Seems like every day I read a comment about “the Wordpress CMS” (Content Management System), or how great Wordpress is as a CMS, or something similar. I admit, I have to cringe. Not because I don’t like Wordpress — because I do like it very much… but whether or not I “like” Wordpress being described and sold as a CMS.
Purist will, of course, balk at the idea of lumping Wordpress into the same class as other well-known Content Management Systems – like Joomla, Drupal, Concrete 5, DotNetNuke, and so on. I’m sure many of their arguments are valid, but at the same time, I’m also sure many of them will take their stance just because it’s “cool” to parrot someone else’s opinion on the matter.
So, let’s address the question using a bit of critical thinking.
Wikipedia describes a CMS as “a computer program that allows publishing, editing and modifying content as well as maintenance from a central interface.” Wordpress certainly satisfies that definition, as well as many other web applications. However, the definition is very vague and covers way too much ground in my opinion.
Perhaps we should look at how most of the well known CMS systems actually work to come up with standards with which we can make comparisons. So, let’s look at individual aspects (or personality traits) of other CMS’s and compare our findings to Wordpress.
My first experience was with DotNetNuke, a CMS build on the .NET framework. The first thing that stood out to me – and why I thought of DNN as an example of a true Content Management System – was the way on-page “containers” were set up. Containers, in the DNN world, were actually like mini web pages within a larger web page. Each of the containers could be defined to hold a specific document type, or content type, or even an individual application. In other words, consistent placement of individual types of content on a specific spot on the page was the ultimate goal. In the DNN world (and I later discovered with most CMS applications), themes were built around this container paradigm.
Wordpress, on the other hand, does not “enforce” this type of strategy. True, they do have container-like components – sidebar widgets, header banners, the content (post) area; but they are actually more of an afterthought built in to a theme dependent philosophy. Sometimes, Wordpress containers are persistent between theme changes, but more often than not if you switch themes you are forced to redefine everything.
Strike one for Wordpress (in regards to Wordpress being a true CMS).
The second aspect of most Content Management Systems that differs from Wordpress is how the content is actually managed. In Wordpress, content “type” is ultimately very important. A post is decidedly different from a comment, which is decidedly different from an image, and so on. Each is “handled” differently from the others. Recently, Wordpress tried to improve this by storing as much as possible in the wp_posts table, and incorporated different post types to improve the “single level” philosophy of content, but it is still very programmatic (or script) oriented in it’s application.
Other CMS’s pretty much treat each type of content like any other type of content. Going back to the container issue – it matters not what’s in the container, it’s just a container. If I want pictures “here” and the guestbook “there”, I can just switch them without breaking the theme or site, and I don’t have to make script changes. It just happens – content type “independence” is very handy in that respect.
Strike two for Wordpress.
Finally, the dependence on themes and/or plugins to do some of the things most Content Management Systems have “built in” to them is absolutely ridiculous. Modifying a theme should not product an entirely different flow to a site (with Wordpress, it almost always does), and requiring a plugin for something as simple as a basic contact form really blows my mind (that would seem to be a no-brainer). Plus, because the Wordpress framework is so “loose”, it is far too easy for one plugin to mess up the results produced by another plugin or theme.
Strike three for Wordpress.
So, now that it would appear that all of the “claims” by various authors and sellers of sundry plugin and themes and what-nots that Wordpress is a “very powerful CMS” are suspect, what really should be call Wordpress? Obviously, it has come a long way from being the blogging tool is started as (if simple blogging is your goal, Tumblr and Blogger are much better and easier candidates for that). Personally, I would like to have people refer to Wordpress as a “Publishing Platform”, because that’s what it really feels like to me.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I like Wordpress (a least partly because of my programming expertise – I can “hack” it easily and effectively). I think Wordpress is very powerful while being very flexible. You can turn a Wordpress install into anything from an eCommerce site, to a Membership Site, to a Newspaper, to a Social Network. With the right theme and/or plugins, of course. I find that fun and exciting.
But, I still can’t consider it a CMS. Maybe it’s just me…
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