Unpopular opinion: switching to WordPress in 2019

Static sites continue to be popular with web developers, a trend that, as far as I can tell, began several years ago[1]. I joined that trend back in 2015 when I made blakewatson.com a static site.

I don’t have any ill-will toward WordPress. It’s a great CMS. It’s the CMS. But I just don’t need it for this site. I don’t need its commenting system, its URL handling, its media library, or its database. As they say, use the right tool for the job.

I went on to sing the praises of wok, a now defunct static site generator written in Python. While I still stand behind my comments about the benefits of static sites, I no longer agree with my quote above, and I have some better insight on the cons of static sites.

WordPress is really convenient

I don’t need its commenting system, its URL handling, its media library, or its database.

Maybe that’s technically true. I don’t need them. But it turns out that stuff is really useful.[2] Let’s say I notice a typo on my website while I’m on a device that doesn’t have my development set up. With WordPress, there’s no cloning, committing, and deploying just to change some text. I just log in, make the change, and save it. Easy peasy.

It’s true that the local dev environment of a static site is easier to get up and running. But it’s just me working on my site—the setup basically only happens once and I’m good to go. And I’m already used to WordPress and moving it around, thanks to working with it for over a decade. More often than not—for me anyway—the convenience of having that database outweighs the convenience of having my content versioned in a Git repo.

The performance of a static site rocks. I can’t deny that. My site gets very little traffic, so I’m hoping that doing some caching will get the job done.

But static site generators let you use Markdown.

Plot twist. I can still use Markdown with WordPress. In fact, I’m using it right now. I’m drafting this in iA Writer. When I get mostly finished, I’ll copy and paste the HTML into WordPress, fine tune it, and then publish. (Edit: the Jetpack plugin lets you opt-in to writing your posts with Markdown). I realize this workflow isn’t for everybody, but that’s part of the beauty of WordPress—it can be fine tuned to an individual’s preferences. In my case, for example, I turned off Gutenberg as well as the classic visual editor, opting instead for the code editor only. I added a plug-in that gives me syntax highlighting. With most of my writing done in another app, editing a bit of HTML is no big deal. (using Markdown now!)

WordPress is the Helvetica of CMSs

With 30% of the web, we might as well say that it is ubiquitous. And it’s good. Much like Helvetica, WordPress is very seldom the worst choice that you could have made (even if it isn’t always the best). It’s just not trendy to make your site with WordPress today. If you follow web circles, you will hear a lot about Gatsby, Next, Nuxt, and a whole bunch of other stuff. That’s totally fine, it’s just important to remember that new tech gets chatter:

You don’t hear about TextMate because TextMate is old. What would I tweet? Still using TextMate. Still good.

— David DeSandro, Metafizzy blog

While there are great places to keep up with WordPress, in most publications on the web, you are much more likely to read about bleeding edge tech.

Simple and boring

I admit that the static site generator I chose was a bit obscure, but still, there’s not a static site generator with the popularity and longevity of WordPress. It’s being actively developed, and just about any problem you could come across has already been documented and answered. I got burned by wok (heh). I got burned by picking something trendy instead of something established. At the risk of coming off as a curmudgeonly web developer, I’m becoming kind of obsessed with the idea keeping things simple and boring. At least when it comes to code. I’m still very much in favor of weird homepages, though, and I think everybody should have one.