Outside the WordPress bubble, what people are saying about it and other CMSs

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Written By Brian Krogsgard

17 thoughts on “Outside the WordPress bubble, what people are saying about it and other CMSs”

  1. I think that although WordPress has become the defacto go-to CMS, it’s also on the verge of becoming the jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none solution too.

    This is because as WordPress has grown to fill more niches (which is important), it has also failed to be super useful for core niches that are increasingly important:

    If I want to build a good-looking, easy to maintain and scalable basic brochure site or blog, I’m better off using Squarespace or Tumblr (and Tumblr continues to have a huge social hook that WordPress never has and likely never will have…WordPress.com seems to have given up trying to compete with Tumblr and is now gunning for Squarespace, which I think is telling) for most people.

    If I’m doing e-commerce, I’d likely start with Shopify.

    If I’m a nerd and I want to fully control my own content and have an easy, way to maintain a blog or technical site, Jekyll is awesome.

    If I’m a publisher, WordPress isn’t really ideal at all — especially if you have aspirations of being really, really large. Django, which was built and designed for newspaper and digital publishing, is far better for managing and separating the visual and content layers of a major news site.

    As someone who has used WordPress the backend tool for my job for the last 3.5 years, I’ve grown frustrated with how poor it works as a CMS for publishing and workflow stuff. The new Editorial Flow stuff looks great but I wish we’d had it a year go. Plus, workflow stuff doesn’t address some of the larger issues with publishing, which include more control over content placement. At Mashable, our biggest issue with WordPress wasn’t even the backend (though as the largest single WordPress install, we certainly had issues) , it was the fact that using it as our site’s foundation severely limited what we could do on the front-end and how we could manage the load of our visitors.

    Today, Mashable use WordPress simply to input content. Everything else is handled by a custom system. We use Ruby and Mongo to serve our redesigned site, which not only has a design that truly could not be performed by WordPress (our middle content column is dynamically generated based on share activity and real-time traffic, you just can’t do that in WordPress…you just can’t), our load times are better too.

    Moreover, WordPress hasn’t been as quick to adapt to the shift in mobile publishing. This stuff is improving but it’s taking time and more niche solutions are coming out with better mobile publishing support and better responsive dashboards and responsive design support.

    Plus, for publishers, if you’re wanting to use your site’s content in non web scenarios — think a tablet app — while you can technically do this with WordPress, there aren’t any workflow solutions that readily work to go from WordPress site (which might not even be public) to app. Think of stuff like Marco Arment’s “The Magazine.”

    This isn’t to say that WordPress isn’t still the best choice for the average person who wants to build a low-cost website. It’s not even to say that if you invest lots of money and development time, you can’t make WordPress do whatever you want (well, most of it), but as I said in the beginning, I see a greater shift away from the one-solution-for-all approach and towards those use-cases that are becoming increasingly common.

    And that’s why I see the rah-rah Yay WordPress love dissipating. People are tired of having to do so much work to get it to solve a certain task and would rather use more niche-focused tools.

    • Wow. Thanks for such a detailed comment, Christina. I look forward to seeing your Svbtle post on it : ) And also, thanks for coming by and paying attention to my new little project!

    • Can you go into some detail on how this *is* done and what the blockers are in WordPress? I’m curious what the problems are.

      The new Mashable site looks great. I hadn’t seen it since the redesign. Definitely faster, too.

      • I thought my comment was posted with a blockquote, but I guess that was just in the input form. Anyway, this is what I was trying to respond to.

        our middle content column is dynamically generated based on share activity and real-time traffic, you just can’t do that in WordPress…you just can’t

        • I’m not 1000% sure of all the specific nitty-gritty details, I’d have to ask out tech team, but basically we have a “velocity” rating for the middle column, it’s the only column that can’t be manipulated (I mean, I suppose, it could, but the goal is NOT to do that), so what it does is it surfaces “the next big thing.” This measures stuff like share counts, concurrent viewers on the site and other predictive traffic stuff.

          Because that content is truly dynamic and it’s based on a variety of factors, it’s not something that would be easy to manipulate from a relational database. That’s why we use Mongo, which is JSON-like and means we can bring in data and move it from one column to the next at ease. It also helps us dynamically stagger-load content more effectively.

          I’m sure there would be a way to hack it, but the bigger question is, is that an effective use of resources? Probably not. Especially since that still doesn’t solve the larger display-layer issues we have.

