Static CMS yet and I haven't figured it out yet. And of course at least from a total outsider view it seems like maybe these systems running in parallel are sort of nudging each other along, and I'll be curious to see what comes next from either side. At least for now I'll take advantage of the fact that I've got too many blogs (and not enough time for any of them) as a chance to keep an eye on both sides of the fence to see what happens.


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