We Test Five Writer-Friendly Blog Engines You Can Install

There will come a point in your career as a fiction writer when you, like many others, decide that the worldwide web is ready for your thoughts, imagery and stories. In planning this next step, you might have checked out other writers’ sites, and perhaps concluded that making a website doesn’t look that hard to do. You might even have already set up your domain name and hosting service. But now that it’s time to actually put together your website, choosing the right software to help you do that is making you confused. Do you need to use what everyone else is using? Do you need to moderate comments, install widgets, and keep up with the latest updates? Or is a static site, with occasional additions of new content, a viable option for a writer with better things to do than manage a website?

In this article I will examine a few blogging and website software options for displaying your content on the worldwide web. What will I discover when I upload them to my web server? Will I get lost somewhere between the root directory and the htaccess files? Will I take all night to load a template? Will I best the CSS?

Read on to learn more about my adventures as I examine five free or low cost blogging software engines and then get behind the wheel to take them for a spin.

For this article I have selected five brands of blogging and website software that use a flat file content management system instead of a database. Modern websites manage the material shown upon the site using something called a content management system (frequently referred to as the CMS), which traditionally requires a database to sort and display the information on the site. If you’ve used a database to manage content up to now, you might find the flat file arrangement easier to back up and move because the entire website resides in the directories.

Dispensing with the database does come with limitations however, and is best suited for smaller less complicated websites, which don’t need the data to be organized and re-organized using complex relational values. However, for writers who are just starting out with smaller less complex sites, the flat file content management system might be just the ticket.

Ready?

How about we grab our FileZilla*, hop onto our browsers and check out some blogs?

*FileZilla: free software that enables file transfer to the remote server, such as the one provided by your web hosting services. The process of uploading software to the remote server is known as FTP, an acronym that stands for File Transfer Protocol.

 

Automad: Installation

We begin our journey with a program called Automad. The front page of the Automad site promises a free download of the MIT Licensed* Automad software.
This is really as easy as it looks, not to mention sleek and intuitive. First you download the software to your computer, then upload the package to the web server using an FTP program like FileZilla.
The big red download button at automad.org is hard to miss, and hard to resist.

Download-Automad

Here’s what the Automad software looks like on the server. You’ll notice that I’ve decided to tidy things up. If Automad is going to be the first page your visitors see when they come upon your website, you might want to take the files out of the Automad folder, (that’s called uploading to the root directory by the way. It means your site will appear when visitors navigate to the name of your domain without entering anything after it.)

Navigate-to-Directory

 

Once that’s done, try navigating to your domain name, or in my case to the directory where I’ve installed my Automad software. If you see this you’ve done it right.

Now I bet you’re ready to rock this blog.

Not so fast.
There’s one more thing to do before diving into creating the site, because writers will want probably want to work with Automad via a gui.

Oops— did I just say gui? Sorry. I meant graphical user interface, which is the set of buttons and fields that allow the user to change the appearance and content of the site from the browser. Trust me, you really want one of these if you’re looking to make changes to your site’s content quickly and without all that fuss web developers go through with their text editors and code.

There are some steps you need to take to get that gui going for your Automad software. First you need to navigate to the gui directory, which sounds harder than it is, because all it means is that you need to add ‘/gui’ to the end of your domain name, as in www.example.com/gui.

Once you do that, the instructions in the bright blue box are clear enough, and there’s a big button at the bottom of the box to initiate another download.
Another download? Yup, but it’s the last one, I promise.

Can you upload this to the config directory? If you already uploaded the Automad program, I bet you’ll make short work of this. Here is what adding the accounts.php file you downloaded from the blue box to the config directory might look like:

And there you have it. Your very own gui.

How about we explore some features?

*MIT License: free for everyone to use and change up as they please— provided the MIT License terms and copyright are included with the software.

Automad: Features

Our new gui appears serviceable enough, with its two grey boxes on the left, the top one for system and site settings, the one beneath it holding the site’s content. The rest of the screen is taken up with the black box that welcomes me to my site, shows me when my last edit took place, as well as the status of the cache and debug mode.

At the very bottom I find the current version of Automad. Is it bad to be on version zero point something? I hope not, and if it is, I can only hope that version one point something will be along soon. The header also has links to home on my admin panel, as well as a link to the documentation on the Automad site, and on the far left, a log out button.

Opening the system settings reveals four options: Cache, Users, Allowed File Types, and Debug Mode. Under the Cache setting, users may elect to disable the cache, although it is recommended the cache be enabled, as it is an essential feature that maintains the speed of the site. There is also an option to clear the cache by clicking a button.

The second option under the system settings is the Users section. Here I can change my password, add users and see a list of current users. Adding new users is surprisingly easy, and involves merely listing the user name and assigning a password. The user list immediately reflects the new users I just added.

Under the Allowed Files Types option users are given the ability to whitelist file extensions. Most file extensions are already listed in this option by default, but it is a good way to check which ones are included, and update the site with any new extensions for media you are planning to add to the site.

The last setting is Debug mode, where all of Automad’s processes are logged to the console for development or troubleshooting. For normal writer folks like us this function can be disabled.

Below system settings you will find a menu item for Site Settings and Shared Files. It contains only two options, the first of which is labeled Data and Settings. This is where you can change the site’s name and the theme, if you have any installed.

Wait, there are themes?

Be right back. I’m going to see if I can find any to test.

Here’s one! It’s called Foundation. Going to upload it to the conveniently labeled Theme folder on my favorite FTP program. (Favorite in large part because it’s free.)

Okay, never mind. There is something I missed because I added the theme, but there are no new template pages besides Standard. You can change themes from here, and let’s leave it at that.

Now that the theme is in place, you can enter what Automad calls your brand, which ends up being the text in the upper left hand corner of the site. Below that is the obligatory contact email address. There is also a field to enter a google analytics tracking code. Collectively these three fields are known as shared variables, as they are common to all the templates in the theme.

Strangely, for me, updating the brand from Your Brand to Websites For Writers via our gui didn’t take, so I cheated and entered it on the site file itself via site.txt in the shared directory.

Okay, where were we? Ah, yes site settings. Those are done now. Time to make some pages.

The home page always seems like a good place to start customizing our site. Selecting it brings up a submenu to the right with four options, Visit Page, Data and Settings, Files, and Add Subpage. Since Data and Settings is highlighted by default, let’s start there.

To the right of the submenu, the properties and the content of the pages are displayed, starting at the top with the path to the page. For our home page that will consist of nothing more than a lone backslash. Programmers like to call that the root of the site, but for the rest of us all that means is that the page is at the top level of the site, the first place visitors will see when they stop by. The path of the home page looks like this, with the backslash representing the fact that no folders reside above this one on the site.

