Making a website is hard. Especially if you've never actually delved deeper; I remember opening Joomla! for the first time to help my friend with updating a product description and being utterly bewildered by the editor; "Where's the text options? I want to make the text bigger for a headline! What do you mean, use a 'header' too? Why would I want another one?". Something even as simple as updating some page content felt almost alien. With time though, those initial moments of near-total bewilderment, often resulting in hours of searching for information to help me understand just what in tarnation was going on, faded into memory once I started to get comfortable.
So it's easy to forget, even when your skill level is only slightly above beginner, just how difficult getting started is. It can be intimidating and initially unrewarding; there's endless amounts of documentation to read, concepts to understand, and testing to be done. To an absolute layman even getting started on a blog can be an exercise in bewilderment. I was reminded of this recently. A family member asked me to help with setting up a little blog for his guest-house; a task I was assigned by virtue of being the designated 'computer guy' in my family. What struck me is that he hasn't been interested in 'computer-things' before and would be going in totally blind. This situation got me thinking about what exactly someone who has little to no experience with web development would want in a CMS, and in turn, led me to consider Publii as a viable alternative option to WordPress (my previous go-to solution), at least when it comes to blogging.
One way, or another
How interested are you in web-development? The people I've met that work in the field have almost universally had a passion for it; it's rare to find someone that got into it for the money! But for a more general user the design of the site, and the tools used to do it, are both less important than the content itself. Someone with little interest in web-development will look upon site design the same way a chef looks upon cleaning-up as they cook; a necessary and important task (so much so that doing it wrong can heavily affect one's output), but one that's an aside to their main goal.
This is something I learned in talking to my friend; five minutes into a conversation about how I prefer using WordPress over Joomla! for blogging, but Joomla! is a great option if you're looking to expand and customize your site, and his eyes were glazing over in boredom and/or confusion. The design and development aspects of the internet are not something he's interested in; he just wants a blog for his guest rooms. I suppose in some small way I was beginning to understand what being a web developer actually means; often its not just about creating the website that a client wants verbatim, but understanding why they are creating the website, what they are looking to gain from it, and just how involved they want to be.
The platform that we choose is a fundamental aspect of the development process; in the past it was the feature-sets that pushed me to choose a particular CMS, but this new challenge made me look at things from a new perspective; what do people that aren't very interested in web development use when they need a website?
Simplifying the Website Creation Process
I imagine it would come as no surprise that I eventually settled on Publii as the right tool for the job, since you're reading this on the Publii Blog! But this wasn't simply a case of "I'm using this tool now, so everyone else has to too"; Publii simply came out as the best option when I considered what someone new to running a website would be looking for from a CMS (or indeed, not looking for). Let's lay them out:
If the CMS is the tool, then it needs to separate the technical aspects of web development away from the core content creation loop as much as possible. In the 'real' world, our life experience teaches us what reactions to expect from a given action; we actively learned the rules through play as children, learning how the world works as we go. But a computer program, CMS or otherwise, is a different beast altogether. Here, the rules are defined by the developer, and they are not always as intuitive as they should be.
Sure, there's some technical aspects that can't easily be waved away; if you're building a site then HTML is the standard, and at some point everyone has to gain some understanding of it if they're going to write content. But the more of these technical aspects that can be hidden away or automated, the less intimidating the CMS will be.
Allow Site Customization
The process of development can seem impenetrable for the inexperienced, but everybody knows if they like what they see. Though it's not really technically-feasible to simplify every area of site design, providing some sort of controls or theming allows users to explore how they want their site to look and feel without getting into the nitty-gritty of CSS. Even basic options such as colour or layout controls go a long way.
An Efficient Editor for Blogging
People visit blogs to read posts, so the biggest tasks for such a site are centered around writing. Personally I'm quite content to write HTML in a basic editor, but for most people their experience of writing on a computer will be based in word processors such as Microsoft Word. Due to this, the more robust a CMS' editor is at providing the flexibility that comes with word processors, the easier it will be for users to micro-manage their post layout and content without looking for alternative solutions.
Secure, Even in the Long Term
Though many people get into blogging with the intent of posting regular updates, the nature of smaller sites is that they can often end up being neglected for extended periods of time. Also, users may not be familiar with potential avenues of attack that hackers might use to gain access to their site, or don't regularly perform updates to protect from newly-discovered vulnerabilities being exploited on their site. A CMS for such a site would need to be sustainable; easy to get up-to-date once the busy period is over and articles are ready to be published again, and as safe as possible from attack even if the site isn't updated on a regular basis.
Retain Ownership of Content
Online terms of service for many platforms can include rather unclear terms of service, essentially stating that posting content via the platform grants said platform usage rights for the content. While this may sound reasonable and logical for users well-versed in netiquette (e.g. if such a website creates an advert with images of posts from the site in the background, it wouldn't be reasonable for them to be expected to procure ownership rights individually for each image), for users not as internet-savvy such setups can feel like an enroachment. By using a CMS and an independent host for a site a user can retain full control of their content and how it is used.
Why Publii is the Right Tool for the Blog
Among all of the above reasons for choosing Publii, the biggest one of the lot has to come down to its intuitiveness. A constant worry when introducing a newcomer to a CMS is that they just won't get it, especially if they've never really looked into what developing a website is all about. Publii mitigates this issue by boiling a website down to its core parts; an automated frontpage, and articles. It also eliminates the need to login to a server-side backend to make changes, so users don't need to remember passwords or other login-details, or worry about databases.
Being desktop-based also helps with a secondary element; making changes to a site is as quick and smooth as any app. Even I am occasionally surprised at how slow switching between screens in WordPress and the like can be (though it must be stressed that this is usually more of a server issue, rather than due to any flaws in the CMS). Being local also limits the interaction a user needs to have with their server, requiring only that details are entered in the app's settings.
Essentially, what made Publii the best choice for me when it came to building a blog was that it didn't feel like building a blog; it just felt like writing articles on a home machine. This crucial element pushes it further as a great option for newcomers, maybe even the best. Give it a try, and see what you think.