Technology, like everything else, follows cycles. At the beginning of the internet era (specifically, 1983) the world wide web was a place of text only. “Websites” were really just collections of text documents with funny little marks in them along with the words you wanted people to read. Those funny little marks (HTML) told a piece of software called a browser how to display the text so people could add headlines, lists, tables, italics and other formatting options to their information.
It didn’t take long for people to add pictures to their text documents. And columns. And quotes. And embedding one page inside of another. And on and on and on.
The Age of CMSs
Pretty soon, web pages got so complicated (and websites had so many of them) that it took a computer science degree to figure out how to make a website look good and load quickly. And so, 10 years after the internet was born, along came the first successful group of Content Management Systems (CMSs). They still required a lot of technical expertise and weren’t easily accessible to the masses, but the job of building and managing websites got easier.
Then, in 2003, a revolution occurred with the birth of WordPress. Finally, there was a CMS that could be operated by anyone with enough savvy to use a word processing program. The web exploded.
WordPress was such a fundamental addition to the web that it currently powers almost ⅓ of all the sites on the internet.
But a funny thing is happening these days.
Back to the Future
The world wide web is becoming a bit unmanageable. Sites are loading up our browsers with ads, auto-playing videos, tracking cookies and newsletter signups that flash in front of us, obscuring the things we actually want to read.
Even Google has recognized that things are getting out of hand. They recently announced that their Chrome browser will soon stop supporting a lot of the tracking cookies currently being used to send you those ads. Millions of web users are employing ad-blocking technology to clean up their experience while exploring the internet.
In the midst of all this, simple websites that are essentially just a collection of text files are making a comeback. If this sounds oddly familiar, just read the first paragraph of this article again.
In the last 35 years, technology has come a long way, and there are now “static site generators” that let you bang out your words in a simple text file, run a few quick commands on your computer and POOF! — instant website.
Don’t get me wrong, these simple websites are not going to replace WordPress anytime soon. The world still needs appropriate web hosts, CMSs and internet service providers, but for a certain segment of the website building crowd, a simple web hosting plan or storage space on a virtual private server (VPS) combined with a static site generator will produce results that go beyond merely adequate.
Static sites offer a level of control and speed that we’ve forgotten about after years of working with even the most efficient CMS software. They load at speeds that most designers will tell you aren’t possible anymore. They are easy to manage and update, and they produce web pages that are so lean and free of junk that Google will love your site just the way it is. No more SEO shenanigans.
Everything old is new again, and building websites has finally returned to its roots.