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A Modern Website Creation Platform - Announcing Formal Studio Beta Preview

eli profile image Eli Bierman Originally published at formal.studio ・3 min read

For the past year give-or-take, I've been working on a modern open source platform for creating websites. Today I'm announcing the beta preview of Formal Studio.

If you just want to try it out, you can sign up and create a free website now. It's still rough around the edges, but the basic functionality is there and I just can't wait to get it out the door. I want to work with the broader community to plan the development roadmap moving forward, so please feel free to comment on this post or write me directly at eli@formal.studio with any questions or suggestions.

Creative People Are Not Food For Tech Companies

It feels like too many tech companies view creative people as a resource to mine for ad revenue. They use our inability to run our own platfoms to funnel us into their "free" white-washed services, while selling ad space next to our content and keeping all the profits.

When they look at the content that creative people like you worked hard to create, they only see click-bait and advertising dollars. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter limit how you can express yourself and who you can reach, and they censor legitimate content to make their platforms more advertiser-friendly. At the end of the day you are just a metric to them.

I Built Formal Studio to Empower Creative People

Creatively expressing yourself through your own indepedent space on the web is still not as accessible as I think it should be. My hope for Formal Studio is that it can grow to be an open source option that is super simple to use and customize.

Here's how I see people currently building websites based on their budget:

  • $0: create a free ad-supported website or just use social media
  • $100: build a website using one of Squarespace's proprietary themes
  • $1,000: hire a developer to tweak a Wordpress theme
  • $10,000: hire a developer to build a totally custom Wordpress theme

See any funny patterns? Creative freedom costs big bucks. I think most website creation platforms today are designed to serve the needs of businesses and marketing campaigns.

Didn't Anyone Tell Them That Artists Are Broke?

I'm building Formal Studio for the artists and creative professionals that don't have big marketing budgets and are under-served by the current platforms.

Most people that come to me saying they need a new website are just looking to share the fruits of their creative labor with the world and see what happens.

Formal Studio is my best attempt to make it super easy for creative people to start small and end big. You can build a website that you can fully customize for free, and if you ever you need to grow past that you can set up your own installation or upgrade to a premium hosting plan (coming soon).

I'd love for you to try it out and create a free website.

Some Technical Details For The Techies

  • I'm releasing Formal Studio under an MIT License.
  • You can access the source code at code.formal.studio.
  • You write pages using the text formatting standard Markdown.
  • You can customize your website's style using CSS.
  • The software is written in Elixir, a fast a friendly modern language.
  • If you want to get involved, just email me at eli@formal.studio.

I'm planning on writing a bunch of technical articles about the process of building Formal Studio in Elixir. If there's anything you'd like to read about, please comment and let me know!

Posted on Jun 13 '18 by:

eli profile

Eli Bierman

@eli

I'm a developer and independent consultant learning more about distributed systems, teaching, documentation, and obscure programming languages. they/he

Discussion

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Cool! Even though our platform is an example of the type of platform you're describing, I feel like we do it with a bit more self-reflection and morality.

I can definitely get behind this type of project, especially being open source. I'll give it a try at some point this week (and feel free to nudge me if I forget around to it!)

Before having seen exactly what you're up to, I still feel a sense of skepticism around this kind of project having observed a lot of similar projects which eventually fell flat. Can you try to shamelessly sell me on how this will be successful in the long run?

Based on your writing here, I definitely believe in you, I just want to get a better understanding of how this is all going to go down.

 

Oh yeah, I love dev.to exactly because it feels so respectful of its users and what they contribute. I'm definitely inspired by that aspect of the site. And to put a finer point on it, I don't think there's anything wrong with ads, just the behaviorial tracking that is usually associated with them.

That's awesome you want to try it out. :) Don't be surprised by the bugs!

Love the skepticism too!

The amount of content people create is mind-boggling, and people are really getting woke to the downsides of being a secondary citizen on a platform that is said to be for them.

I think a lot of people are looking for a better more independent way to share what they've worked so hard on, and I just want to help them do that. I'm not particulary tied to any one technical solution or incarnation (there were a few failed ones before this). I just want to start with something that leaves room for experimentation and see what people want to do with it.

Also people hate hosting things themselves, so I'm hoping to be able to make it financially sustainable by offering a paid hosting service.

The Wordpress community has built such a great platform that lets you go in so many different directions, and with the REST API it can be jumping-off point to more complex apps, as well as a great way for people to ramp up their technical skills gradually. I've also seen lots of people intimidated by the Wordpress admin, and I would love to make a strong design and UX foundation more central to this platform.

The leadership of Automattic has started to take the project in a different direction by trying to compete more directly with Squarespace (specifically the upcoming Gutenberg update in 5.0), and in doing so it has created doubts about the future of Wordpress as the stable platform to build on that the community has been working so hard towards.

It's definitely not there now, but I want Formal Studio to be something like Wordpress where you can start with small design tweaks, but have a reliable and backwards-compatible foundation that you can build complex apps on as well.

I hope that helps! I'm definitely worried about it falling flat too but I'm just going to keep on iterating. :)

 

Great answer! Will definitely check this out and help out where I can.