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Thoughts on Webhook

Only about 18 months after switching to WordPress I'm onto the next thing. Whenever I want to try out something new I typically try it on my own site, before offering it to any of my clients. So now this site is running on Webhook, here's a few thoughts about the platform, and the conversion.

I was able to convert this site from WordPress to Webhook in a few hours (transferring the content took longer, because of my complex blog post layouts). I'm currently converting a client's static site into a Webhook site and it's incredibly fast.

What's Webhook?

Webhook explains itself as 'The easiest way to build a custom CMS for your next website'.

Anyone who's developed custom sites using WordPress has probably used the excellent Advanced Custom Fields (ACE) plugin. So … Imagine a CMS where ACE is not just for building Field Groups, but Post Types. Make sense?

While that's appealing, these are the three major reasons I'm drawn to Webhook.

First of all, it's a static site generator (there are a lot of these). Which means it generates static HTML files, resulting in faster load times. Site speed is a huge concern of mine going forward.

Secondly, it synchronises local and remote development. At present I can develop WordPress sites on my local machine with the help of MAMP. I can synchronise files across computers using Dropbox, but I cannot synchronise the MySQL database between machines. Worse still as soon as the site is uploaded to the remote server, the files and database are no longer synchronised without implementing some kind of version control.

Webhook's app (no command line, yay!) is like a combination of the local MAMP server, with built-in synchronisation of local and remote developed files. Both versions are connected to the one remote database. The app even pushes and pulls your files from its own hosting. Oh, that's the next great thing…

Thirdly, it's hosted. The more sites I develop the less I ever want to deal with hosting. For most sites it's simple to setup and forget. But hassles like recurring billing, software and security updates and maintenance I can do without. Webhook's hosting is affordable at $9/month and uses Google Cloud Services for its hosting, so it's fast.

Oh, and it does automated daily backups. On-the-fly image sizes.

Awesome.

What's wrong with WordPress?

Not a lot. It's just too heavy.

WordPress is a great CMS with great features. But using it was like hiring a 400-pound Gorilla because it did a good job of peeling bananas … then teaching it to do a few things it didn't really know how to do before.

Basically, even trying to use only its core features (post/page creation and editing, media management) leads to feature bloat. Even in just little ways. For example using the very popular Contact Form 7 plugin loads its own CSS and JS on every page. This is that plugins' default behaviour. It can be disabled by editing a config file, but I'm beginning to want a CMS I add to, not one I have to take away from.

Plus having now experimented with a more modern development environment like Webhook makes WordPress feel a little outdated. Smarter developers than I debate LAMP vs MEAN development — which I don't pretend to understand all of — but I know which one is the older method. Having no way to reliably sync local/remote files and databases in WordPress will now haunt me…

Basically, I'm looking for a more modern and leaner development environment and CMS than WordPress. That comes with trade-offs too. There's a ton of useful information out there for developing WordPress sites along with a huge library of plugins. Which brings us to…

What's wrong with Webhook?

Not a lot. It's just too light.

Being a relatively new product there's not the wealth of existing knowledge surrounding it like WordPress. It's created and supported by a small team. The official forums feel like a collection of a few (very helpful) people in a big empty room. There just isn't a rabid fanbase supporting the platform like you'll find elsewhere.

Without regular updates and communication from the platform holders you could begin to worry about the project being one day abandoned. Webhook's home page includes a 'roadmap', some features are listed as complete, the rest are 'months away'. I have no idea what's actually coming soon.

As of writing this post, the official Webhook blog hasn't been updated in six weeks and the forums have thread spam for the last 18 hours.

(Side note: There's a really low-hanging fruit I'd like to see in a future update; specify alt tags for images, conditional fields in the CMS. Please!)

Being a roll-your-own CMS, basic features like Search Engine Optimisation become DIY. Which is fine while you're developing your site, but will require constant attention over the life of the site. For example I've copied many of the social and Search Engine Optimisation features of the Yoast Search Engine Optimisation plugin from WordPress into this site. When that plugin is updated for WordPress, instead of clicking 'update plugin' on my WordPress sites, I'd need to go manually updating this site's template.

Summary

There's no one-size-fits-all CMS for every project. I'll still use WordPress for some upcoming sites but I feel comfortable enough now using Webhook to recommend it for client projects that would be a good fit.

Most importantly it leverages more modern development tools that I do not need to understand in order to take advantage of. I'm not comfortable using the command line. Webhook's app and hosting are genius for people that want to develop a site with a CMS without requiring a lot of high level development knowledge.

I'm also keen to begin the search now for other CMS' developed on similar technology to Webhook, because WordPress development — while still good — seems a little out of date.