Dropplets: A Somewhat Complex Flat-File Blogging Experience

Blogging is popular nowadays. People take to Tumblr , WordPress, Squarespace and more to share their thoughts with the digital world. Then there are the hipsters who use Dustin Curtis’ Svbtle and Medium. There are, of course, many other platforms out there, but each group has its own preferred way of posting things. My favorite has always been Scriptogr.am because it’s effortless to set up using Dropbox, looks nice, and supports Markdown.

Now there’s a new contender in the Markdown-powered blogging world: Dropplets. When I first saw the mockups of it a few months back, I immediately added it to my list of things to review later. Now it’s at version 1.6, so let’s have a look at things and see if they’re ready to compete with the big boys.

Setup is Quick

Strangely, it's a blog with a password and without a username.

Strangely, it’s a blog with a password and without a username.

For a blogging platform that’s meant to be installed on your own server, Dropplets’ setup process is extremely easy. It took me two minutes to upload the files to my DreamHost account and after that, all I needed to do was create a password to protect the blog. I was surprised that it doesn’t even require an email to activate things. You can optionally add your Twitter account and an email address to the blog for people to respond. This will also import your profile picture, which can be a sort of a logo for your blog.

Don’t leave your blog open when you’re gone because you don’t need the current password to make a new one.

Dropplets in the server.

Dropplets in the server.

Markdown Editing for the Future

John Gruber’s Markdown markup language has become incredibly popular in the past few years. Most new text editors support Markdown, whether they’re distraction-free or not. Dropplets reinforces the use of Markdown by making it the only language you can use for formatting your posts. This may be a bit annoying for some users, but Dropplets seems to be aimed at the niche crowd anyway. Plus, once you’re used to writing in Markdown, you’ll likely want to use it everywhere, making Dropplets an attractive platform for writers already accustomed to using Markdown day in, day out.

Dropplets automatically creates a "read more" link after the first paragraph.

Dropplets automatically creates a “read more” link after the first paragraph.

In addition to having Markdown as its only language for post formatting, this platform has its own special templates for posts, making the publishing process even longer for the novice. This leads me to believe that Dropplets is intended for more mature bloggers. That’s not a problem, though. Many indie platforms are used by people who enjoy working with something different and developing their own special system.

It’s essential that you peruse readme.md before writing any posts for your Dropplets blog.

Seems like a lot of info for what should be a quick post.

Seems like a lot of info for what should be a quick post.

I will say that Dropplets’ post format is rather silly, though. You have to list the author’s name and Twitter handle, date of publication, category and status (draft or published). It’s a very unnecessary amount of typing, yes, but there’s another problem: it’s not consistent with the platform’s user configuration. It doesn’t make any sense to have one password protecting the whole blog, yet allow for multiple authors. Why not have a user system like normal blogs? This is an inconvenient — command-line, may I add — way of doing things.

Social Features are Halfway There

An integral part of blogging is the ability to share things on social networks. Dropplets has some support for this, but it’s nothing compared to WordPress and Squarespace. The main social feature of the platform is Twitter integration, which entails that you enter your Twitter username so Dropplets can pull your profile picture from it and add a reply option to posts. This lets people talk to you about the content you’ve published, but it ends there.

Support for Twitter only, and no RSS.

Support for Twitter only, and no RSS.

Being able to discuss content is nice, but without context there’s no way to initiate a conversation. Dropplets should instead allow you to automatically Tweet or share a post to Facebook using the API of either network. Then all replies would be to the Tweets that you’ve already published. I’m not asking for a bunch of social media nonsense, just the basic feature set you’d expect from a blogging service.

Lastly, and worst of all, there’s no RSS feed. Google Reader’s death doesn’t mean RSS is no longer being used. There’s no mention of support for this feature in Dropplets, nor is there anything at /feed in the blog directory. This makes the service almost unusable for people who rely on readers using apps like Leaf, Reeder, and Feedly. Excluding RSS just isn’t rational for any blog.

Customization is Limited

Code injection is nice, but it's not for the average user.

Code injection is nice, but it’s not for the average user.

I always enjoy a well-designed website. Dropplets’ default theme is more focused on the content than anything, which is perfect for a blog. It looks a lot like Path, which is perfect if you’re blogging about your life or if you enjoy talking about your travels around the world. It ends there, though. If you want to expand the look of you blog, each theme is a hefty $20, and there are only two available right now.

Few themes makes sense because this is a small platform and there’s not really an ecosystem for it yet. On that note, customizing the default theme shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Wrong. There are some parameters that the GUI settings allow you to modify, but other than that there’s no mention of how you the theme is built so customization is self-explanatory. Thankfully, the stylesheet is organized and the theme doesn’t use any weird custom functions. If you like coding, then, this is perfect.

Could Be More User-Friendly

It aims to do away with complexity, but fails.

It aims to do away with complexity, but fails.

Dropplets isn’t the easiest blogging platform to use. On top of the aforementioned issues, editing a post is much harder than you’d expect. You’ll need to either have the markdown file on your computer or head to your server to download it. Then you have to edit it and reupload the file, or you can use the GUI, but it has to be the exact same name as the original file. Even worse, you can’t upload .txt files with Markdown in them, only .md ones.

Overall, Dropplets doesn’t score high in user experience. It’s meant for an advanced crowd, but doesn’t have all its goals planned out yet. The developers describe the platform as “an easier way to blog”, but it’s nowhere near that right now. If you want to make it your own blog, it will require a lot more web development experience than average users have.


Summary

Blogs can only get simpler — or can they? Dropplets sets out as an "easier way to blog", but fails to meet its premise and lacks simple customization.

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