Last Monday I had the honor of sitting on a panel for the Introduction to Online Communities class for the Online Communities program at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. That’s a mouthful. If you’re paying close attention, this is the program where I earned my master’s degree (I was in the 2007 cohort).
The topic for the session was Online Community Tools and Platforms. At the end of the program, all students are given funds to launch their own startup or online community. Back in my day *crotchety old man voice*, we built our startups from scratch: we product developed a concept, hired a developer and designer to create it; we also did all the marketing footwork, etc. We were reinventing the wheel in 12 weeks. It was tough, somewhat miserable, and frustrating. Not because of the work, but because of the time constraints and our naivete. Anyway, in later years the cohorts got smart(er) and started using open source solutions to create their (alpha) startups. Not a bad idea.
The discussion took a few different forms. We discussed “reinventing the wheel” versus using WordPress, Buddypress, Movable Type, Ning, etc. In the end, I tried to make it clear that whatever decision you make, make sure it is an informed decision and make sure it helps you achieve your goal. I have seen people choose a platform like WordPress, and not understand that it requires frequent updates. Sure, WordPress evangelists will tell you to use WP all day everyday, but if you are in a situation where you can’t support frequent upgrades, then WP is not the tool for you.
That being said, I would like to go over a few pros and cons when using Movable Type, WordPress, or Drupal. People ask my opinion on this topic out of curiosity, or due to my line of work, so I thought I would share!
My website (lizburr.com) is currently running on MT5, a blogging platform that used to rule the land in the early 2000s. Today? Not so much, but I think it’s better suited for larger organizations than individual bloggers.
- It’s easy to create additional blogs, forums, and sites with one installation.
- As a front-end developer, I like being able to modify themes specific to a blog or system wide; the same goes for widget module editing.
- It supports comment authentication by third party apps without needing a lot of setup.
- I worry less about getting hacked on MT than I do on WordPress.
- Community features are easily built in with member profiles, member blogs, forums, ratings, etc.
- The Rebuild/Publish feature STILL TAKES FOREVER. If you’re editing a template, you have to run the Publish action to view the changes on your site. This is annoying when you’re rapidly developing or editing templates on the system. The larger your site, the longer the Publish action takes to perform (Right now, my site takes 11 minutes to rebuild/publish a full cycle).
- The developer community pretty much deserted MT when they introduced paid licenses years ago. As a result, there aren’t as many people working on plugins as there are for WordPress. Less developers = less cool plugins available to use.
- I tend to get a lot more spam attacks on MT blogs than with my WordPress blogs. Really annoying. There are controls you can alter to avoid spam, but sometimes those hinder community growth on your site.
- Installing isn’t that easy if you are a n00b. Installation used to be much harder, and it’s admittedly much easier these days. Still, if your host handles things differently, then you’ll need to get down into the configuration files and know what you’re doing.
WHO IS USING IT:
Most of my other websites (such as VerySmartBrothas.com) are all running on WordPress. I don’t develop plugins for WordPress, but I have done some decent themeing on WP in my day.
- Very active developer community. Plugins are often created and updated. There are thousands of free themes online. Documentation is well written on WordPress.org as well as on user blogs across the internet.
- Easy to setup, easy to use. I’ve been setting up WP blogs for my non-tech-savvy friends and they often need little training.
- I like to use PHP for shortcuts when designing large sites, so WordPress’ use of PHP makes it even easier for me to design blog templates.
- Frequent upgrades. It seems there are always security patches I need to upgrade to, compared with Movable Type. Staying upgraded is mandatory with WordPress, otherwise your site is a sitting duck as far as security is concerned. Make sure you factor upgrading into your maintenance plan and expectations.
- One installation for one blog. WordPress is looking to change this in Version 3.0, but right now if you want 5 blogs on one domain, then you need to install WordPress five times, and manage them all separately.
- WordPress MU is required in order to use BuddyPress. WPMU is a pain to install and config for n00bs. It also has a lot less documentation than vanilla WordPress. The good news is regular WP 3.0 will integrate WPMU capabilities.
WHO IS USING IT:
I used to dislike the idea of using drupal for any project, mostly because I wasn’t impressed with sites that used it. Sure, they offered good features, but design and function weren’t impressively executed on sample sites I reviewed. Lately I have been working on drupal with some clients, and it has grown on me.
- Highly customizable in terms of “plugins” which drupal heads call modules. You are also not limited as much as the other CMS’ because you can use contributed modules or hack one together yourself.
- I like how they handle “members only” content. It seems better than the other CMS I’ve used.
- Very strong community features for member profiling, accounts, etc.
- You pretty much need a developer in order to get anything cool done. Sure, you can install the system, but it’s not much of anything when it comes right out of the box. This is the other side of being “highly customizable,” mentioned above.
- I’m slightly annoyed by the version system they use. Drupal supports (really old) version 5.x, you should be on version 6.x, but watch out because 7.x is coming out too. Pick one, and make sure everyone is o
n the newest version!
- Many drupal sites I have been to seem to have a spam problem. I’m not sure if users aren’t educated on spam fighting modules to use, or if drupal has poor support of spam fighting modules.
WHO IS USING IT:
This post is long enough. I could go on for days about the benefits and drawbacks of each of these CMS’ as well as a few others. In the end, you should be well researched on the system you choose. Or, you know…hire me to tell you which one to choose
*I enjoy using the term “blog site” because it’s archaic-sounding, and Chris Brown uses it a lot. I find that funny.