Alex Duner

The CMS Chronicles Part 2: My Switch to Statamic

This is part two of a two part series about the Content Management Systems (CMS) I have experimented with during the first year of this blog’s existence. Part one deals with my short stint with WordPress and my longer, more complicated relationship with Squarespace. Part two covers my eventual discovery of Statamic, which I am currently using and loving.

I bought my first license of Statamic, a flat-file content management system with the flexibility and power of a dynamic one, on January 7th, 2013. It looked promising as an alternative to Squarespace and was cheap enough to warrant buying a copy to play around with.

Unfortunately, I never got around to it. Statamic sat forgotten in my downloads folder, zipped and unused.

Then on March 19 I saw that Erik Hess had switched The Mindful Bit from Squarespace to Statamic. On March 27 Harry Marks switched Curious Rat from Squarespace to Statamic. Three days later Nate Boateng did the same.

Somehow I had managed to get in on the ground floor but never made it to the elevator.

When I finally got around to digging into Statamic I couldn’t believe that I had been sitting on such a great system for over three months and didn’t know it.

The best thing about Statamic is the level of support the developers provide. It’s something to be envied.

I have tweeted the developers personally with questions and they respond promptly and helpfully. When I was writing an add-on1 and ran into a roadblock, one of the developers checked the GitHub repository and submitted a pull-request with the fix.

And the Statamic developers are not resting in their quest for better and better support. This is what they wrote after the most recent major releasing version of the platform:

We’ll be the first to admit that we’re not satisfied with our support. We’re playing too much catch up and aren’t as proactive as we would like. This is partially due to biting off more than we could chew with v1.5, partially due to juggling consulting/client work on the side to ensure the bills are paid, partially due to always moving quickly with new Statamic features, and partially due to everyone’s incredible reception of the product itself urging us to try new things.

One nice benefit of Statamic being a flat-file system is it’s super easy to zip-up your entire website and share a Dropbox link with the developers of Statamic for them to take a look at. Earlier this week when I was having a problem with a new site I’m working on, Fred LeBlanc jumped into the Campfire chatroom and spent about thirty minutes helping me troubleshoot, going so far as to explain the inner-workings of the CMS so that we could work through the problem.

Another aspect of Statamic’s fantastic support is its thorough and readable documentation.

The couple of times I played around with WordPress I always felt lost. WordPress’ documentation does not feel like it was written for humans and I was constantly afraid that one keystroke could break everything.

Statamic’s documentation is not only comprehensive (unlike Squarespace) but readable with plenty of code samples for common tasks. The developers even delayed releasing the latest major version of Statamic until the documentation was updated to go along with it. That’s commitment.

Statamic has a small but growing community2. There are already a small number of add-ons for Statamic and I expect that number to go up in the near future. With Version 1.5 Statamic received a (well-documented) API with loads of functionality that I’m looking forward to experimenting with. Additionally the long promised Trading Post will hopefully be unveiled soon and will be a place for developers to share (and sell) add-ons and themes.

I’ve written over 500 words about Statamic and I haven’t even gotten to the product itself, which is also great. It might not be as feature rich as a system like Squarespace but it’s getting there slowly thanks to the efforts of a fantastic team and a fantastic community which is beginning to write add-ons to supplement Statamic’s features.

Without listing all of its features, here are a couple which drew me to Statamic:

  • Markdown Support—This was a must for me. There are a couple WordPress plugins that add Markdown support but at the end of the day all of my posts are stored in some SQL database in a format that is much less readable. Statamic has native support for Markdown in addition to support for some features from MultiMarkdown3 including footnotes4 and images (which Squarespace does not support). There is something gratifying about your entire blog’s archive existing as a bunch of .txt or .md files in a single, easily accessible folder.
  • Static File System—I have never learned how to manage a SQL database and didn’t want to have to learn for the purposes of this blog. Statamic’s flat file system means that I can use FTP to upload any post or image easily without any hassle. I don’t have to log in to WordPress or Squarespace’s admin system; it’s easy, and, it bears repeating: there is something gratifying about your entire blog’s archive existing as a bunch of .txt or .md files in a single, easily accessible folder.
  • Theming and Templating System—If you know HTML and CSS you know Statamic. It’s template engine is fantastic and really easy to use. I had already designed a theme using Squarespace’s developer program and it was really easy getting it set up in Statamic.
  • Great Control Panel—For those times when I don’t want to FTP into my site, Statamic’s control panel is really nice. It’s responsive and easy to use on my iPhone even though its not a native app (which is a lot more than I can say about Squarespace’s horrific attempts at an iOS client). The system lets you control which bells and whistles appear in the control panel when composing a new post. An entire redesign is in the works which will hopefully take it to a whole new level; it’s scheduled to be released later this week.

There are tons more features—mapping, translation/localization, multiple users—which I have yet to experiment with and take advantage of. Just like WordPress, you can mold Statamic into whatever you need it to be. Just look at the gallery of Statamic sites to get a sense of what’s possible.

Another benefit of switching to Statamic is the cost. A single personal license for Statamic costs $29 and hosting on WebFaction costs $9.50 a month which adds up to $149 in the first year and $120 every year afterwards5. Squarespace’s developer plan, on the other hand costs $240 a year ($20 per month)6.

I ended my review of Squarespace with the following thought:

Squarespace gave me control over the look and feel of my website but it didn’t give me control over my content.

Statamic is perfect for my needs and resolved a lot of the complaints I outlined about Squarespace in part one of this series. It’s simple, relatively easy to start using, and the customer support is fantastic. If you are in the market for a CMS that puts you in control of your data look no further than Statamic.

  1. It was my first time writing anything in PHP and also the first time I ever released any code anywhere. The help was very much needed. 

  2. It is strange that the community has made its home on Google Plus but the more I use it the more I realize that Plus works surprisingly well as a forum. I’ve gotten over my initial disgust at having to actually use Google Plus. 

  3. Statamic technically uses Markdown Extra

  4. Like this one. 

  5. Having to self host your website is one of the complexities of using Statamic and is one of the main reasons I’d suggest using Squarespace to non-technical people. But if you are serious about wanting control of your data, it’s not that difficult to self-host. 

  6. Squarespace is only $192 ($16 per month) if you pay annually