Below the path you will find a field to enter the title of the page, and below that a field for some tags web search engines can use to find the page.

Below the Data fields, you will find the Settings for the page. Settings actually consists of only one item, which is a blue button indicating the template selected for that particular page. There are many templates to choose from in the standard theme, as users will see when clicking on the blue template button to bring up the template selection dropdown menu.

Unfortunately there does not seem to be a way to see the various templates in action other than to try them out. Fortunately trying them out is easy enough to do. The jumbotron theme has been utilized for the welcome page of the demo, so this seems like a good place to try out our Markdown skillz.

Wait—Markdown? What’s that?

Because you were brave enough to ask, gentle Writer, I will tell you. Markdown is a way to style text on the web using symbols such as hash tags, asterisks, brackets and parentheses to represent various sizes and arrangements of the typeface. Programmers like to use it in places like GitHub, and it’s lightweight, which is probably why you will encounter it in some of the blogging software.

A good site to check out how Markdown works is the GitHub explanation I came upon while sharpening my own Markdown chops. GitHub Guides: Mastering Markdown: https://guides.github.com/features/mastering-markdown/

Back in our jumbotron template, you will find the two jumbotron header boxes at the top of the page, and three text boxes with the Markdown text editor beneath them. Elements like the header boxes and text boxes of the jumbotron template are referred to as variables in Automad, and so each of the boxes in the template is considered one variable. Later, when we start exploring other Automad page templates you will see that variables can contain images, captions, or even a carousel of images. Oddly, for the jumbotron template, while Markdown did a fine job of styling the left hand jumbotron variable, the variable on the right required HTML code to style it properly. The situation was similar with the lower three boxes, as I was able to style the text box to the far left using Markdown, while the two on the right required HTML styling to change the look of the text.

Once the text for your page is in place, your attention may return to the other items on the menu for the Home page. Directly below Data and Settings for the page, you will find the File settings. The File settings—and it took me a bit to get to the bottom of how this works—call up the screen which displays the assets for the page, usually in the form of images. Images can be uploaded using the Upload Files button, which pops open a window with a Drag and Drop box and a Browse option below it. Images upload quickly, and a progress bar bounces along to show how that’s proceeding. Closing the window will reveal a thumbnail of the image along with pertinent information about it—such as its name, when it was added, its path from the root of the program folder, and its dimensions in pixels. The name of the image can be edited via the pencil icon next to the image name.

The last menu item on the home page tab is the Add Subpage option. Clicking this will create another page that is linked from the home page, and the title you enter for this new page will automatically be listed in the nav bar inside the header. Subpages can also be created for these subpages.

Conveniently located at the top of the page menu, you will see the Visit Page option. This opens a new browser tab displaying the page you are currently working on. The changes must be saved before they show up in the browser though, so be sure to click save before previewing, otherwise the page you see will be the one you saved in the previous edit.

So how about making some new pages?

From your home page, just click Add Subpage. Then name your new page, and select one of the templates.

The template you select will determine the number and position of the images on the page, as well as whether they will scroll. Automad features several different layouts, from a page with images linked to subpages where the image is featured as the main image, to a page with only text. Experiment with different layouts until you find one you like. Warning: This can be addictive!

Once you have settled on a template, the remaining settings can be adjusted as well. The prefix for the page will determine the page order relative to the other pages in its subpage level. Next to the prefix adjustment, users will find an option to hide the page from view by turning off its visibility. Not to worry, the page can still be viewed by a logged in user, so this might be a good option for a page that is in progress. Beneath those options is a field where one can enter a redirect url, to send visitors to another page when the this page is selected.

With that housekeeping out of the way, it’s time to get to work making the page look spiffy. Depending on the template there are several ways to do that. You might notice that each of the fields (or as they say in Automad-speak: variables) has a label above it describing what to put inside. These can be text fields, carousel fields, captions, subtitles and many others. Each one will show up on the page in a different way.

Text fields must of course be composed in Markdown, and the same holds true for subtitle fields. I got fancy and used HTML to add some style because it appears Markdown styling is limited to size and layout, but doesn’t offer color styling. (Link to tutorial that is explicit about colors and font type in Markdown: http://www.markdowntutorial.com/)

Once the text is under control, you might want to include some images, or even add one of those exciting carousels, which have a rather interesting set up.

Remember those image folders we talked about? To make a carousel you need to upload your images into that folder. If you plan to carousel them it is a good idea to keep them the same size because the carousel automatically adjusts to fit the images. If your images are different sizes? Automad adjusts the page layout each time the new image loads. Not a good thing when you want the text in the boxes below them to stay put while site visitors are reading it.

Got your images loaded? Good. Time to have some fun and load them into the carousel. You will need to tell the carousel where to find them, and that’s when it would be good to know about directory paths. But fear not, the image path is displayed underneath the image name, and all you need to do is copy it, then paste it into the carousel.

Wasn’t that fun?

No?

Well, for those who want to start fresh, or remove a page that is no longer relevant, the last menu item offers the option to delete the page entirely, which occurs only with appropriate warnings.

This completes my explorations of the features on Automad. Take a shot at exploring all the different ways to include both images and text on the web page, and have fun playing with those image carousels!

Automad: Ease of Use

Automad was one of the easier systems to install and, once the connection between the images in the file and the carousel variables became apparent, creating pages and layouts was quite enjoyable. The gentle learning curve comes with a price however, because the look of the site, for non-developers anyway, is limited to the templates available in the Standard theme. Changing even the color of the header navigation bar required sorting through the CSS on the installation and making the change there. Also, some anomalies in the way some text fields responded to Markdown made it necessary to insert HTML code to get the styling right, which is no big deal to someone with a little experience, (and is in fact kind of fun) but this might be a deterrent to progress for someone with no coding knowledge. The documentation at the Automad site, which is aimed at developers, discusses ways to theme the software, but for end users, I was only able to locate one custom theme, and was unable to get it properly installed.

Theming might be a problem for many users.

There are some important features not provided by the user interface, including backing up the system as well as installing updates. These tasks can of course be accomplished by copying the files directly to and from the web server, but not all users will find this convenient or even remember to do it. Also, as beautiful and easy to assemble as the carousel and image pages are, Automad does not appear to adapt well to a blogging style site, as comments aren’t supported either.

Still, for someone who is looking to create a gallery style site, the numerous templates will provide a broad selection of layouts and options to build it quickly and easily. It’s great to see something this relatively straightforward create rather impressive results. With Automad a little bit of effort can go a long way in creating a memorable website that its owner has complete control over.

Feindura: Installation

To begin your Feindura experience, unzip the download, then upload to your web server using FTP software and navigate your browser to the directory. This should be getting to be a familiar drill.

 

Easy, right?

