Revisiting WordPress as a CMS (Again)

We’ve address the issue of WordPress as a CMS before here at the Myth, and my own personal take on the issue should be quite clear: I am a WordPress plugin developer, technical reviewer of WordPress Books for Packt Press, and a coorganizer of WordCamp Boston (2010, 2011, and currently in planning on 2012). The CMS Myth itself runs on WordPress, as does

I want to revisit WordPress as a CMS platform, at least briefly, based on on its “visible absence” at this week’s CMS Expo.

On the first day of CMS Expo I noticed that WordPress wasn’t one of the showcased CMS platforms despite the clear goal of having a (pardon the political expression) “big tent” approach and inviting a wide variety of platforms. Amanda Blum (my fellow lead organizer at WordCamp Boston 2010) noted there was a WordPress track a few years ago but that the audience wasn’t receptive (see tweet stream in storify form below).

Then, during Liz Strauss’s lunchtime keynote yesterday, she used the WordPress project, Matt Mullenweg as an entrepreneur, and Automattic as an example of a successful company built by and with a community of its users. She prefaced her comments with a line that said roughly:

I understand where WordPress sits in the spectrum of content management systems.

One of the attendees, Phil Sturgeon then tweeted:

“I understand where WordPress sits in the spectrum of content management systems.” That is a clever way to put it. #cmsexpo

I was tempted to respond, with something like: You mean at the top of the spectrum, as the most popular, and the one which powers nearly 15% of the world’s top sites, and 22% of active new sites in the US, significantly more than any other platform represented here?

But I didn’t. I’m not interested in starting yet-another this platform vs that platform twitter argument. I am interested in why there’s such a collective desire to exclude WordPress from discussion as a content management system, given that it clearly does manage content. I sometimes think people are more willing to accept “Dreamweaver and FTP” as a content management system than WordPress!

Now, I’m not saying WordPress is perfect for any and all CMS challenge. In fact, I’d argue no platform is equally well suited for any and all CMS challenge. (Mistaking platform selection for strategic planning is also a problem well known to the CMS Myth audience). But given that the audience at CMS Expo includes a wide range of users, from individual freelancers building sites for small businesses, churches, and non-profits to large agencies building complex sites for Enterprise clients, I’d have to say the total absence of the platform (and the occasional jabs in WordPress’s direction in the twitter stream and the hallway conversation) is starting to feel like some form of collective psychological resistance.

Here’s a curated Tweet Stream of some of the choice bits of the discussion – let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Formerly the Managing Director of Boston Connective DX office, John's passion for technology and the role of CMS are clear in his point of view.

More articles from John Eckman


11 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. Ian Muir says:

    To me, WordPress is like the Twitter of the CMS World. Twitter is simple and doesn’t have 90% of the features of Facebook or other social media tools, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant or less useful in the social media landscape. The same goes for WordPress, some sites my need a more robust CMS, but that doesn’t mean that the simple, straightforward approach doesn’t apply to just as many sites.

    In all honesty, if WordPress had a better UI for organizing pages a some improvements in curating plug-ins that won’t destroy your site, we would use it for a much wider range of sites where we would normally use other “real CMS” tools. If any commercial CMS implemented the combination of simple content types + widgetized sidebars/areas half as well as WordPress, they would be kicking ass and taking names.

  2. Interesting! We use WordPress as a CMS for our subscription based streaming environmental film site. Green Planet Stream. Our budget did not allow for a “real” CMS platform, and we are do-it-yourselfers, and WordPress suits our needs and is easy to use. We also developed a custom plugin that now allows us to work with schools and libraries, offering our content in their electronic Articles and Databases. While I was quoted $500 a month to host on a “real” CMS platform, we now DIY for $35 a month, thanks to WP and the wealth of available plugins. It works for us.

  3. John Eckman says:

    It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from “Who Killed the Electric Car” – when Ed Begley Jr. “admits”:

    The electric vehicle is not for everybody. It can only meet the needs of 90 percent of the population

    WordPress isn’t the right platform for every web content management opportunity, but it sure does well for a significant part of the market.

    I was especially surprised given the number of web design and development shops at CMS Expo who work with small businesses, local churches, etc. rather than the mid-sized and enterprise markets, as I would think WordPress would be most appealing to those audiences. .

  4. Like I tweeted: Easy to bash the elephant not in the room. As you point out John, it sits at the top of the spectrum in many ways. During CMS Expo I heard the phrase “like WordPress does…” from presenters and attendees alike dozens of times. As in seamless upgrades, content versioning, media management, etc.—the various things that many of the “real” CMS platforms don’t do, do terribly, or might be have on their roadmap.

    I asked quite few WordPress dissers at CMS Expo, what was missing to disqualify it as a CMS, but I didn’t hear one feature that was not available through existing plugins or core capabilities. On the other hand, I’d guess that half of the 15 showcased Content Management Systems do almost nothing out of the box; because they are really just content platforms for engineers to build upon, not actual software systems for users.

