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Cover image for Project Benatar: Publishing DEV-powered websites with Stackbit
Stackbit

Project Benatar: Publishing DEV-powered websites with Stackbit

ohadpr profile image Ohad Eder-Pressman ・4 min read

Hi, I'm the co-founder and CEO of Stackbit. We're working on making it easy for developers to build modern websites in minutes. With all the recent interest in getting off Medium, especially within the tech community, I figured it's worth touching on some of the relevant shifts that are happening in the world of content editing and publishing. I also want to share some details on an experiment we're working on with the DEV community, to empower you to own your content and publish it where you'd like.

The Monolithic CMS

Generally speaking, content, in our context mainly blog posts, used to be created, edited and presented in the same monolithic system. Wordpress is a great example and it's likely that many of you had a Wordpress blog at some point. Editing in Wordpress was a pretty decent experience for some time but it quickly became clear that it didn't do a great job in presenting your content. The main issue was page load times, but even just having editing and rendering on the same codebase created a massive security risk which the hackers of the world took advantage of at scale and continue doing so.

If we look at Medium we can see another example of how initially the platform worked well but then showed cracks of a different kind. Medium offers a great editing experience which people value greatly and they even delivered on the promise of traffic up to a certain point in time. The challenge emerged though when it became evident that Medium's interests as a publishing platform may not be aligned with those of the majority of the users writing on the platform. This started with eliminating the option of tying your own domain to your blog, continued with big DoNotTrack popups and some would say ended with the choking of the traffic firehose. The various Medium debacles also highlighted the value of having some ownership of where your content is published (e.g. by publishing to a website on your own domain) or at the very least having enough control over your data so that you can do different things with it.

You can see the disadvantages of assuming that the best place to create your content is also the best place/way to publish it. Let's look at some of the modern alternatives that have developed in recent years.

The emergence of the Headless CMS

Interestingly enough we've been witnessing the emergence of the Headless CMS, a category of OSS & SaaS products that focus purely on offering a CMS without much care or limitations on what you do with the content. Use it to statically generate a site with your content or drive content changes in a mobile app - it's all the same to the CMS. One of the greatest benefits of this unbundling is that the CMS stops being a security issue, you're much closer to owning your content and you can publish your content in one or more places of your liking.

Headless CMS come in two main flavor - those that store your content in a git repo as Markdown files and those that work more like a database with an API. If data ownership is extremely important you can even self-host an OS CMS. Learn about the top Headless CMS here - https://headlesscms.org/

If you aren't already familiar with Static Site Generators those are the tools we use to combine content from a source like a Headless CMS, with templates and generate a static copy of a website which you can then deploy to a service like Netlify. You may also want to read up on the JAMstack which is the architecture used to build these sites.

You can start seeing how these new workflows can enable you to publish your content how and where you like while creating it in a completely different environment.

DEV and Stackbit

Stackbit makes it extremely easy to create modern websites powered by a variety of data sources such as Headless CMS. Together with the fine folks at DEV we wanted to experiment with a couple of interesting workflows that give you more options with regards to how and where you edit and publish your content. The two approaches we're looking at are:

  1. DEV as a Headless CMS

    The DEV editor is awesome and we love it, plus a lot of you already use it to write content and publish on DEV. We want to enable you to have a personal website which is powered by your DEV content, or in other words think of DEV as Headless CMS where you mange the content you publish to your own site as well as to DEV.

  2. Automated cross-posting to DEV from your personal blog

    You can easily use Stackbit to kickstart your own personal blog powered by modern technologies and the CMS of your choice. We want to make it easy for you to automatically cross-post your content to DEV whenever you create or modify content via your CMS.

We're excited about both of these approaches and would love to hear feedback and thoughts from the community about the kind of workflows you've perhaps setup for yourself or would love to see materialize. You can expect updates from the DEV and Stackbit teams over the next couple of weeks as we zero-in on the best approaches and build out these workflows. Our goal is to enable you to have more flexibility with where your content gets created and/or published.