Let’s roll up our sleeves and see how the rest of the site works! The demo can be used to build the website, but there is also a nineteen minute video available on the site that shows how the feindura CMS can be connected to an HTML styled site using PHP. Some of you aspiring web designers might want to give that a shot.

The rest of us, however, are sailing on the good ship Demo.

Feindura: Features

Typing the letters ‘cms’ after the url of the site will whisk you to the administrator login, and let you take a look under the hood of this beauty. Once you’re in however, the first order of business is to set up the url and pathing for the site in the administrator settings. This only needs to be done once, and is a fancy way of saying you need to enter the name of the website and the routing to the feindura files that run the site. This page is located under the administrator settings button in case it needs to be referenced again.

 

See those dimmed out question marks? Every single one has a popup behind it. And the orange absolute path buttons have a popup that appears upon hovering as well. Filling in the website path, which is the third box down from the top, will let feindura automatically complete the greyed out Website URL and feindura path boxes.

Once that’s out of the way, you get to see the interface in all its glory. The full color menu toolbar features in order: the Dashboard, (with the house icon depicting the admin home page), then the Pages window, the Website Settings, the Search Pages and a small panel with a pull down menu for the Administration tools.

Usually one of the first things every website owner wants to know is what kind of traffic they’ve been getting. Who has been visiting? Where did they come from?
Feindura provides this kind of information right out of the gate, when a click upon the colorful house icon reveals a solid batch of statistics on the screen below. Separate panels show total visits since the site’s inception, as well as any current visitors. The current visitors window even displays the flag of the country they are visiting from. The traffic statistics can also be broken down by pages in the Page Statistics view.

Visits are also categorized by browser and origin. A popup that appears upon hovering the cursor over the browser type provides further detail on the number of visitors using each brand of browser.

If the prospect of all those visitors makes you itch to create some content, the Pages menu is at your service. Upon first opening the Pages panel the collapsed menus present a clean list of all the top level pages on the site. Want to rearrange the order of your pages? Simply click and drag the pages until they are in the order you desire.

When it’s time to select an individual page, hovering your cursor over the blue arrow on one of the top level menu bars causes the individual pages to unfold accordion style.

The editing functions for a page can be accessed by clicking the pencil icon, which opens a full featured WYSIWYG editor courtesy of CKEditor. This content editor includes a full screen mode, buttons for text color, page background, bold, italic, underline, strikethrough, sub and super script, as well as lists and quote blocks. Also included are spell check and search. See the screenshot below to check out the rest of the impressive array of editing possibilities. In addition, page specific HTML Editor Settings can be selected below the editor pages.

Another thoughtful feature—for those of us prone to delete stuff accidentally— is a rollback to an earlier version of the page in progress at the top of the screen.

Images can be uploaded to the page via drag and drop or link from the image window. In the demo version I was only able to get the link to work, as the drag and drop function gave me an error. It is possible this might be due to my version being a demo.

Now that we’ve got our pages under control, we can move across the menu bar from the Pages tab to its neighbor the Website Settings tab. Website Settings calls up options to view and modify various aspects of the website. As is customary in the feindura browser interface, the screen presents the user with a neat column of collapsed menus, where the blue arrows indicate the submenus residing beneath them.

The very top Website-Settings menu opens to offer users fields for viewing and editing the title, author, and content tags for the site.

Opening the Advanced Website-Settings in the menu underneath the main Website-Settings reveals functions for deactivating the site and creating a sitemap, as well as an option to add languages to the site. There is even a checkbox to change the main site language to any of the languages available on the list.

A subtle row of grey dots separates the next two menu items from those above it, perhaps because these items are more technical than the rest of the admin area of the site. Users with a little bit of coding experience might find these menus useful and interesting though. The first menu item, Edit Code Snippets, opens a window with the option to create code that will be stored in the snippets folder on the web server. These snippets can then be inserted into the pages via the HHTML editor. The snippet editor and the corresponding file on the server look like this:

Directly beneath the Code Snippet Editor, advanced users also have access to another useful coding option, the Edit stylesheet files window. This window provides access to any stylesheet on the site, including an option to create a new one.

The next tab over from the Website Settings on the top menu bar is called Search Pages, and provides a search window to find information on the site’s pages.

Clicking on the magnifying glass sends the arrow through the magnifying glass in a pretty cool effect, and fetches any posts that contain the search term.

And finally, under the pull down tab furthest to the right, the user will find the Administration tools. The gear and the wrench icons will open the Pages and Basic Settings for the website. Statistic settings, User creation, and Backups are located on the pull down tab.

The Pages Settings button manages the parameters for the display of the web pages, including Page Thumbnail settings, Pages without categories, and the categories themselves. Each of the menus glides open by clicking the blue arrow, which turns green once the window is opened.

 

The Users button in Administration tools adds new users as well as manages their permissions. Simply drag and drop a page on the page list into the selection box to add it to the user permissions. There is also a checkbox to give the user administrator privileges.

The Statistics Settings button, as its name suggests, provides a way to clear the statistics and enables users to set the number of data points stored.

Backing up the site is a straightforward process, accomplished by clicking the backup icon, whereupon the program creates a .zip file of the site. Backups are conveniently saved on the web server as zip files:

Even better, the backups are listed in a restore pane directly beneath the backup pane in the backup window, and a restore can be performed easily from any one of the listed versions. An upload option is also available at the top of the window in case you want to restore from a copy you’ve downloaded to your own computer.

And just in case I wasn’t already thoroughly impressed with feindura’s backup implementation, I noticed that clicking the green checkbox at the bottom of the window not only loads the saved version, but instructs feindura to back up the current version before overwriting it. It would be pretty hard to lose any data with such a comprehensive set of backup features.

Then, as I was about to call this review complete, a quick final scan of the software features revealed two tabs located directly underneath the colorful home icon, which turn out to be easily accessible ways to open a file manager or to instantly add a new page to the site.

The hard drive icon for the file manager located below the home dashboard revealed, what do you know …A file manager with a gallery and a slideshow for my images.

But with that, my backstage tour of feindura’s extensive features had drawn to and end, at least for the time being. I can’t promise that I won’t go back and have another look at them though, as it’s one of the more attractive interfaces I’ve encountered.

Feindura: Ease of Use

The feindura website software was a nice surprise. The claims that a bit of software is simple and intuitive are so common that it is tempting to ignore them.

However, with feindura, every menu revealed more useful features, and while buttons provided consistent results across the software, the variety of functions they performed was quite astonishing.

The content editor is one of the most versatile editors I’ve come across so far in these trials, and the drag and drop organization of the pages would simplify the management of even a complicated site. The software is straightforward to use and makes short work of getting new users accustomed to its layout. Yet, for those who are comfortable working with HTML, CSS and PHP, it still offers access to some of the technical contingencies that can come up when managing and administering a website.

