When a blogging system takes the 1st step of a WCM podium

I recently went through a post from Matt Mullenweg where he announces wordpress winning a CMS award. Like often with Matt Mullenweg, the way it is phrased is really well done in my opinion, but that’s another story, read it there if you are interested; http://wordpress.org/news/2010/11/cms-award/

What strikes me here is not the result of this award, that has in my opinion a really little meaning, but that it takes me back to a topic I considered 5 years ago with a totally different perspective. I remember 5 years ago attending to MovableType events where the pitch was really to explain how blogs will change the face of the web and the way we make web sites and how blogging system would burry both CMS software and e-Commerce software.

At that time, I was really thinking this was a wrong approach, the one of “using the wrong tool for a specific problem”. Looking at the example showcased at that time, that would only comfort me in that thinking: the e-shop or e-magazine showcased were just hijacking the experience of a personal blog to try to adapt it for another purpose, and while it might at the time surf a bit with the early web 2.0 buzz, I really thought this was a bad message to the market and was not a solid and sustainable approach to develop an online business.

Now, discussing yesterday with some fellow CMS practionners, one of them reacted to the recent wordpress announcement I mentioned above, claiming that this is ridiculous, WordPress being anything but a CMS.

Of course debating that topic can take hours of discussions, may be with very little results and I should not really jump in “what kind of CMS are we talking here ? (_of course WCM I should still say_)” or revisiting the list of features you should expect from such a system. There is indeed a journey exploring the feature scope of WordPress, exploring the gap with Joomla then Drupal and looking at even more sophisticated ones like eZ Publish. There is another journey in looking at how they perform in each announced feature and, no, I don’t want to play that game here !

But a shorter thing to do is simply looking at the real world of users, and what they do with the software we give them, and I must admit the landscape has totally changed. The numerous “non blog” websites run by wordpress are not anymore what I saw 5 years ago at the time when Movable Type was the rising star. They are not anymore tweaking with the user experience and they are real products that are the exact same target low/mid end web content management systems have.

It is actually a relative of mine who first pinpointed this to me, let me explain: As I am working in this CMS world, I am the target of constant sollicitations from my friends and family when it come to making their own websites, one is running a small sepcialty food store and want to be visible online to expand its business, another is a sculptor and needs a website to showcase his art, yet another is a consultant and want to have his offering on the web … I always tried to escape their requests by telling them “Open a blog, that is what you need and you’ll be able to do everything on your own (meaning without my help ..)”  and what would happen usually is that they would hate the idea of having a blog and I would have to try to do a website for them using eZ Publish, PHP or even static publishing some times … It’s only recently that, facing the difficulty of me being a bottleneck and the technicality of the system I sat up another one, they did some research to find alternate solutions and came back to me with the suggestion to use WordPress (without even knowing it was a blog platform). That was sort of a bad joke to me considering that, a while ago, I would have love them accepting my proposal to go for wordpress ! But that is indeed highlighting in a very clear way that WordPress is not anymore a blogging system but a solution for low or mid end Web Content Management needs, it is the users and what they do with it that are telling it !

So what ? What should I keep from this ?

For sure, the fact that looking not only at solutions themselves but also at how users uses them is really important in having a clear understanding of the technology landscape. In short, technology is nothing without users. You always learn the most watching them, and this is true for all kind of software and all kind of users, from developers to end-users.

And of course, to always be very careful with rankings, categorizations and awards. They mean so little compared to what’s really important to look at when for instance choosing a solution. Obviously, I don’t think WordPress satisfies the same requirements as more sophisticated platforms such as eZ Publish or many other enterprise grade solutions when it comes to business critical use. But in the end, all is in really understanding what means “business critical” for your use !

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