    So, let’s look at real benchmarks for CMS capability—be that usability for internal users and external engagement or OASIS CMIS for the enterprise. You know, like WordPress or Alfresco?

  5. Pie says:

    I’ve historically been on the other side of the debate. Yes, WordPress runs a lot of websites, including my own. It doesn’t “manage content” though. When you ingest content, it transforms it for display on the website. Awesome for the website, not from a true CMS perspective.

    And no, Dreamweaver and FTP isn’t a real CMS either.

    I view WordPress more as a Website Management System. I may be splitting hairs, so be it. I also will admit that I haven’t dived into the latest feature set of the last major release (I use, not .org) though I haven’t heard much that would change my basic premise.

    That said, the CMS Expo is more than Content Management, it is for the craft of running a website. Shocked that WordPress wasn’t there.


  6. I remember just a few years back when WordPress had a presence at the CMS Expo but they pulled back. It was my understanding that WordPress didn’t consider themselves a Content Management System but a Blogging tool.

    Has the Myth taken the time to investigate why or ask WordPress where they stand? There’s no better way to find out whether they are a CMS, a Blogging platform or what exactly they consider WordPress to be other than from the WordPress camp directly.

    The CMS Expo puts out an open call for Content Management Systems, WordPress is not represented at the CMS Expo because they must not want to be represented as a CMS.


    • John Eckman says:

      Luis – thanks for the comment (and all the great tweets during #cmsx).

      I have not (yet) reached out to Automattic or the core team directly – but certainly will do before the next CMS Expo.

      Part of the issue is that as an open source community, there are lots of different folks who might represent WordPress, and they might not all share the same conception of the value of the project. I do know that at every WordCamp I’ve attended or spoken at in the last few years there have been many presentations on using WordPress as a CMS, and the WordPress community is very interested in it.

  7. Lot’s of people like WordPress. It’s a simple system with a great interface, a huge amount of plugins and more themes than anyone can shake a stick at. To make sure we’re on the same page: WordPress is obviously a CMS.

    CMS as we all know stands for Content Management System. A blog post is “content”, so is a page, therefore WordPress meets the criteria of being a CMS.

    Being able to “manage stuff” is a core requirement and we can say that this site fits WordPress perfectly, it’s a blog with a subscription box and comments. That is the target audience for WordPress users and it is quite majority of the internet. If WordPress fits what you need perfectly the crack on, nobody is going to suggest otherwise.

    The reasons I have for not being a big fan of WordPress is that what happens when you need to move past it’s “posts and pages” functionality? Addons right? Well the WordPress documentation describes Plugins as something “that adds a specific set of features or services to the WordPress weblog”. People have managed to hack thousands of addons into this architecture, but it’s certainly not how clean PHP is meant to be written, and having PHP in your HTML designs is something that most designers hate having to live with, especially when the PHP is untidy procedural functions with the word “blog” in it all the time.

    I have known several of my friends in the start-up world set out by taking “a CMS”, adding “E-Commerce functionality” and “Social Interaction logic” and hope they have a site they can use. If this was my own content management system or one of the larger ones they might have had a chance, but when they just hacked together WordPress, BuddyPress, WooCommerce and some theme from ThemeForest what they ended up was a complete mess that should never have existed and soon found themselves recoding it from scratch (or using a more modular CMS).

    It feels like trying to teach an old dog new tricks. Proper, modular systems exist and if you’re using MODx, Joomla, Drupal or my own PyroCMS you’ll find yourself with a much more “full-featured” stack to start off with, than trying to use a blog with page types for everything.

    70% of our users come from WordPress, and they all have positive things to say about the switch, so you can’t blame me for my views – they are validated by WordPress converts.

    All of that said I am a big proponent of use whatever tool is right for the job. If you love WordPress and it works for you then carry on, there is never “one true tool” for everything. :)

  8. John Hamann says:

    We favor WordPress as a stand-alone blogging platform but understand it was not intended to be a CMS and that hurts its user experience as such. As a designer/developer used to the logic of MODX, my personal experience with the operation of WordPress as a CMS is not as favorable. That is not saying WordPress is bad but it is not a platform we want to represent our company’s work.

  9. One can certainly argue that WordPress is not the best CMS, but to argue that WordPress is a only blog, because you only use it to blog on is not an argument at all. (Sorry Pie) WordPress absolutely provides core capabilities for custom content types and taxonomy, which is the starting point for content management.

    If the argument is that it only does such and such out of the box…then explain to me what’s the point of Drupal when it does not bother to include Views and Pathauto out of the box. If one can’t aggregate content nor define semantic paths to content, how the heck is that a Web CMS?

    For those of us who architect and engineer Content Management Systems, the best CMS is always a hot rod that gets the content past the finish line. If every race and every driver and the stakes involved tend to vary, then the best answer to questions such as “Is WordPress a CMS?” or “What’s the best CMS?” is the classic consultant response:

    It Depends. :-)

  10. John Coonen says:

    Like I’ve always said, “The right tool for the job.” (learned from my friend, Chris Rault).

Leave a Reply
  1. Fields marked with * are required.
  2. We will not publish your email.