A roughly twenty minute video aimed at web developers gives a detailed tutorial on the installation of feindura to an HTML web page, and it is quite possible that someone with a bit of background in PHP and some patience would be able to perform this installation without too much trouble.

Unfortunately, with the latest version dating from 2014, it appears that the developer might have moved on to other projects, so support for this package will likely be nonexistent. That is a shame, because with end users becoming increasingly disenchanted with mainstream website software, something as enticing and functional as feindura might be a welcome contender for their attention.

Grav: Installation

Quite simply, Grav is gorgeous. After taking a look at the thirty-seven skeletons and sixty-four themes available at the Grav site very few visitors can resist falling under their spell, and are eager to download this stuff and feed it to their web browsers.

I won’t blame you. I did it too.

The Grav software is available as a free download from the site, and installation involves uploading the software to your hosting provider via FTP, or installing it to a local host. If this sounds complicated you will want to choose the Grav Core + Admin Plugin option on the download page, because the Grav Core + Admin Plugin enables you to add and manage the content in your Grav site from your browser. Conversely, the only way to access the Grav Core only version is by opening the program’s files directly in a development environment. Web developers think they’re pretty cool when they do that, but writers are usually more interested in working with the software through the Admin Plugin.
So here goes! Download your package here.

By now you guys should know what comes next, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, I’ll remind you: You can use your FTP skillz to upload the software to your web host, and then navigate to the Admin panel to hop on board the Grav rocket. You might be somewhat underwhelmed by what you see though.

This is the Grav core page, and not terribly exciting all on its own.

How do you get those slick skeletons and tantalizing themes running on your site?

Your admin panel can help, even though loading themes from the Themes page can create unexpected results. The reason for this is that the difference between the skeleton packages and the themes can be confusing at first, because skeleton templates can’t be selected from the admin plugin like the themes can. The skeletons come with built in pages, but for the most part, except for the Bones skeleton, come without the Admin plugin, which must be added later. Knowing that you want a skeleton with an Admin plugin is helpful in getting this set up correctly without too much backtracking.

Don’t ask me how I know this …

The themes are beautiful though, and for someone interested in personalizing their site it would be worthwhile to dive into these options.

Developers are admonished to perform the installations and do modifications and/or customizations on the themes on their local server before uploading the site to the web. Writers just looking to set up an easy website can probably upload directly to the server and hope for the best. There are some twists to this that I will address later.

Grav: Features

After installing Grav and navigating to the ‘/admin’ directory in your browser, you might be reassured when presented with the Admin login. Sure enough, upon logging in, you are greeted by a dashboard similar to that of many other familiar blogging platforms. The editing options are listed along the left side of the screen, with the main window showing the active operation. The topmost option, Dashboard, displays Maintenance and Statistics where updates,backups, and site hits are prominently featured.

Need to update? (Which, as it happens, is a regular occurrence.)
No problem. Updating is as easy as clicking the button under the maintenance section, and it’s lightning fast. Backing up is just as simple, when after engaging the backup button, the system produces a copy of the site ready for download to your computer. Clicking the Download backup button will begin that process.

Once the download has completed, you will find the backup contains a copy of the entire site, which is one of the beauties of flat file content management. It’s all there— the images, the content, the plugins—in one directory. This is what the backup looks like once it’s unzipped:

Got things under control at the dashboard?

Great!

It’s time to explore the next option down from the Dashboard: The Configuration tab. Click it to reveal four tabs on top of the screen: System, Site, Media and Info.
In System tab you will be able to select which page will display as the Home page for the site and which of the available themes is the default theme. You will also be able to adjust settings for things like http headers, hiding home route urls, languages, caching, CSS, the display and sorting of dates, as well as how Grav handles Markdown. When your Grav site needs a tune up, this page might be a place to start.

The next tab, Site, begins by assigning the site title, the default author and the default email address. Below are some fields to adjust the length of the page summary on a summary page, metadata for the site and the taxonomy types. (Taxonomy, you ask? It’s a fancy way to describe sorting blog posts by topic.) This is also the place to set custom redirects and routes if you want your Grav site to take visitors to another site.

Next we have media—the images, video and audio that make a site sing. That’s your third tab, and that’s where you’ll find a list of file extensions your website can handle. If you’ve got yourself some newfangled extension, the Add button is at the ready to enter parameters like type, thumbnail and Mime type.

Lastly, the Info tab. This will open a big list with everything you’ve ever wanted to know and more about the guts of your Grav installation, starting with the PHP version and ending with the authors of the software. Great work, guys!

But now, finally, the the section that is probably of most interest to writers:

Pages! This is where you can add your content to the site. Opening the Pages tab reveals the Manage Pages screen, which displays a list of all the available pages on the site. (The site setup will determine which pages are available.)

To add content to the pages, select the Add Page button to bring up the selection window. It is worth mentioning that adding pages is only one part of the site configuration process, and that editing much of the site’s layout is handled directly on the web server files. Still, for adding content, this is the starting point for writers who are creating blog posts.

Not all pages can accept blog posts, which is why the parent page for your blog posts must be a blog page. Other than that, when adding a new page the Folder Name is automatically filled in with a name corresponding to the Page Title, but can be overridden if desired. Select ‘Item’ to create the blog post page.

Clicking continue on that window opens the blank editor for the new page. Blog posts must be composed in Markdown, (which you may remember from our tour of Automad) Markdown is not as tricky as raw HTML, but still not as intuitive as writing in a WYSIWYG editor. To make working with Markdown easier, a Preview button is located on the upper right corner of the window so that the writer can easily check the look of the text. Next to the Preview button you will also find a distraction-free button to toggle a full browser screen view of the text entry window.

This is what composing a post in Markdown looks like:

The Preview is really handy to see how the page is coming together:

Also the menu bar at the top of the editor contains useful actions like a button to preview the page in a new browser tab:

Want to add an image to your post? A drag and drop window awaits on the bottom of the screen.

Once the image is uploaded, it is important to distinguish between the featured image and images that are in the post. In the theme I selected, the first uploaded image defaults to the featured header image, and the other images can be inserted into the post wherever you need them. The header image default can be disabled under the Blog Item tab.

Here is a blog post with a header image, which has been cropped according to the blog page template:

Resizing images is a bit of a pain, and involves inserting code like:

?cropResize=150,150

into the image link, where the numbers after the equals sign are the image size in pixels. Positioning the images is tricky as well, and involves inserting a class to float the image right or left.

Behind the main content creation screen, tabs are available for Options, Assets, Blog Items and Advanced features. Options offers a way to set up the publish date, as well as an unpublish date, and fields for adding metadata, categories and tags via the Taxonomies feature, and a way to add to the site map. The Advanced tab gives users access to the folder name for the page, displays the parent page and the template used to create the page. The Assets tab reveals settings for CSS and Javascript as well as a way to disable them for the page. And the last tab, Blog Item, contains functions for manipulating the blog header image and controlling the length of the post summary on main blog page.

