In Spring 2010 I was approached by Oxford-based acupuncturist Lucy Jupp to give her website www.lucyjuppacupuncture.com a much-needed refresh.
Her old website had great content but it was housed in a Flash-based monstrosity, which broke just about every usability and accessibility rule in the book (slow, disabling the back-button, unfathomable navigation, poor colour contrast, illogical content structure etc). It didn’t take me long to convince Lucy that chucking out the Flash and creating a more accessible SEO-friendly HTML/CSS website with a simplified, logical navigation and page structure was definitely the way to go.
No database, no problems?
After working with Lucy to create a static website she was happy with, Lucy decided she wanted to be able to edit the content. Now my usual go-to Content Management System (CMS) for a project like this would be WordPress which is flexible, easy to use and ideal for small websites such as this. However, due to a slightly unusual hosting situation it turned out that installing WordPress was a no-go. Like 99% of modern CMSs, WordPress has a database at it’s heart, and with only FTP access with which to create Lucy’s website I would have to go back to the drawing board. What this website required was a database-less CMS.
How I got simple
A bit of research revealed that while database CMSs do exist, they are few and far between and are often lacking in the features that those familiar with more established CMSs take for granted. I tried out a few and found them lacking, SkyBlueCanvas looked promising but ultimately the templating system proved too limited. However I finally struck gold with GetSimple!
GetSimple is a ‘small’ CMS which stores all the website content in XML, eliminating the need for a database like MySQL. Unlike a lot of the database-less CMSs I looked at, GetSimple has an excellent and simple admin interface that used TinyMCE to edit pages and includes automatic backup and ‘undo’ features strangely lacking in other database-less CMSs.
The beauty of GetSimple is that it knows it’s limitations. It doesn’t try to compete with it’s database-powered cousins like Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. It doesn’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades, it is content to be master of one. It is designed with small websites in mind and so features all you need for a simple 3-10 page website and nothing more.
Not all pro’s
GetSimple is not without it’s weaknesses, most notably navigation which does not deal well with sub-navigation without some extensive coaxing (I ended up delving into the code to get the navigation layout I wanted). Another stumbling block I found was the lack of good documentation, I often found myself googling aimlessly to try and find an answer to a simple question.
Despite this both me and Lucy were very pleased with the results. I wouldn’t consider GetSimple a replacement for a more established CMS, for all it’s good points it lacks the thousands of plugins, resources and tutorials that make working with WordPress such a joy, but for the rare situations where a database-powered CMS is out of the question it is certainly good to know GetSimple is there to fall back on.
Postscript: I did most of my work with GetSimple back in late 2010 and my experiences of it are not based on the most up-to-date version of it. The CMS and it’s community of users is growing all the time so it is entirely likely that the problems I mentioned above have now been ironed out, new featured added and documentations improved.