Posted on by:

ohadpr profile

Ohad Eder-Pressman

@ohadpr

I love code and coding, from embedded assembly code to large scale distributed apps and everything in between. Co-founder & CEO @ Stackbit

Stackbit

Stackbit is empowering developers and designers to build the modern web.

Discussion

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You should talk to sites like Netlify, and Repl.it as well. If you want this to become an ecosystem, you want to be inclusive, and likely federated in some way.

Also reach out to write.as/about which offers a really compelling alternative to medium blog posting, which also offers image hosting via snap.as and posts to Mastodon. They are doing great work in this area.

I should be able to do anything from write a one off message and have it go to Mastodon, Twitter, etc. and write up a longer form message which could be a blog post that goes to sites like Dev.to, and then write even longer tutorials that post to sites like teachable.com/ and scrimba.com/ ... Perhaps I write up a CodePen snippet, or a Repl.it project, or a mini site through Glitch. These should flow through the system as well.

And say I want to roll up all my posts and make a book out of it. I should be able to connect to leanpub.com and auto publish to Gumroad and Amazon.

Think bigger than just blogs.

 

Yeah, I think this ends up being a question of finding the right tools for the job, having them be accessible and easy to use, and supporting open source.

We have friends at Glitch and Repl.it and CodePen and are already starting to integrate in different concepts. Finding ways to collaborate in super aligned ways is not always the simplest thing to pull off but I think we're pretty aligned with the essence of what you're describing.

This was one interesting thing we've done and we would like to integrate more. The endgame is unclear, but we don't want to try and create sprawling universal tools that try to do everything.

Blogging is an extensible concept, and we definitely want to ultimately doing more exciting things on top of it.

 

Yes, taking the attitude of the early web where things were loosely connected is a good one. Having feeds that can be consumed. Web hooks. PubSub hooks, and rest / graphql apis would be another route to making bridges to other domains. I can write code in github and Netlify auto pushes a new site out via Hugo. I could see writing a blog post in Github/Gitlab and having it auto push to Dev.to , etc.

Good luck! The fate of the internet is in your hands. Free us from the social network black holes :)

 

Love this project. My question though: how is Stackbit making money?

 

Stackbit is a young (7 month old) startup that currently only offers free products. It is not uncommon for startups to seek product market fit prior to beginning monetization which is usually done by releasing free products that are thin on features. Monetization usually follows later on by charging for things like advanced features, enterprise-grade capabilities, etc.

 

Awesome. Well I have been using it and it has been pretty amazing. I am excited to see more themes and more features. You guys are doing wonderful work. So excited about this. Best of luck!

 

I still have a wp site rn, use it a lot. It runs as fast as I want. They rank very well & work very well for large scale publishing.

Can you tell me how your stuff is 'modern'? (not the tech, but what it can actually do for a business).

 

Fast and more secure are the strongest reasons making people seek alternatives to the monolithic approaches. I agree that WP can be setup/patched in a way that makes it better than the default install but that doesn't make it a strong contender moving forward.

The issues with WP are widely known and they are first and foremost page load speed and sites getting hacked. This is is understandable for a widely adopted 15y/o OSS project built in PHP, yes surely it can be configured with caching headers and high-end hosting companies that will constantly patch WP for you but well that is the first sign that its somewhat of an outdated architecture. Again I'm not saying WP is not good for you, many people still use WP. I'm predict that less and less will be choosing WP as more alternatives crop up.

The modern approach, where modern mainly refers to the fact that it is newer and is being rapidly adopted, is to decouple content editing from content publishing. The rapid adoption of tools like Netlify, Gatsby and Contentful to name a few players is IMHO a clear indication that they are solving a problem for folks. To reiterate the business case is that people are seeking faster more secure sites. There's also a desire to use modern/newer tools e.g. like React which again is much more native to these new approaches than to WP.

One of the challenges of newer technologies is that they require a learning curve and may be complex to setup, that's one of the main things Stackbit is working on alleviating.

Here are some business case-studies of folks moving to this new architecture and why they are doing it:

Here are two great articles mainly about Netlify but more importantly about this modern architecture and its rapid adoption and potential:

 

Thanks, for the detailed info. I like lots of options.