Once you’ve completed working on the Pages, the final two selections on the interface sidebar are Plugins and Themes. Pretty straightforward actually, because Plugins displays all the plugins available for the site along with their version numbers. This is a good place to check if any of the plugins need to be updated, and there is a button provided to do that directly from the panel if it proves necessary.

The Themes page offers a way to browse new themes for the site, however I didn’t find it as useful as I hoped, mainly because installing a new theme will overwrite a lot of the data on the site. The page does offer a quick way to see new potential layouts and is fun to browse, if not directly useful to someone unfamiliar with how to set that up.

And that’s the whole thing, from top to bottom. Pretty simple, right?

No?

Well, at least it’s pretty!

Grav: Ease of Use

Visitors to the Grav site will find the software appears quite inviting. The constant reminders as to the software’s ease of use, accompanied by the ever present Download button beckoning the site visitors to give the software a try are tempting. Combine that with a peek at the skeletons and templates, and giving this stuff a try is almost irresistible. Unfortunately, once the software is unzipped and loaded onto the server— a process which is fraught with its own set of barriers as permissions must be set to the proper parameters to get it to run— it turns out that the Admin panel is mainly intended for content creation and maintenance. A non-developer who is not comfortable accessing the files directly either on a local host or on the server will be probably encounter great difficulty making changes to the layout or appearance of the site.

This leaves writers who don’t have the skills or desire to pursue the initial site development at the mercy of the pre-made templates, where they may perhaps upload a different image into the pages but not much else. Once that is done, writers are still left with using Markdown instead of WYSIWYG for their blog posts, and are resizing images by entering the the size in pixels. While the sites are gorgeous, and the software is free, it is unclear whether writers will want to level up to the skills required to create content on this platform. If they do, the payoff is good, but it does present a challenge.

Kirby: Installation

Since Kirby requires a license before publishing the site, it is only possible to test the site on the local server (i.e. your own computer.)

The Kirby folks actually encourage this kind of a set up and, since I’m working on a Mac, directed me to a program called MAMP * which makes this local installation possible. MAMP comes in a free plain vanilla version, but requires another download on my part. A good two hundred megabytes later that download was done, and after unzipping, that expanded into 912.5 megabytes of new software I needed to install on my already packed solid MacBook Pro to get my Kirby running.

But back to my Kirby download. The docs also advised me about the invisible files in the Kirby download that my Mac won’t show me unless I procure another app called DesktopUtility to toggle that feature.

Seriously?

Of course I have all day …

At this point I’m looking at the seventeen bucks to buy this thing outright and wondering if it’s not worth it. But luckily the DesktopUtility app was free and the documentation at the Kirby site is very good.

And wait, MAMP needs to be turned on? And now my MacBook Pro is … getting … really … slow …

Don’t fail me now, little MacBook. We have work to do.
I’m not ready to give up though, and the documentation comes through for me again showing me where to install Kirby and its invisible files.

And here, after moving the Kirby folder into the htdocs area of the MAMP application, I give you the Kirby software on my Mac.

I’ve got my MAMP and it’s showtime. (And this, installing the software on your own computer and running it via something like MAMP, is called developing on a local host. They say it’s what the pros do, so consider yourself one of the cool kids if you’ve got this going!)

I did it! There’s even got a happy face on the welcome page to make sure I’m feeling good about my progress.

Time to get serious and start my website. They tell me there’s PHP in there, and after surmounting this installation I’m feeling pumped and ready to learn some.

* MAMP stands for Mac OS X + Apache + mySQL + PHP/Perl/Python, which are the four components that make up the local web server setup on your Mac. A similar setup is available for Windows, and is called XAMPP or WAMP, where X and W stand for the Windows operating system.

Kirby: Features

After a short delay caused by a stern discourse with my recalcitrant MAMP program, which wanted to extract some money from me to remain Pro, I’m back. I prevailed, and after removal of the offending upgrade, have the start page up and am ready to get Kirby.

Creating the user account and accessing the panel is no fuss at all after adding ‘ /panel’ to the kirby_project url. The create user account screen appears automatically when the panel is accessed for the first time.

Once I’d set up my user account and logged into the panel, I checked out the list of pages, the site url, my account, my last updates, and then I kept circling back to the start page, the sample project page, and the Kirby docs at their site. There’s not much to see on those starter kit web pages, I mean they’re white, and they have some nice looking content, but … well I need to make them my own. If I use Kirby just like this out of the box my blog will look pretty much like plain vanilla white pages. That’s rather boring.

I’m intrigued though.

Those docs that got me set up on MAMP were pretty good, so maybe I should try this? I know this is supposed to be a review for writers, but maybe, just maybe you’ll want to give this a shot, despite the dire warnings—because we’ve heard this spiel about easy before:

The things I do to write you guys a good review.

So I started reading because the docs go over the structure of Kirby in uncomplicated way. I definitely needed to stop clicking the links in the text of the web docs, because I very quickly found myself reading about controllers, which I discovered lay under the advanced tasks in the developer guide, and that’s outside of the scope of this article. The advanced tasks guide is also the place where I could learn to build Kirby into a blog, by teaching it to fetch articles in an array.

I can hear the brakes screeching from here. Don’t worry, we don’t need to learn about arrays. (Here’s a hint: Themes)

But first, we need to do a teensy bit of learning. This will be painless, you have my word.

Let’s review the basic Kirby project folders again. In case you’re rusty, here’s a screenshot of what they look like in the htdocs folder of my MAMP application.

Six folders in all, if you leave out the invisible files, the license, the readme and the essential though ubiquitous index.php file. Of those six folders, two—content and site— are of most interest to us.

Content is important because that’s where the pages for the site reside. Each folder inside the content folder (and, by the way, folders are the same thing as directories) represents a page. Each of these folders can contain other folders, which are also pages, that will be subpages linked to the page in the folder they are in on the site. Also, each of these folders, despite possibly containing multiple image and other media files, can contain only one .txt file. You’ll see the reason for this in the next paragraph.

Once you wrap your head around the concept of folders being pages with their associated media inside, you will probably wonder how these pages are designed, and why some of the text files are called project.txt versus about.txt, or home.txt.

The connection between the content and the design of the page can be found in the site folder. Opening it up will reveal, among other folders, the templates folder. Any of these templates look familiar? You might recognize the project.php template, as well as the home.php template. These are the templates for the files called—let’s all say it together now—project.txt and home.txt. Sharp-eyed readers will probably point out that about.txt and error.txt don’t have a template, in which case the Kirby docs assure us that any file without a corresponding php template automatically reverts to the default.php template.

