- Posted: March 18, 2010
I believe that Joomla is the best open source content management system out there today. It's powerful but adaptable. You don't need to know PHP to use it and accomplish amazing things with it. If you do know PHP, you can do just about anything with it. It's been downloaded over 15 million times.
But as Bill Tomczak says, there used to be two TV recording formats: Beta and VHS. Everyone knew Beta was "better". But VHS eventually won the day.
"Holy Wars" have always been with us in the tech world. Emacs vs. vi, Mac vs. Windows, WordPerfect vs. MS Word -- you name it, there's a battle. And you could argue that there's another big battle looming out there, a three-way battle: Wordpress vs. Drupal vs. Joomla.
Want to start a "Holy War" out there today? Innocently post the question, "Which is better, Drupal, Joomla, or Wordpress?" At this point, it's troll bait.
But of those three, there's a really big battle going on between Drupal and Joomla. Most conventional wisdom in the open source community will agree that Wordpress wins hands-down when it comes to blogging or setting up a small, simple site. As sites grow in complexity, though, conventional wisdom points to Drupal or Joomla as the "right" solution to the problem.
Now, I'm incredibly biased toward Joomla. And I really love Joomla and its community. That's why I need to speak out when things are going badly.
And they're going really, really badly right now.
Open Source Matters, the organization that provides legal and financial support for the Joomla project, has hired a PR firm for Joomla. As stated in the post on the Joomla website, VOXUS is supposed to help evangelize Joomla, raising awareness about what Joomla is, what it does, and why it should be adopted.
Joomla desperately needs to do more of what Drupal is doing. Drupal started lobbying the US government, colleges and universities, and other venues long ago about its virtues. They scored a big win when the White House adopted Drupal as its platform. Joomla has never done any of this. Of course, Joomla's project is constructed differently than Drupal's. Our decentralized approach means that efforts like lobbying are not possible on a coordinated basis. We have individuals lobbying, but no big organizational support behind them, unlike Drupal.
As a result of no lobbying or marketing, Joomla's perception is not what it should be. Joomla is "not as powerful" as Drupal. Joomla is fine for freelancers and smaller sites, but if you need real power, you need to look at Drupal. Because Joomla doesn't have ACL in its core, it's lacking for more than one person managing a site. If you want to build a serious site, you really need to build it with Drupal.
Now, I don't believe anything in that above paragraph. Joomla's framework makes it more powerful and adaptable than Drupal -- once you know Joomla's framework.
MVC is a marvelous way to build extensions. As a designer, I only care about the V in MVC, and I love that I can make extensions look the way I need for them to look, without knowing a ton of PHP. I love that Bill can work on M and C all day long without breaking what I'm doing, and I don't break his M and C.
ACL is certainly a problem, but it's being addressed in 1.6 for the core, and it's available as several extensions right now for 1.5.
Watch Drupalistas work on Joomla -- they hack the core all day long, killing piles of kittens in the process. They don't take the time to learn The Joomla Way. If they did, they'd stick with Joomla.
Maybe a PR firm would do something great for Joomla then. Maybe they can start talking up Joomla. (Maybe they could start with a site redesign and adopt Joomla for the platform for their own website!) Unfortunately, what is that PR firm selling right now? Joomla 1.5. Which has problems.
As we all know, OSM doesn't have a lot of money. The money they do have, historically, we know they've spent defending Joomla's trademark and brand.
However, just recently, OSM started paying two highly qualified developers one day a week to work on Joomla 1.6. I was so thrilled to hear that, since the beta of Joomla 1.6 was due out in August 2009, and the project is so far behind schedule. Paying a team of people to work on the next version makes sense. If we could get a functional beta out there, it would do a ton to boost the mood of the Joomla community and improve our standing and perception in the open source community at large. Some of us are indeed feeling competition with Drupal, and we'd like to be on the winning side of this argument.
As I've argued above, the PR firm might not be such a bad idea overall. But unfortunately, the way it was done and why it was done is the sticking point.
First of all, with limited financial resources, why is OSM not paying more for developers to finish the 1.6 project? Once 1.6 is released (or at least to release candidate state), then hire the PR firm -- that makes sense, to roll out the marketing as 1.6 comes out.