I will agree on the cracking/defacing WP (I have some stories). WP is not slow, check my site, it's not optimized yet but faster than this & yours. Smoother render too. Not showing off, just making it clear that's mostly poor/busy dev that makes it slow.

There are a lot of things missing from the sites I have been seeing that make a difference in hitting numbers. I'Il use WP to take a site from 0-30K uniques a day, quickly & cheaply, any tech can do it, but the right WP setup is fast, basically free & instant (once you have a base). It has a bunch of (ecosystem) features that make it easier, it's very road tested (was built by very good SEOs - Matt's one of the best out there). Ecosystem. Hand off. Publishing. Non tech people. Don't care if it is 400 years old (my age in tech years 🤣).

My concerns with sites are very simple:

  • Can I have the src I want as fast as I want?
  • Can people who are non-tech publish easily without getting fatigue?
  • Does it have a big enough ecosystem to support the tools & tricks I need for results? + for Dead pool avoidance.
  • Can it get to mid-scale quick? (I'm not using it for v large).

Most of the static examples I have been given have issues in various places. When I talk about WP, I mean my WP, not WP in general (what I like/do to it). Not all, but a high proportion (check out the bugs in all the links you dropped - I didn't check what they are running).

Not trying to discredit, I will use whatever is best for the job.

Rather than debate for now, I signed up to your beta. I'll give it a try & get back to you with some notes.

Glad to have you onboard for the beta and looking forward for your feedback.

Lots of valid points raised and I'd like to highlight that you may have the skills to get amazing results with WP. You did touch on a very important point when you wrote "just making it clear that's mostly poor/busy dev that makes it slow" and "When I talk about WP, I mean my WP, not WP in general" and I think that sums up a lot of the challenges with WP. If the default install leads to suboptimal/bad results it requires all devs to be experts - I aspire for tools that help people build awesome things without requiring them to be the best in their field

We are very early with these new approaches and I agree 100% there's a lot of tooling and best practices missing, that's why we started our company. WP is also not going anywhere tomorrow but I think the shift is beginning and I'm glad to have you onboard for our beta.

I like your goal.

As long as you are calling me "best in their field" I am onboard. Go Stackbit. 😉

I don't feel like I am doing much to WP that is expert though.

When I think about future CMS, I mostly think about video/mobile (publishing better/easier than social media) & 3D {web}. That's mostly what I am skilling up on rn.

Desktop/long form has time left, but will become more niche daily. I am not so much looking to replace WP as take the next step. Long form on 98% mobile? The last 2% will be devs.

Usually creating awesome things requires you to be best in your field (or lucky/connected). Not "2 press setup". Great food, watches, art, vehicles, fashion etc are almost always created 'by hand' by experts with extensive knowledge.

In general, anyone can do it = lower quality. Not to say that is bad. The straddling is where it almost always gets difficult. Experts become unsatisfied, beginners are confused (Photoshop variations are a good example of trying to avoid the straddle, because big money is on the table).

I'll look out for the invite. Gl Ohad. 👍

 

A monolithic approach doesn't mean old but big and difficult to change and deploy. I'm not defending WP but they've completely revamped their editor and front end which doesn't tell me their infrastructure or codebase is monolithic in any sense of the term. But yes static web pages definitely give us user some benefits, with the rise of Jekyll and GitHub pages how do you want to gain an upper hand on that?

Regarding Wordpress I think they've done great work with Gutenberg but they are still monolithic in the sense that WP is one large project. This is different from the CMS+SSG+Deploy ecosystem where players are separate companies/projects that interact with each other via APIs, webhooks, etc.

From our (Stackbit's) perspective we're working on tools to help accelerate the adoption of technologies like static sites. We believe that the right tools will enable more developers to utilize these technologies and enjoy their benefits. Our first step was to enable people to build a site using these technologies in 60 seconds as opposed to hours of stitching together content schemas and templates. You can try it out by signing up to the beta (stackbit.com/beta/), would love to hear your feedback.