If you’re curious about what these php template files look like on the inside, control or right clicking on them will give you the option to open them in your text editor. (Something free like TextEdit will do the job just fine.)

Here is what the php template and the resulting txt page look like side by side. Try not to be intimidated by all that code, and instead look for the connections between the two pages. See the title? See the php snippet for the header? These are all parts of the page, already built for you in PHP. You don’t need to change a thing, just look at it with awe.

Since I’m a busy writer, I’d really love to find a way to get some templates I don’t have to make myself. Blog templates would be especially great. Lucky for you, I kept reading, and after getting sidetracked by ways to change the name of the panel to thwart hackers in the .htaccess file. (Remember the Desktop Utility that displays hidden folders? I needed it again to show my .htaccess file.) and ways for developers to change the look of the panel, and adding javascript for fancy website tricks, (the starter kit has no javascript), creating plugins, or adding a template engine like Twig, there was still no way to change my pages easily from the browser.

But then, my luck changed. I found a whole page of plugins! http://getkirby-plugins.com/

And, at the bottom of the plugins page, came the most exciting turn in my adventures with Kirby: Themes! http://www.getkirby-themes.com/ Pages and pages of themes! Some are free, some range in price from twelve to thirty bucks. All are stunning. After a few minutes of browsing bliss I downloaded a free theme called Clean Blog. The download was available at GitHub, another place where you will find yourself rubbing elbows with real web developers.

Link to Clean Blog theme: http://www.getkirby-themes.com/themes/clean-blog

The Clean Blog download is a complete Kirby installation, just like the starter kit, so installation involves the same procedure as the basic Kirby project file, which means dragging it into the htdocs folder at MAMP, and navigating to the project in my browser via localhost.

One small snag was entering the user and password for the panel, which was quickly resolved by consulting the readme file in the credentials.
Exciting!

And there I was, backstage at my new blog. Let’s remind ourselves that so far we haven’t paid a cent for all this coolness. Everything seems to be working, although it is in a language I don’t understand.

Took me a bit, but eventually figured out how to change the language for the admin panel:

The same goes for the display order of the date:

Now that you’ve got a handle on the folders and the directories, you’ll probably want to customize your new blog. Good news is you have a lot of flexibility in doing that. Bad news is, you will need to do this in the files in the htdocs folder on your local host. But since we’ve already found our way around in there, let’s have a look and see if this can’t be accomplished. Opening the PHP files in the text editor (TextEdit will work, but there are other text editors available that show your line numbers and have colored text to make this easier) will reveal where to insert the new images to replace the ones that come with the theme.

The actual images must be inserted into the corresponding folders. The home page has its own image, and the image for the posts should be available to all the pages in the content folder, not inside just one.

And here they are, the new home and blog page headers that I just added!

 

Now that the blog is looking spiffy, I bet you’re ready to make some blog posts. The dashboard is a real treat to work with, especially compared to all that code we’ve been looking at. Creating pages and posts starts, not surprisingly, at the pages menu where you have the option to add a new page, or edit an existing one.

If the page happens to have subpages, Kirby puts the name of the page in the header and lists the subpages on the Pages list, again offering the options to add a page or edit an existing page.

With the page selected, you will always have the option to enter text, as well as add subpages. That way you could add an introduction to your blog page, or conversely add subpages, perhaps linking to your books, or to your about page.

This scheme holds true for both the Starter Kit and the for the Clean Blog theme I tried.

When I enter some text I can see we’re back in Markdown, but the nice thing about this editor is that the menu at the top does the Markdown translation for us, because the formatting buttons insert the Markdown symbols automatically. The editor sports the usual assortment of writing tools, including lists, links, images and a full screen distraction free mode— and when I say full screen, I mean the entire screen, not just the inside of the browser.

Want to add an image to your post? It’s not hard, but requires two steps. The first step involves adding the image to the post repository (remember those folders we looked at earlier?) You can drag and drop the image into the text area of the post, which will produce a brief spinning screen while Kirby adds it to the page folder.

Then, once the image is in the folder, you may drag it to the section of the post where you want it to appear. Here’s what the post I am demonstrating looks like:

Tags are easy to add by just typing them into the tags field:

Saving your changes must be performed manually by hitting the save button, but if you forget to save, all is not lost—you have the opportunity to save your changes before they are discarded. This applies even if you log off the panel and return at a later time. While inconvenient, at least saving manually prevents automatic saves from overwriting text you might want to keep.

Once the page has been composed, the page settings allow you to control the various ways it can be viewed.

Open preview, as promised, opens a preview of the page or post in progress on a new tab in your browser. Remember to save your changes to have them reflected on your page.

The next option, Status, sets not only the visibility of the page, but also the display order of your pages and posts. The newly created page defaults to invisible, so be sure to address its status when publishing your page. When changing the page to visible a pop up menu presents you with the order of the pages or posts already published, and gives you the opportunity to designate where you want the page to appear. Choosing a page number already on the list automatically rearranges the posts around it to accommodate the new order.

Changing the url for the page is an easy thing to do. Just open the window and type in your new url. The italicized grey text below takes care of removing capitalizations and adds dashes instead of spaces to make the url conform to web standards.

The last item on the page management menu is the option to delete the page, which issues a warning before performing this dastardly deed. Once the warning is overridden, the page is deleted without further fuss.

Besides creating pages, the Dashboard provides other pertinent information about your site, such as the url, your account with an option to edit it, and the last updated pages:

Opening the menu to the left of the Dashboard reveals a drop down list offering a few other options for administering your website.

The Site options opens a screen divided into to two sections, where the left side lists the Kirby info, such as version numbers for the Kirby software, toolkit and panel, as well as the license number. A list of site files, which in my case were images, is provided beneath that. The right side of the Site options screen contains fields to enter the site title and author, the site description, keywords for the site, copyright information, analytics tracking codes, and links to Facebook, Twitter and Github.

The users option will allow you to add other people with access to the admin panel, as well as change the language on the site. This might have been the place to change the language when I first had trouble with that, instead of in the admin.php file, as the language can be changed to suit individual users.

The last item, is of course, log out, something you might be reluctant to do once you’ve started to see the possibilities available on this software.

Kirby: Ease of Use

Kirby starts out with a relatively blank slate, so at first many users might find the learning curve on this somewhat intimidating. And, despite the excellent documentation, the installation on the local host might prove tricky for writers unaccustomed to working with web software. The multi step installation procedure does seem to serve another purpose though, because once the installation is completed users might emerge from that with a much better understanding about the contents of the software. Exploring the folders and templates, once again aided by the meticulous documentation, will help curious users grasp the Kirby architecture. Combined with the availability of templates, some free, most low cost, makes Kirby a viable option for someone looking to create a website that conforms to their own specifications. For ambitious users, a variety of plugins, also free of charge and licensing restrictions, makes it possible, with a bit of effort, to build a website that does exactly what they need .

