Fifteen years ago, if you asked any organization or professional with a blog, “What solutions do you use to produce content?” you’d likely get the same several answers. Drupal. Maybe WordPress. A service like Blogspot. Or even (gulp) Angelfire.
These days, things have changed. A huge number of solutions can help you create content — but some are easier to set up, configure, and edit than others. Here at Four Kitchens, we like to keep an eye not just on what’s new, but on what works with what we do.
In that vein, let’s take a look at some of the popular content management system (CMS) and web framework solutions on today’s market, along with the pros and cons of each.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list, just a few options we thought worth focusing on.
Drupal is one of the original open-source platforms that enabled personalized web experiences. Created in 2001, Drupal quickly became the go-to solution for building websites and CMSs. Whether you need to solve large-scale web-building problems, as we do at Four Kitchens, or simply work on a personal site that reflects your interests and needs, Drupal is a popular choice.
Drupal offers custom content types and views for flexible development and theming. This flexibility enables you to avoid cookie-cutter sites and helps you define your brand in the marketplace. With secure authentication and role-based access, you can restrict access to only the people responsible for managing the look and content of your site. And Drupal 8 supports internationalization, so you can make a multilingual site with fairly minimal effort.
Although Drupal is full of features, it does come with a small catch: You need developer-level knowledge. Navigating modern Drupal installations that feature a high-level of customization can test the uninitiated. If you’re set on Drupal being the tool for you, having someone on your team with a knowledge of Drupal, web development, or PHP is a good idea.
Jekyll is a simple blog and static-website builder, developed in Ruby. This tool’s focus is building simply without a ton of overhead (like a database or framework). Built in 2008 by Github, Jekyll is a static site generator based on the ideals of the Ruby community: Keep things simple, don’t repeat yourself, and your code should make you happy.
Jekyll is easy to set up. Many modern machines have Ruby installed out of the box, in which case you need just seconds to complete a few terminal commands and get Jekyll up and running. Jekyll also has free themes, so after you complete the general setup, you can skip the whole CSS rigmarole, if that’s not your thing, and find the look you want. After you’ve built the site, Github allows you to host a Jekyll site for free (with some limitations).
One of Jekyll’s biggest drawbacks is that, each time you deploy, the entire site needs to rebuild. As a Jekyll project grows, so does the time required to deploy it completely. In addition, you need to know Markdown to get up blog posts and pages. Beyond that, Jekyll is not extremely robust. You get exactly what you see: a static site.
Hugo is a static site generator from the folks in the Go language community. Hugo came along in 2013 and is open source under Apache License (2.0).
Out of the box, Hugo is big on translation and internationalization. A core priority for the tool is ensuring that everyone can review content delivered on a Hugo site. A rich variety of templates can help you personalize or individualize your Hugo pages, including establishing purpose through blog-, homepage-, or podcast-specific templates. This static site generator is also big on image processing, making it easy to add photos and designs to your site.
If you aren’t hosting your Hugo site on a robust system like Netlify or Heroku, you might run into a problem: Your site deployment might fail for no immediately discernible reason. The causes of these silent failures can be tricky to track down without a developer. Like Jekyll, Hugo also builds the entire site after every deployment. Couple that with Markdown for blog posts occasionally being outside the standard, and Hugo can take some work as a regular-use CMS.
Probably one of the most well known and frequently used CMSs available today, WordPress is based on PHP and MySQL. The early forms of WordPress can be traced back to about 2003, though the more modern evolution of the platform began around 2009.
Because it’s been around for such a long time, WordPress has a stable and supportive community, there to answer any questions you might have. The platform is truly fleshed out to the fullest with plugins, integrations, and features. After setup, finding a place to host a WordPress site is easy, and the folks behind WordPress offer many options under their own banner. Released in December 2018, WordPress 5.0 included Gutenberg: a future-facing overhaul of the editorial experience. Gutenberg blocks enable editors to create complex layouts and embed media using an intuitive, user-friendly interface.
Being the biggest and most venerated comes with its own set of problems. Although WordPress has a robust plugin ecosystem, the sheer number of plugins means that quality and up-to-date security can vary. Customization often occurs via those plugins, resulting in WordPress bloat — which can increase expenses, quickly becoming a real concern. Also, if you rely too heavily on plugins for out-of-the-box functionality, you run the risk of not getting the exact features you want. In such cases, you might be better off with custom development.
GatsbyJS, also known simply as Gatsby, is probably the youngest contender in our lineup. Free and open source, Gatsby is just over a couple years old, based on React, and focused on speed.
One of Gatsby’s biggest benefits is the community. When you run into an error or issue, Gatsby practitioners — and often even the maintainers — are happy to jump in and help out. The framework is rich and inviting and has the potential to be a major player in the headless CMS and static site generator arena. In November 2018, Gatsby Themes were announced, a promising feature that enables you to package Gatsby site functionality for reusability on your own sites or to share with the community.
You can see that every CMS option has its ups and downs, whether you need to build a blog, single-page website, or fully grown website with a framework. What works best for you depends, as always, on your organization’s needs. Confirm that your chosen tool provides the features you need to meet your and your users’ requirements, and that you’re confident the tool’s foibles are ones you can manage.
Need to build a website or web app but struggle over which technology to choose? Four Kitchens has the experience to determine which CMS or framework is right for your project. Contact us today.
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