Pelican

That's right folks. This is a blog post about blogging. How very 2004 of me. I apologize in advance, but stick with me here for a second.

In the past year or so we have seen a boat-load of new web publishing platforms emerge, typically with hipster typography and minimalist design that screams next-gen blogging from a flying car, probably hovering over a San Francisco Starbucks.

I'm not sure why it took us so long to ditch ugly sidebars with tag-clouds (aka 'Internet mullets), blog-rolls, and Adsense units, but I'm really glad we got there 2.

So for everyone's (or possibly no one's) benefit, here's a quick rundown of some of these great new blog/site platforms, followed by a brief explanation of why I didn't choose any of them for my own site:

Platform Features
Scriptogram Files served from Dropbox, free, nice design
Medium Awesome design, Can get feedback, submit to collections
Roon Awesome design, free, Drew Wilson is involved
Svbtle Pretty good design (often imitated), free
Ghost Good design, has free plan
Jekyll Free, Secure static site

These are all great options for anyone looking to create a gorgeous website or blog on the cheap without too much hassle. The first four are especially idiot-proof.

And that's ultimately why I left them alone 4.

Powered by Python

When I recently decided to overhaul my own personal website, previously run on Drupal (and Wordpress before that), I briefly flirted with all of the options above. I decided to go with Pelican, a static blog/site generator written in Python 1. I've been studying Python a little over the past few years, and that was a big factor in my choice.

I passed over options like Scriptogram, Roon, or Svbtle because I wanted something that was a little challenging for my current set of skills. Something comfortably uncomfortable.

One of the best reasons to do something, I think, is being uncertain that you can do it at all.

My Python-fu is still not very strong, so running Pelican represents a chance to improve it. Similarly, I chose to host my site on Github Pages because it forces me to use Git on a regular basis 3.

While Pelican is very well documented, I did have to dig deep for further resources in order to figure everything out - for both Pelican and for hosting on Github Pages. For novice programmers out there, you can find many of those resources here on my Pinboard. Dive in, the water's fine!

So why should you care about all this?

Well, as tired as the recent "learn to code" discussion has been, I do really believe that people in the business of web publishing or writing should try to pick up some new skills at every opportunity, including programming.

Even if you never write a line of code, having a basic understanding helps you better understand how to clearly present information to your audience. It helps you see new possibilities 5.

While running a simple Pelican site doesn't require much programming, the process has been pretty educational for me so far. And for the first time in a while, I'm excited about tinkering with it.

I'm excited about learning more.


Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight cc


  1. Pelican is the Python answer to Jekyll. I should also say that I considered building it in Django, the popular Python web framework. But since I'm planning to use Django for some other personal projects, I opted for Pelican instead.  

  2. Most of these cool new platforms support writing in Markdown too, which as you all know, chicks really dig.  

  3. Oh, and hosting on Github Pages is free. Which is a wonderful coincidence, because I just happen to be terribly cheap. 

  4. It was also very important to me to own my own content in a format that was easily exportable, and with Pelican that's a folder of well-organized Markdown files. Marco Arment has written a little about this as well.  

  5. For example, I didn't code any of our Japan Internet Map over at The Bridge, a recent D3 project I worked on. But because I can speak the language a little bit, it was really easy instruct a more capable programmer about what I wanted.