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A CMS Nomad – Finding The Right CMS and Sticking With It

Do you have a go-to CMS that you always use? If so, you’ve likely also been curious about what some of the other CMSs out there are like. Will they make your job any easier? Why do the other communities like them so much? Maybe they would provide you with that one hidden feature that you never knew you needed.

Choosing a CMS can be a very personal decision. Likely, the one you first truly understood is the one that you’ll hang your hat on and stick with for the long haul. That’s a really smart decision because, over time, you eventually become a specialist in that technology. You know your chosen CMS inside and out, and likely have collected a strong group of peers in the community who you can reach out to for support and potential clients.

In contrast, I’ve been all over the map with CMSs during the past few years. I’m not sure what it is about CMSs that drives me to keep trying each of them out, but it likely has something to do with a fascination of how the same exact data can be organized and served up in so many different ways.

Each CMS that I’ve used has had their pros and cons. All of them also have their own unique communities that have been nothing but friendly and helpful as I’ve used them. Most recently, I’ve returned to WordPress for a project after being away for a few years. If you’ve never used any other CMS than the one you’re currently using, then I hope to offer some insight into what I’ve found along my journey and save you the time of being a CMS nomad like me.

Where I’ve been

I haven’t tried them all, of course. There’s simply too many of them out there. I’ve never touched Drupal, Joomla or Pyro, for instance. So, needless to say, I can’t speak to any of those. My Knowledge of CMSs has taken the following trajectory:

  1. WordPress
  2. ExpressionEngine
  3. Statamic
  4. Craft

What has been my experience with them? I’ll start with ExpressionEngine and finish up with WordPress.

ExpressionEngine

expressionengine_logo

 

ExpressionEngine (EE) was my second CMS after I ‘graduated’ from WordPress. EE, like any other CMS, has it’s own learning curve, and once learned, is immensely powerful. Member Management is baked in, the options are vast, and with the right set of plugins, EE can solve nearly any challenge you throw at it. There are some drawbacks though that I would frequently find myself frustrated with.

One drawback that especially always bothered me was the lack of a 1-click update process. Depending on what version you’re coming from or going to, an EE update could take the better part of a day. I don’t know the details of why a 1-click update isn’t possible, but I imagine it has something to do with the legacy code base it’s built on, which is CodeIgniter. If this feature will ever be added in nobody knows, which leads me to a second frustration with EE: No one knows where it’s going.

EE is developed by a private company that doesn’t communicate a roadmap of what’s to come. Of course, they’re not obligated to – it’s not open source after all – but when a new version is released, nearly every feature comes as a surprise. This creates a gap in the downtime that plugin developers (which are so heavily relied upon) can update to become adapted to the latest and greatest version of EE.

On the plus side of EE is the fantastic community that stands behind it. People stand behind their chosen CMS and the EE community is no exception. Many of the developers that build on EE have been around for years, and are very eager to help anyone new to their community. I’ve had countless questions answered as I was learning EE, and have had a great time getting to know many of them personally.

Ultimately, without knowing where the code is going, the price to entry (a typical install of the core plus essential plugins can reach roughly $700), and frustration with an update process led me to start looking at some other CMSs.

Pros

  • Great Community
  • Very Powerful
  • Assumes nothing about your code out of the box
  • Plugins, Plugins, Plugins

Cons

  • Cost
  • Where is it going?
  • Abstraction away from PHP (pro or con? You decide.)
  • Plugins, Plugins, Plugins

Statamic

 

statamic_logo

Statamic is an amazingly simple piece of software. The major benefit to using Statamic is the lack of a database, which has huge positive implications for both security and speed. Since there’s no database to query, theres no database to slow it down; and, since there’s no database, there’s also no database to hack. You can also throw the entire system into version control, which becomes a much more complex process when a database is involved.

Statamic is a relatively new CMS, and although the community is growing rapidly, it doesn’t have a vast array of plugins yet. This, of course, can also be seen as a good thing. The simplicity of Statamic is an absolute feature, and for the right project, it’s a great fit. I’m hoping it grows traction in the coming years because I’d love to build with it more. (This site is built on Statamic).

Pros

  • Speed
  • Security
  • A growing community
  • Simple version control
  • 1-click update
  • Lacks the features of more established CMSs

Cons

  • Limited plugins
  • Lacks the features of more established CMSs

Craft CMS

craft-logo

 

Craft may be the ‘large’ CMS of the future. It is, in nearly every way, just about as powerful as a CMS can be. The Craft community tends to be a lot of people leaving ExpressionEngine and looking for an alternative. I was at Peers Conference in Washington D.C earlier this year, and while both the ExpressionEngine and Craft presentations were going on simultaneously, the EE class had about 7 people in it, while the Craft classes had roughly 60 or 70. It’s likely that this particular audience already knew EE well enough to not need any further training, but it could also be an indicator of the shifting tides.

Pros

  • Powerful
  • A rapidly growing community
  • 1-click update
  • Great support

Cons

  • Twig templating is a learning curve
  • No E-commerce solutions (yet)

WordPress

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Of course, there’s always the tried and true old friend WordPress.

What’s great about WordPress? A number of things. Most notably is the 18.9% market share and the HUGE community that comes with it. If you run into a seemingly-obscure problem, it’s very likely that someone else has already solved it before you.

WordPress is booming, and it has been for years now. Want to know what’s happening in the next release? Just look at the developer blog. Nothing is a secret with WordPress; it’s all open source. WordPress also has a one-click update, is very stable, and there are professionals and volunteers working to make it better everyday. WordPress will be around for many years to come.

I was recently building a new site that would need robust membership functionality, recurring payments, and a calendar system. ExpressionEngine, Statamic and Craft could all likely address most of those requirements. In researching the possible solutions though, WordPress was the winner. With WordPress, each of these requirements was addressed through a series of plugins created by well-known developers with great track records.

Pros

  • Mature community
  • There’s a plugin solution for nearly everything
  • Huge, friendly community
  • Dominate market share of the CMS world
  • Free
  • 1-click update

Cons

  • An old reputation of not being a ‘true’ CMS

Broad Generalizations

Developers LOVE their chosen CMSs. People spend hours and hours working to further their community and build business’s built on top of these technologies.

Each community has some die hards that would NEVER try another CMS. Or, they tried something else a few years ago, made up their mind, and that’s that. I get that. Like I said, those people ahem likely made a better decision than me and my nomadic CMS ways. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it after all.

Each one of the pros and cons I listed above can likely be argued. There’s simply too many variables to paint a black and white picture of each one. This has been my experience with each of them. Your milage may vary. In fact, it likely will.

The software, and most importantly, the community that surrounds each of them, can take you down very different paths in your career. In each community, I’ve met people who were eager to teach others and help move their respective CMSs forward.

Wrap-up

Developers will always look for new ways to solve the seemingly ‘simple’ task of serving up data to the end user, while allowing them to manage it all in an intuitive way.

I would never say ‘never’ to returning to any of these CMSs if they proved to be the right tool for the job. With changes happening constantly, it’s an interesting time in the world of CMSs; it seems like there’s always a new one coming into the market (Perch, October or Ghost, to name just a few).

After being a CMS nomad for the past few years, I’ve decided to simply choose whichever one is right for the job at hand. That said, who’s to say which CMS will be the best solution down the road?

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