Second, I would like to know more about why this firm was picked over others. I want to know if PR firms within the Joomla community were asked to bid on this job, since the PR firm chosen is clearly not within the Joomla community.
Third, I'd like to know what exactly this PR firm will be doing. Will they talk to key developers and people within the Joomla community? Will they simply send out a bunch of press releases? How do they plan to come up to speed to talk about Joomla on a managerial level as well as a technical level? Will they get to help redesign the Joomla.org website, which is desperately needed?
Fourth, what is the PR firm doing to communicate WITHIN the Joomla community? Communications within the community are so fragmented, it's impossible to figure out what's going on. There's Google Groups, Twitter, Skype, ICQ, the Joomla forums, several Joomla blogs on the Joomla site, and much more. Unless you read all of them, you don't know what's going on. If this PR firm promises to consolidate those communications and put the big issues all in one place, where we can follow the 30,000 foot view of what's up with Joomla and 1.6, that would be a huge improvement.
Finally, and perhaps this is the biggest point -- How do we teach the Joomla leadership that criticism isn't random negativity, that it's not to be sighed at and dismissed, that the people who deliver criticism aren't necessarily just a bunch of trolls who want to stir up trouble? That it's very hard to figure out what's going on with Joomla, that posts happen in so many different places, the leadership is irritated that we didn't "know" about something, when it was posted in an obscure Google Group somewhere?
It all boils down to communication: communication between the leadership and the wider community; between the community and the open source world; between developers and their clients. PR firms are supposed to help the communications process.
Job #1 is to communicate to the Joomla community about why VOXUS is here and how they will help, and why it's better to spend money on them than on more Joomla 1.6 development. I am eager to hear their answers.
- Posted: March 16, 2010
Dancing Bear Syndrome is a term coined by Jared Spool and Alan Cooper (among others in the usability community). Someone says, "Look! A dancing bear!" And you are amazed! The bear is dancing! How cool is that?
Of course, bears don't dance well. It's just amazing that they dance at all. The novelty of it all is what catches our attention, not the quality of the dancing.
Alternative Joomla administrator templates are dancing bears.
First off, what is a Joomla admin template? You certainly know that in the front end of Joomla, you can download and install a bajillion different templates, or you can code your own. This is one of Joomla's most fabulous qualities and the one I love best. You can make that template do anything you want. You can make the perfect design for your client. Joomla doesn't have to look like Joomla all the time, unless you want it to.
Now, that same fabulous templating quality was carried to the back end of Joomla. Rather than have one single, fixed interface that everyone is forced to use, you can install any kind of Joomla administrator template you wish. You can write your own as well.
I'm not talking about pulling out the Joomla icon in the upper left corner and replacing it with your icon, or changing a few colors, or even uploading alternative icons. I'm talking a full-blown recoding of the Joomla admin template. Joomla doesn't look like Joomla anymore.
And therein lies the big problem.
Do you think of Joomla as software? You should. It's an application, same as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop or any of the dozens of other tools you use every day.
Software has a very specific interface. You expect it to look and act a certain way, or you feel quite lost.
Think about what happened when Microsoft upgraded Office from 2003 to 2007. How long did it take you to find the print button? How many swear words came out of your mouth? Or perhaps, like me, you decided there was no $%^&* way you were going through that particular hell, and you refused to upgrade? (I've been told they're rearranging the interface again for Office 2010.)
So let's consider the positives of changing the Joomla admin template to something totally different for a given website.
- The fact that you can do this at all is really, really cool.
- You could get the perfect admin template for you. Everything is exactly where you want it.
- If you're a very controlling web development shop, you could pull out all semblances of Joomla and call this your own product entirely, without ever mentioning the word Joomla. (Or perhaps this violates Joomla rules? But then, how would they find out?)
Notice not one of those items is user-centered at all. They are all about you, what you want, what works for your shop.
Now let's consider some downsides of changing the Joomla administrator template.
- If you want to learn Joomla from a book, training videos, other blog posts, etc, you need to figure out which Joomla admin template is being used and configure your site accordingly. Remember that if this is your client, they will know only the admin template you install for them. This means they can't go buy books or watch videos, because they don't know how to change the admin template. (Changing the admin template is generally not covered in books and videos.)
