My Great CMS Debate

More like... Catch-22... Management System... amiright?

Published on August 2, 2017

TL;DR

Better CMS options than WordPress exist, but old habits die hard.

My intent is not to write a side-by-side comparison of WordPress and these platforms—Delicious Brains has already done a fabulous job of that—but rather to express a challenge I’ve been unable to solve for years now.

I have worked on a lot of WordPress websites over the years, for a huge variety of different use-cases: marketing sites, wikis, community forums, e-commerce platforms, kiosks and signage—the list goes on. But, in most of those cases, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was the wrong tool for the job.

WordPress is intensely powerful, but it’s also burdened by 15 years of product and development history; by the fact that it never really escaped its original design as a blog platform, rather than a CMS; by the the fact that it still needs to support PHP 5.6; and by reality that any significant rewrite or update would impact a huge swath of the truly massive number of sites and plugins in its ecosystem.

To develop on WordPress is to assemble a constellation of plugins, snippets, and hacks that we carry from project to project—tools to bend an ornery platform into whatever shape the we need. Can we build great things on WordPress? Absolutely. But it never feels quite… right.

In the last few years, several smaller, more nimble CMS platforms have appeared, and I think they accomplish many of the same goals more effectively. Options like Craft and Statamic provide a variety of features out of the box that WordPress can only achieve with some combination of third-party plugins and heavy customization:

  • Repeatable, flexible custom fields
  • Custom post types
  • Templating engines like Blade or Twig
  • More easily organized asset management
  • Easier routing
  • Improved security
  • Cleaner documentation

A sharp eye would note that most of those features are developer-facing. A client won’t care about templating engines—they just want the page to load quickly and look right.

That brings me to the most important—and the most anecdotal—point: non-technical folks just seem to have an easier time understanding and using a platform like Craft. The UI is simpler. Content is organized in a more logical way. Plugins don’t inject calls-to-action at the top of every page. Loading, updating, and saving content is often speedier and more responsive.

And yet, whenever I see an opportunity to use one of those platforms for a client, I hesitate. One of my primary goals for any project is ease-of-transition: if I can’t work on that project in the future, can the client easily find another reputable developer to take it over? Excellent WordPress developers abound, even in a smallish city like Pittsburgh. The same can’t yet be said for Statamic, Craft, or October.

Maybe part of that issue is my network (if other devs in Pittsburgh use these platforms, I’d love to meet you!), but at the end of the day, WordPress’ popularity is a self-perpetuating beast: more folks are familiar with WordPress, so more developers use WordPress, which means that more websites get built with WordPress, and more folks, in turn, become familiar. Few, if any, web products have that kind of momentum.

To break the cycle, the answer is to build more sites on other platforms. And yet, the support network just isn’t there yet. I can’t escape the nagging feeling that, if I build something for a client, and lock them into a platform, I need to know that site can easily exist beyond our relationship. Otherwise, I’ve done that client a disservice.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’d love to talk to you about it. Drop me a line at cameron+cms+blog@cameronscott.co.

Currently Listening: "Solid Wall of Sound" by A Tribe Called Quest

On to the Next

Last updated on July 5, 2017

I’m a developer, product manager, and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. Three years ago, I co-founded a digital agency with Paul Burke called Inquiri.... Read More »