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ZDNet says WordPress not clunky, but also not CMS

| December 21, 2007 | 20 Comments

Larry Dignan over at ZDNet writes about the media’s relationship with CMS systems, particularly his own past experiences with custom-built CMS systems. He says that “when it comes to ease of use, a blog platform beats or [sic] average CMS hands down.” So he asks why it is that he’s always getting stuck with some clunky, Frankenstein-like CMS system when he could happily and easily use something like WordPress. And he basically asks if people in the media industry will ever figure out that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, since it already exists.

But what struck me the most about this article was the Update at the end, where he says that he was corrected by Dennis Howlett, who pointed out that WordPress isn’t actually a CMS.

This is something that I really don’t get. WordPress manages content, does it not? Then why isn’t it a CMS? How come I can call the awful, clunky systems that I used before WordPress CMS systems, even though they don’t have even half of the functionality and features of WordPress.


Category: Themes, WordPress as CMS

About Miriam Schwab: Miriam is the friendly CEO of illuminea, a WordPress design and development agency. Miriam is a huge fan of WordPress and has been using it for over five years now. In addition, Miriam and her team have been organizing the local Israeli WordCamp conferences for the past few years. View author profile.

Comments (20)

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  1. Andrew says:

    I think the issue here is that CMS is not a description so much as a label, with all the baggage that labels carry.

    I spent a few months trying out alternative CMS systems, even going so far as to start writing one myself, before coming to the conclusion that even though WordPress doesn’t meet the CMS label, it is actually this very fact that makes it so good at actually managing content.

  2. Ryan says:

    I think a lot of programmers have trouble understanding how to use off the shelf CMS’s and so decide to build custom systems instead.

    The best example I’ve seen of a programmer building a custom CMS was when they used something called Django. I know nothing about Django, but from what I saw it is basically an incredibly crude CMS which lets you add custom code were necessary. So you start small and the bits that you need.

    With WordPress, I think of it as starting medium’ish and you can strip it down to the minimum if that’s all you need or build it up to something larger if you need that too.

    Full blown CMS’s like Joomla, Drupal etc. are at the other end of the scale, they’re massive, have everything you’ll ever need out of the box (or with a plugin or two) and then you need to trim out huge swathes of things to make them do what you want them to do.

    Horses for courses I guess and whatever suits you will do I spose. Personally I don’t have the programming knowledge for starting with something basic and making it bigger, nor the desire to learn something huge like Joomla or Drupal, I’d rather start in the middle and work my way outwards. That way I only need to learn one system (WordPress) and can make it bigger or smaller as my needs require.

    I also find that integrating two systems together has many advantsges. For example, I use many of the user permissions systems in SMF to control my WordPress site. The user permissions system in SMF is much more complex and allows me to do pretty much whatever I want whereas WordPress is quite limited. So by combining the two of them I can get the best of both worlds.

  3. A CMS has management features such as editorial process controls coupled to workflow. WP doesn’t have that and was not designed to have that type of functionality.

    I wonder if you’re losing perspective in your comparison – remember Larry was talking about homegrown v package. With Drupal/Joomla, you can avoid 95% of the hand coding (which should be good enough for most people) and get a good enough system.

  4. Hey… you know what? If it walks like a Duck… and quacks like a Duck… it is a Content Management System. Mr. Dignan, and Mr. Howlett, who corrected him, could jump over to PACKT Publishing and ask them why they gave a CMS award to WordPress (“Best Open Source Social Networking Content Management System” 2007) — but that’s beside the point. If people use it as a CMS (and many times totally without anything in it even resembling a “Blog” — see: http://webhelpermagazine.com/2007/10/where-is-the-blog-in-wordpress/) — then it simply is a CMS, based on how it functions.

    Thanks for your post.

    Regards –

  5. Ben Tremblay says:

    Very timely for me: I’ve been having a very long and very sober discussion of just this with a fellow who implements Drupal for no-profits. (~~~ @ Micheal Gifford) My initial point was “WP is the best blogging platform I’m found, and I’ve tried most all of them (blogspot earliest, but mostly LiveJournal). Wouldn’t it make sense to integrate WP into Drupal?” But the actual advantage to doing so wasn’t really easy to make clear.

    From what I’ve read about WPMU there are some real challenges at the level of administration … not saying it’s buggy, just saying that there seems to be real problematics.

