To minimize friction in publishing new blog content, I went through an experiment that used Notion as a publishing engine. After three months, I’m posting at a rate faster than ever before.
I really like having my own space for my content — a place where I have full control. But, as nice as that is, it's a lot of work to maintain.
All of the text content on this site is stored in markdown files in the repository, while the assets live in S3. Publishing a new post meant opening up the project locally, running the development server, writing, previewing, and committing. Then I'd have to create a meta image, upload it to S3, and adjust the frontmatter in the post.
The simplest of articles would take at least 30 minutes to put together. That's not sustainable.
There are two really nice benefits with publishing on a platform like dev.to:
I didn't want to lose the unique identity of my site. Instead, I set out on an experiment to minimize the friction of my publishing process.
I decided to try to make Notion my publishing vehicle. For this experiment to be successful work, I'd have to be able to do the following:
You may be thinking (as I did): Why not use Notion as your CMS? If it's going to handle all the content, isn't it just a CMS?
No. I specifically wanted a publishing engine. Storing text content in markdown files is a pattern I love. Until outgrowing file-based content (Git CMS), it's tough to beat.
To make Notion a CMS would mean many more considerations, including versioning, previewing, uptime, asset management, etc. Perhaps more than anything, I need offline access, which Notion does not provide. While it may work for some, I didn't want Notion to be a source of truth, but rather a means to minimize friction.
In the end, the MVP (minimal viable product) version took two weeks to prove as a proof-of-concept, and another two weeks to build. Three months later, I'm actively using the process and publishing at a rate faster than ever before.
Here's how it works:
One of the crucial features of this project was the ability to map blocks in a Notion page to components within my site. A couple of examples:
What I had to do was simply create some type of rule for each transformation.
For the filenames, there wasn't much else to do other than to write the content directly. So I add what is essentially Nunjucks code in the Notion page, and it gets transformed directly. This was one of the uglier solutions, but it works.
For the callouts, Notion has callout components. But only one type. So I built a map. If a callout has a certain emoji, it gets mapped to a specific type of callout on the site.
All the magic gets kicked off in this function.
My posts all have frontmatter content that drives how and where they are rendered on the site. It also includes useful properties like pointing to the meta image.
Some of this content had to come in the publishing process. For example, the excerpt (which also feeds into the SEO description) had to be set in Notion.
To solve this problem, I made properties in my Notion pages and then had the script transform these properties into frontmatter.
After three months, this is working really well for me. I can publish with minimal friction without losing all the benefits I get from using markdown-driven content in my 11ty site.
At some point in the near future, I plan to take another pass over this tool and make it even more robust. Using it for three months has helped me identify rough edges and improvement opportunities.
I may also look to build some cohesion around Notion, meta images, and social sharing, as they are all separate processes today.
What I'm unsure about is how much others would use a tool like this if I took the time to make it more generic and publicly consumable. Would you use this if it were configurable to your needs?
If you'd use something like this in your project, send me a message. I would love to work against specific use cases as I build the solution.
Shortcuts, patterns, and other ideas that I use every day and that I also don’t see many others using.