Once up and running, the software seems straightforward to use and maintain, and seems like it could be accessed by end users without any trouble. The posts must, unfortunately, be composed in Markdown, however a plugin is available to change the editor from Markdown to a WYSIWYG editor. Scaling images is also possible via another plugin, as well as adding commenting and backup features.
In general, Kirby offers a lot of flexibility in setting up the site, the trade off being that a considerable bit of web design effort would be required to get that off the ground. Once that is complete though, Kirby seems like a solid choice for a writer who wants complete control of every aspect of their website.

 

Nibbleblog: Installation

Easy. Fast. Free.

I’ve heard this come on before, so I’m suspicious. I can handle one step though, so I download Nibbleblog version 4.0.5.

But look! I downloaded, uploaded to my web server, unzipped on the command line (or download, unzip, and upload to the web server for those who haven’t yet become acquainted with the command line.)

Upon navigating to the site for the first time, I am greeted by a form on my screen, and welcomed to Nibbleblog. Nibbleblog has a few questions:

The hardest thing about that form is coming up with a snappy title for my new blog. I’ll spare you the suspense. Here’s what it looks like once I’ve got it installed and named:

Like it? What? A little too much white space? Yeah, I think so too. Let’s dive into features with our hopes high. After such a hassle-free installation, it’s only fair to be optimistic.

Nibbleblog: Features

If you like a clean white interface, Nibbleblog has got you covered with its spartan admin panel. A link on the upper right corner titled Dashboard brings up the Quick Start page, where options to create a new post, a new page, or to manage posts, as well as access to General Settings and even the theme are all presented together on one page. Everything is easy to find, nothing is hidden, it’s just a little … underwhelming. That could also be seen as inviting, which is always a good thing.

Being of the multicolor persuasion though, my first impulse is always to add some pizzazz, and where better to look for that action than under the Themes panel?

Yes, you read that correctly. Themes! Clicking the Themes tab reveals five available themes, ready for implementation.

How about we try some of these out? I chose the Medium theme:

Then I clicked Install, expecting a menu or a download or some other sturm and drang normally associated with making a change of this magnitude to a web page.

But nothing. Just click. And done.

And then there it was. My new theme, with the default image just begging for my personal touch.

So, I’ll be right back. I’ve got some playing to do.

While you wait, you may amuse yourselves with this link to some cute cat videos:

Okay, I’m back. I had a little trouble with the Medium theme, in its unedited form, because I was unable to find a way to display pages. So I switched to a theme called Note II, and I was posting almost immediately. That plain white admin panel makes it a cinch to publish either a post or a page, and the home page conveniently lists the posts in chronological order. Here is what the default home page for the Note II theme looks like:

Fans of clean simple layouts will be pleased, but writers who desire some splashes of color might want to play around behind the scenes to spiff things up.

Meanwhile the admin panel layout is the same regardless of the theme selected. A short column of options lines the left margin, starting with Publish, which is of course where it all begins.

Creating posts is usually the first thing writers are interested in doing, so it’s only natural that the first active item listed after clicking the Publish tab is Simple Post.

The editor sports the familiar Tiny MCE interface, and includes the usual suspects for post creation— text formatting in regular, bold, italic and strikethrough, text color, text background color, as well as page formatting, alignment, bullet points, ordered and unordered lists. Tables can be inserted from here and an option to insert a page break is available as well.

Links, video, images and code are easy to insert into the post via a pop up window.

Drag and drop for images is not supported, but uploaded blog images can at least be stored for later insertion. A full screen distraction-free mode is available for writers who prefer an even whiter screen. And, for those who find it useful to examine the post’s source code, a pop-up window displays the HTML version of the text.

It’s important to note that the content editor does not prompt you to save your work before leaving it, and does not auto save either, so saving the draft frequently is a good idea. At the bottom of the window a selection bar allows the user to determine the post’s category. In keeping with the minimalist structure, only one category per post is available, so it is good to think carefully about the categories created for the content. There is also a checkbox to determine whether comments are enabled for the post, although that only engages comments if the appropriate plugin is available and enabled for the theme.

The next option in Publish after Simple Post is Video Post, which displays a field for pasting the link to a video. Note that Video Information needs to be clicked to open the editor before the video link can be saved and posted. Once that is done though the video posts like any other post, and looks pretty darn nice with the video image on the web page. However, maybe it was part of my theme, but the words in the editor were not displayed with the video, and only the title was available to identify my post.

The next button, Quote Post, is kind of unusual in that it doesn’t offer a title or even line breaks. I suppose it’s meant for shorter lines, and looks quite nice nestled on its own on the page when it is opened. It might be confusing though if a lot of quotes are included on the blog.

The quote page looks equally at home in a mobile layout:

The last option on the Publish menu is New Page, and the editor for that looks exactly like the editor for New Post. The difference for pages versus posts will become obvious when viewing the layout for the theme, as shown here in the Note II theme. Posts are listed on the home page, whereas pages only appear when the menu is opened.

These features are unique to the theme selected. Each theme will have a different basic layout, so feel free to experiment until you find the one that you like best!

Beneath the Publish tab in the admin panel, users will find the Comments tab, which opens directly to the comments list for the blog. Depending on the theme, the comments feature may or may not be available without installing Disqus or Facebook. (Of the available themes on my demo, Echo, Google Simple and Simpler 2 all offered support for comments.)
Once posted, the comments are moderated from this tab.

Notifications of comments, if enabled, are sent out via email:

The next tab down the list is simply called Manage, and clicking it reveals the Manage Posts table, open by default. Here you will find a list of posts sorted by date with the most recent post at the top. Title, type and category as well as number of comments are listed in the table, and the options for viewing, editing or deleting the post are highlighted in blue underneath the title of the post. Sorting them by any other criteria besides than date is not possible.

Next to Manage posts, the Manage pages tab reveals a similar table, with the Page slug replacing the Type column, and the option to set the page as the home page included under the title of the page.

The last tab under the Manage option, Manage categories, allows users to add categories for the posts or to delete them, with a helpful reminder blocking the ability to delete the category until all the posts are removed from it and assigned to different categories.

With the management of pages, posts and categories under control, users can turn their attention to the Settings tab. Lots and lots of settings. Strangely, after the distressing discovery that the posts aren’t autosaved, the settings under this tab are saved automatically as changes are entered, and a blue bar drifts up from the footer of the page to assure users the save is successful.

The first tab contains the General settings, including those you entered in the welcome screen when you first set up the blog, and so the Blog Title, Slogan, Footer text, and the number of posts per page are all available on this screen. On the next tab, the Regional settings such as language, time zone, and display order for dates and times are available. Changing the language setting automatically updates the locale to one appropriate to the language, which can also be changed by the user if desired.