    As for WP itself … the best I can say about the editor is better than AOL mail. And if that sounds like “damned with faint praise” it’s because that’s precisely my intention. I find Blogspot’s editor far better (and far less troublesome), while LJ’s is just plain fabulous. How can that be the case in a system that can be described as “mature”? I think that’s a really important point: most users push a system only very lightly … or they’ve become accustomed to putting up with guff. (I call that “the Win95 syndrome”.)

    FWIW, with respect to Drupal, I find myself spending more and more time reading up on SMF.

  6. […] dump 22DEC07 Posted December 22, 2007 ZDNet says WordPress not clunky, but also not CMS: “what struck me the most about this article was the Update at the end, where he says that he […]

  7. Ben Tremblay says:

    p.s. I’ve been clipping WP/CMS items into my http://bentrem.wordpress.com in no particular order (no scholar, me!) but, more to the point, I wanted to point you to this: “WPMU and WP as CMS.


  8. Miriam Schwab says:

    Hi everyone – thanks for stopping by. Sorry I’m only getting here now, but it’s been Shabbat in Israel, so I’ve been offline.

    Dennis – You have defined a CMS as something that “has management features such as editorial process controls coupled to workflow.” First of all, I haven’t been able to find a definitive definition of CMS anywhere, but what I have found does not necessarily include what you described – see Wikipedia’s entry for CMS, for example.(Yes, I know, Wikipedia is not to be trusted etc. etc…but it’s so convenient!)

    But let’s say for argument’s sake that a CMS is what you say; WordPress does allow you to set up a site with multiple users with varying levels of permissions. Users with lower permissions levels cannot post, but can only save as drafts, which then wait for the approval of the administrator. Maybe it’s not the most complex workflow, but it is workflow nonetheless.

    I see a CMS as a system that allows users to change, add and remove content from a site through a backend or admin. It should also ideally provide categorization and archives. WordPress does all that, plus with the ability to create “Pages,” it really is much more than a blogging platform, and as Scott here says, “If it walks like a duck….” There are many examples of sites that use WordPress to power them, but my favorite example is Seeking Alpha, which is a huge site and was until recently powered by WordPress.

    A particular advantage to using WordPress is its ease of use. When we build sites, we have to take into consideration the fact that most of our clients are not web-savvy. They need the simplest system possible to get the job done. Joomla and Drupal are systems that can be confusing to many users, and their wide range of options can actually turn out to be a drawback. In WordPress, it’s all Write Post or Write Page. Can’t get much simpler than that.

    Some other advantages of WordPress are the built-in comments and RSS feeds.

    Plus, the myriads of plugins available really allow you to make WordPress into any kind of system you want.

    In short, we use WordPress to either build pure websites, blogs, or websites that have a blog built in. This gives clients the advantage of a business site with the added juice of a blog.

    So as you can see, Andrew – I’m with you!

    Ben – I’ve never used LiveJournal so I don’t know much about their editor. But the WordPress editor seems to suit most needs, unless I have become “accustomed to putting up with guff.” The truth is that I find it much easier to write posts in Windows Live Editor, so I don’t use the WordPress editor much, just for tweaking drafts before publication.

    And as for WPMU – I haven’t ventured into that territory yet. I’ve been considering it, but the lack of community has made me nervous, and from what you say my fear was not misplaced. Unless you really need the ability to allow others to create blogs, I don’t see why you would use WPMU.

    Ryan and Ben – you both mentioned SMF. I hate to sound like I fell off the planet, but what is SMF?

  9. […] WordPress a CMS? December 22nd, 2007 There is an interesting discussion in WordPress Garage about whether or not WordPress can be considered a CMS (Content Management System). In the comments […]

  10. Ryan says:

    SMF is a very good piece of software for running forums … http://simplemachines.org/

    I’m currently using it to power this entire site … http://dunedinicehockey.co.nz/ … although I plan to switch that to WordPress for the main site and only use SMF for the forum (happening some time in the next week). The advantage of using SMF over WordPress here is that it has a much better user permissions system. With SMF I can add users who register for the forum to various groups which gives them access to different parts of the website, not just parts of the forum, but parts of the static side of the site as well. This same functionality can be incorporated into WordPress when they’re used side by side.