- When a new client calls you and asks a question about their site, you have to ask what kind of interface they're looking at. Hopefully you are familiar with that admin template so you can help them.
- When you take over a Joomla website from a previous developer, you might want to change the admin template from what they were using to what you like. That means you have to retrain the client in how to work with the site, or you have to learn a whole new interface.
Notice all of those items have to do with training and learning Joomla. One of Joomla's big assets is that it's not terribly difficult to learn. The general consensus seems to be that Wordpress is easiest, and Drupal is most difficult, but Joomla is a great combination of powerful and easy to use. My clients certainly seem to do fine updating their sites, once I've trained them. Why do we want to ruin that with changing an interface?
Think very, very carefully about what you're doing before you modify the Joomla admin template. There are a lot of downsides to doing this. Doing it just because you can is NOT a good idea. You need a very clear, compelling reason to alter a software interface. Use your powers for good!
- Posted: February 05, 2010
I'm the Joomla Track Leader at the CMS Expo conference, happening May 3-5, 2010, in Evanston, IL (outside of Chicago). I am so excited to be back for my 3rd Expo conference!
This time, I'll be presenting the Joomla SiteBuilder sessions, where you'll learn secrets about putting Joomla sites together and styling them.
Expo isn't known just for Joomla, though. Be sure to check out the Business track, the Fundamentals track, and many more interesting talks. The food is always great, the networking unbelievably good, and you'll be glad you came.
Hope to meet you there!
- Posted: February 03, 2010
This is a topic covered in my recent book, but the question comes up all the time.
In the early static days of the web, there was really little difference between one host and another. You uploaded a bunch of HTML pages and images (and later a CSS file or two) and the web host just worked. There wasn't a lot of analysis to do for the average small business site. One host was pretty much as good as another.
Now we're working with Joomla. And now, when it comes to hosting, everything has changed.
First, think very hard about the worst case scenario. Your site is destroyed by hackers or by something you did to it. What next?
Well, you probably assume you call up your host and roll back to a backup they have. After that, all is well. But is that really true? Have you discussed this with your host in detail? Do they actually have a backup available for you to use? How long would it take them to post that backup? And who is responsible if the backup is corrupted or there is no backup available?
Of course your host makes backups! They're backups in case there's a fire, a server is destroyed, or other major catastrophe. But sometimes those backups are not available on a site-by-site basis. Are backups available to you? Hard to say. You have to talk with the host.
Second, Joomla has some specific technical requirements for proper functioning. Extensions may also have some technical requirements. Just because your host fits those technical requirements, does that make them the best choice for running a Joomla site? Again, not necessarily. Sometimes permissions aren't set correctly, or register_globals is turned on (a major security risk), or there are other configuration issues.
Finally, how much traffic does that server get? Yes, you CAN run Joomla at GoDaddy or 1to1. However, in my experience, it's slower than molasses in January. People then blame Joomla for running badly, instead of blaming overloaded servers.
Generally speaking, people are looking at hosting at their ISP or GoDaddy because of price. It's only a few dollars a month, which is great!
But consider what comes with that price. Slow servers, tech support that doesn't know Joomla or doesn't understand its permissions requirements, old versions of PHP and MySQL, questionable backups -- this can all lead to a really bad outcome for your site. At best, it's very slow. At worst, you're hacked and without a backup.
Don't be cheap when it comes to hosting your Joomla site. You've moved on from a static HTML website. You're working with a software program, Joomla, instead of just working with a bunch of individual documents. That software needs the right environment to run optimally.
Check out Rochen for some great "cheap" hosting, only $7.95 per month. (They are the company who hosts Joomla.org.) That might be a couple of bucks more than you pay now with your current provider. But Rochen has great backups and they know Joomla inside out. We also like LiquidWeb, who has fabulous customer service. Their VPS reseller accounts are terrific.
- Posted: January 22, 2010
Chapter 15 of my new book is available for you to explore! It covers all of the usual post-launch issues, including ongoing site maintenance, upgrades, backups, and training your client how to use Joomla.