          The theme structure of WordPress is genius. It is, I believe, the biggest reason WordPress has achieved its massive success because it has made distributing and installing themes so easy. WordPress changed the game on that end and for lots and lots of users, it’s still the only self-hosted platform that has a reliable way to install a new look to your site quickly and easily.

          The design choice that the early WordPress developers made with themes was smart — you mix PHP calls with HTML and JavaScript and you add-in a separate set of CSS files. This differs from more traditional CMSes which have templating languages that cleanly separate logic from presentation code. That’s what ExpressionEngine, Django and if we’re being honest — Drupal — all do.

          While I would argue that for *most* average users, you don’t need the separation of logic and presentation, that becomes problematic if you need to do something like what we do, which needs to have the two layers separate. Moreover, if you grow past a certain size, the mix of the two can lead to load issues.

          As I said, we still use WordPress to enter in the content — but it’s not powering our site. So it’s CMS in the purest sense (and for us, the smartest sense). It’s what the editors know and for that purpose, it works. Our dev team are truly amazing and to the credit of WordPress, they’ve been able to add-in editor-facing features that let us control stuff like thumbnails and navigational elements from our view, without WordPress ever actually controlling how the site is powered. As I said, we’re now using it as kind of the most pure kind of CMS.

          I hope that answers some questions — I wish I had more insight into what we’re doing on the backend and I’ve peppered the guys for as much info as possible, but I’m a reporter, not a developer (even if I am a total developer/designer groupie), and while I understand more about this stuff than probably 99.95% of my peers (tech journalists, not WordPress nerds :)), it’s not my real job.

          • Thanks for expanding on that. I’m pretty sure the dynamic stuff could be done all in WordPress, but just as you say the question is not whether it’s possible with a particular tool, but what the best way to do it is.

            You should get the developers to write about how the new site works. The dynamic rankings sound clever.

    • I personally think that you made a lot of key points in your argument. I do agree that WordPress is getting more and more complex for the sake of making it do “everything”. I see a huge commercial space for theme designers and developers to actually start targeting niches with WordPress. Building application specific themes and solutions is the future of WordPress.

      We are already seeing that with sites like Happy Tables for Restaurants. We need more of this for other industries.

      P.S. I would be interested in knowing the limitations that WordPress put on you guys with Mashable.

      • In her post, she mentioned this:

        our middle content column is dynamically generated based on share activity and real-time traffic, you just can’t do that in WordPress…you just can’t

        I imagine that’s one major issue. While I’d like to think we could do something clever, like create a sum of activity as meta data, and have frequent updates to it, I understand that it seems really difficult. Partly why I haven’t implemented pure score based feeds here yet. But I’d like to hear more too.

  2. I keep missing those earlier days of WordPress. It was harder to do some things back then, but at least it was simple to write a post. When you have to build in help tabs for every page in the admin, I think you’re going in the wrong direction. Sure, it’s a neat idea, but there really shouldn’t be a need for them.

    WordPress needs to take a step back for one release and focus on a few things:

    • Make it simpler. End users just want to put their content in a box and have it appear on their site.
    • Clean out the code junk. We have functions in core that were deprecated in version 0.7. It’s time to let go.
    • Squash as many bugs as possible.
    • Let’s get rid of the focus on new toys and gadgets for just one release. After 10 years, it’s time to take a break from new stuff and do a semi-rebuild. Having a better foundation will allow us to more easily take on the things to come in the next 10 years.

      I’d also like to see a release that focused on theme/plugin developer tools as well. You know, seeing how we can make their lives easier. But, I’d much rather see the above first.

      • I’m not sure why it would do that. Maybe it stripped it if there was a formatting error 😉

        I added your list back and put some base styles back on ul / li. I’ve been using a plugin for the Ajax comments, and I like it… but the styles are a mess. Couldn’t add it back w/o !important. THAT is #fail. 🙂

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Devin Reams had a great post last week about whether WordPress is a platform or a product. What I would LOVE to see would be task-specific “builds” of WordPress.

      Basically think of it like virtual appliances (a virtual machine setup and preconfigured to run certain software to perform a set of tasks), but with the right plugins, settings and maybe dashboard changes to do what you need to do. So you could have Ghost WordPress install just for blogging. An ecommerce install for ecommerce, a publishing one for publishing, etc.

      This wouldn’t preclude anyone from building and maintaining an install the traditional way, but these pre-packaged, pre-optimized builds could maybe solve the issue of stuff getting too difficult to discern.

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