    I’m also considering using SMF to power http://flytrapgrowing.info/ which is currently running on WordPress. I’m thinking of running a forum on the site and I like the idea of incorporating the comments feature in via the forum instead of using WordPress, that way the comments on each article could be incorporated into the forum directly. The main articles would have an entirely different theme which would likely look very similar to the existing design but would in fact look nothing like a forum – despite being 100% part of one. This is just a concept at this stage though. Converting parts of the SMF forum to look like a static site will require quite a lot of work. In fact I’ve never seen anyone do this before, so it may be a first :) There is a mod available for pretty URL’s so I wouldn’t be stuck with standard ugly forum URL’s either.

    There are also some bridges for WordPress-SMF which link together the userbases of each program, but I haven’t tried any of them yet and you definitely need to back everything up as I’ve heard of a lot of people breaking their SMF/WordPress installs on installing bridges. So when you log into WordPress, you would also be logged into your SMF forum.

  11. Ryan says:

    Miriam – How do you know that http://seekingalpha.com/ is a WordPress site? There’s no /wp-admin/ folder and no mention on WordPress anywhere in their code, although both are fairly easy to remove, so that doesn’t prove it isn’t runing on WordPress. It certainly could be created with WordPress, I’m just wondering how you know. Do you have inside info?

  12. Miriam Schwab says:

    Ryan – as I said about Seeking Alpha: it was run on WP until recently. A few months ago they did a major overhaul and built their own system.

    And yes, I do have inside info on that site. It was founded by Israelis and many of the writers are located in Israel and I know them.

  13. Ryan says:

    Oops, I missed the bit about it being run on WordPress until recently.

  14. Ben Tremblay says:

    It seems most of the discussion on this topic arises out of people’s direct experience: those who’ve had some good experience with a group blog running WordPress are likely to call it CMS while folk who might have rolled out a Drupal install will quite confidently say No Way!

    So “user experience” comes up … and rightly so, I’d say. Because that, for me, is the bottom line. But that user experience is determined largely by expectations; if WordPress is seen as failing to deliver like it was expected to deliber what it was never designed to do. Which, of course, is fair enough: it’s meant to be a blogging platform. I’d say that even WordPress MultiUser isn’t meant to be a CMS. What intrigues me: better to use WordPress in conjunction with something like Drupal? or better to push WPMU towards a bigger feature set?

    @Miriam (Hello!) No better example of how user experience rules than your “have become “accustomed to putting up with guff.”” … I’d suggest that’s precisely the case. What really caught me with your “I find it much easier to write posts in Windows Live Editor, so I don’t use the WordPress editor much, just for tweaking drafts before publication.” is that this is just where the editor fails me: I can easily write an item in the WYSIWYG view, but if I make adjustments on the source then I’m likely to encounter all sorts of wierdness: it’s precisely in the “tweak” phase that I find myself contradicted. But I don’t want to distract this thread; with respect I’ll invite those interested by this to visit my wiki page in codex.wordpress.


  15. […] me, this bit of code (which I wish came default) is another link in the chain toward exploiting WordPress’s potential as a CMS. Posted in CSS, WordPress, Code on December 23rd, […]

  16. Dalton says:

    Hi there,
    I just wanted to chime in as I just recently launched a decent sized site using WordPress as the CMS. We went with WordPress because I’m familiar with it, it was running some of the site functions already, and it’s generally pretty easy to use. It is indeed a very flexible platform. In my experience with this site, however, I don’t think WordPress is quite ready for primetime in regards to anything more than basic CMS functions.

    We came upon a few problems during implementation that required a lot of work-arounds, and even one or two serious bugs that haven’t really been adressed yet. We’re missing features that you might find on a more fully-featured CMS, like revision history, true workflow and moderation, etc. Some of these have been attempted via plugins, but they’re not really there yet.

    All in all it was a learning experience and WordPress has come a long way in a very short time. I just have to say that anyone thinking of putting together a site of any significant size should definitely weigh the pros and cons before deciding on WordPress.

  17. […] Also, when our own Dennis Howlett learned of last year’s decision, he told Larry Dignan WordPress was not a CMS at all. Larry then corrected his own post to note that ZDNet, which runs WordPress, also runs a separate […]

  18. […] I posted about why I think WordPress is a CMS. This led to a pretty interesting discussion in the comments on the topic, but it was […]

  19. Joomla is a top notch CMS and this post is a perfect example why. Thank you for this information.

  20. […] I posted about why I think WordPress is a CMS. This led to a pretty interesting discussion in the comments on the topic, but it was […]

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