The settings tab for Comments offers users various settings for automatically enabling the comments, sanitizing HTML to prevent cross site scripting, and moderating comments, which is checked by default. The comments feature is dependent on the theme selected, and if not part of the theme, whether Disqus or Facebook commenting is installed. Spam settings are also available under this heading.

On the next tab, the image settings for automatic, exact or cropped image resizing, and portrait or landscape orientations are displayed. These settings are available for thumbnails as well.
The Notifications tab allows users to select preferences for notifications of comments and user sessions, both fail and success. This tab also contains a place to review and update the contact email address. The Username and Password tab, no surprises here, provides a form for changing user name and password.

SEO options is the last tab, with fields for Site Title, Site Description, Keywords and Tags, Authors, and Robots fields. Below that are fields for both Google and Bing webmaster verification codes.

Friendly URLs are also available by checking the box and copying the code displayed below it into the .htaccess file.

That brings us back to the Themes selection referenced at the beginning of this review. What happens when another theme is activated upon an already existing site, with existing content? Let’s see …

(This should be quick. No time for cat videos this time!)

Interesting! The new theme is applied instantly, and the content reconfigured to conform to the new theme. It happens so quickly and easily that it is tempting to try out several different themes to see which ones you like. Go ahead, because the flat file system seems to accommodate such changes easily.

Still, contemplating such a radical rearrangement of my content made me wonder about the back up routine, and a bit of digging revealed that the only way to back up the site is to make a copy of the content folder for a simple back up, or copy the content, theme and plugins folders for a full back up. This is done from the web server and, especially for writers with better things to do, not terribly convenient.

Speaking of plugins, let’s have a look at them.

They reside under the last tab on the left hand column, which when opened reveals a Plugins panel, and is divided into two sections. The top section lists the installed plugins, and beneath that is the list of available plugins. Installing a plugin involves engaging the blue highlighted link and then waiting a few moments until the plugin’s options window is displayed on your screen. There, depending on your plugin, you can enter the details of the configuration, whether it be text or images, or merely the position of the plugin on the sidebar. Not all themes will display all the plugins, depending on their design. The plugins number sixteen in all, not very many, but they include the flexibility to display images and text on the sidebar, which can be customized to some extent.

And with that, we have exhausted all the possibilities for mischief on the admin panel. What does this all mean for ease of use?

Nibbleblog: Ease of Use

Nibbleblog is about as gentle a learning curve as can be found for writers interested in getting started on their own websites and blogs. From the welcome form that installs the user friendly admin panel, to the single click that instantly changes the theme of the entire blog, to the full featured content editor, getting started with Nibbleblog is a cinch.

The stock themes however, can be somewhat bland for some tastes, and making modifications to those is out of reach of the admin panel and in the realm of web developers. Even a change to the font requires some knowledge of code, as the admin panel has no way to address any of the site styling.

Image support too, requires an upload window, as opposed to the drag and drop functionality supported by most modern interfaces. Scaling images individually is not supported either.

And last but not least, the lack of a convenient back up facility leaves most users who are uncomfortable accessing their server directly via FTP with no way to back up their site on a regular basis. For a software that gets users up and running with such minimal technical requirements this seems like an oversight that could lead to very disappointing results for a writer who accidentally wipes out some of her content.

All of these shortcomings are likely the result of the Nibbleblog software no longer being in development, as the creator of this software recently announced in the Nibbleblog forums that he has moved on to develop another blogging platform called Bludit. That is unfortunate, because it seems that Nibbleblog could be a great option for writers with minimal needs who want to forgo spending time and money on a complicated web site and run a simple site like this.

Conclusions

So there we have it: Five blog software engines, starting at Automad, ending at Nibbleblog, with stops at feindura, Grav, and Kirby, whose low price point and multitude of features could solve your website building woes.

Proponents of paid website solutions will often decry free and low cost website software as too complicated or unreliable for a beginner to tackle. What I have found is that, although the levels of difficulty vary depending on the complexity of the software, a beginner could very well use these to create quite a respectable site, and perhaps even pick up a bit of coding practice along the way. As I worked through setting up a website with each of these software packages, I struggled with defining exactly how much technology a writer could manage in the process of setting up her site. My conclusion has been that, with writers becoming increasingly involved with the creation of their web presence, the distinction between writer and web designer will begin to blur as writers are driven to create sites that will best express their vision in a unique and expressive manner.

I was continually struck by how often the developers of each of the software packages claimed the various steps of implementing their software would be simple and hassle-free. Initially, for me, that created the impression that I might lack proficiency because I was unable to figure things out as quickly as the developers assured me that I would. Once I overcame that hurdle, and realized that the claims of ease and simplicity are devised to promote more widespread use of the software, I was able to accept that a bit of struggle is likely inherent in setting up almost any website, and that everything I learn during that process will help me in future projects. Equipped with this bit of insight, I think writers should be less intimidated by problems they encounter, and feel comfortable posing their inquiries to developers or, even better, to other writers in similar straits.

Of the five packages I tried, some produced an attractive site with less effort than others. Foremost in ease of use, I would recommend Nibbleblog as by far the quickest and most hassle-free installation and fastest route to content creation.

My most difficult experiences were with the Grav package as well as with Kirby, although for different reasons. With Grav, I struggled for quite some time unraveling the mystery of installing the browser interface—although perhaps this was because Grav was the first package I worked with. Assembling the pages and layout of the Grav site presented a challenge as well. For Kirby the docs were clear and easy to follow, but the recommended local installation was a lengthy process, which in the end left me with a site that only worked on my computer.

Kirby, like Grav, offers some nice looking templates, but requires users to access the directories to make all but the most basic modifications. In all cases I found however that expending less effort with installation and set up involved sacrificing flexibility, and knowledge of programming was required to gain greater control over appearance and functionality of the website software. Ideally, of course, software might give the user enough customization options that web expertise isn’t required. If some study is required, my suggestion would be that standard languages and programs such as CSS and HTML and PHP would be useful ones to learn in the process of creating the website, instead of proprietary techniques unique to a particular software brand.

My hope is that by exploring a few of the website creation options available to writers who are not web developers I have begun to demystify the process of creating your own website. Perhaps you might even be encouraged to give some of this software a try and see if it might prove useful in creating the kind of website you had in mind. In any case, if you’ve stuck with me to the end of this article, it is quite possible that you’ve learned a bit more about how websites work.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

6
Tell A Writer
Kirsten Bolda
 

Mild-mannered scientist by day, merciless adverb assassin by night, Kirsten can be found floating divs at Longview Computer Programmers or exploring the byways of her imagination at A Scenic Route.