Symphony Monday December 7, 2009, 2 comments

Those that have been following this website for some time (and some of you have been following it for almost five years, which is insane) know that I am using a content management system called Textpattern to drive this site.

I consider myself a bit of a Textpattern champion. I have always, for better or worse, championed the underdogs in the world (Macs over Windows machines,Volkswagens over most every japanese car, the Leafs over common sense) and Textpattern has totally fit this ethos. It is very likely the overriding factor in why I began using it six years ago to run my sites, instead of other, more ‘popular’ systems.

Like Macintoshes and Volkswagens, but not the Leafs, I have enjoyed watching Textpattern develop and grow, watching a community build around it, seeing several books about Textpattern and using it be published. I have enjoyed using the software, which fits another ethos – that of elegant simplicity. And I have evangelized it a lot, convincing several friends and co-workers over the years that Textpattern was a great thing.

And it is a great thing. It just seems that lately, it’s not the best thing any more. At least not for what I am trying to accomplish.

Textpattern has some limitations which I won’t get into. Anyone who uses the system for more than a simple blog or portfolio site probably knows what I’m talking about. While most everything is really simple to achieve, some things are devilishly hard. Some are downright impossible, or the solutions are so clunky and inelegant that they defeat the philosophy of Textpattern.

The Textpattern community is virtually silent, too. It used to be quite active, and the developers were very involved. There was a sale of the software to a company, there were developers jumping ship to other packages that offered fewer limitations and more advantages. There was a fork, at one point, and more recently, an almost wholesale change of the developers running the show.

Not all these changes were bad. Textpattern 4.2.0 was released not so long ago, and brought a lot of great changes with it. But these changes feel almost too little, too late. Other competitors offer more, and do it with a lot less heartache.

And don’t fool yourself. For those of a developmental mind, stuff like this really is a matter of the heart. Web developers don’t just invest intellectually into technologies, they invest emotionally too. You might think they’re coldly logical, the Hollywood stereotype would support you, but the reality is that most web developers I know are deeply and powerfully emotional about things that are as seemingly meaningless as a CMS choice. I know I am. I’ve invested more than six years into Textpattern. That’s longer than some people’s marriages.

The upshot of all this is not that I am moving to something else and abandoning Textpattern, because I’m not. What I am doing, in a serious way for the first time in half a decade, is examining my options. I’ve been looking at competitors to our dear Textpattern, to see if any of them fit my philosophical and technical needs for a content management system.

Some of them do. ExpressionEngine seems to be very much what Textpattern could be, on a technical level, but it also costs money, and fails somewhat on the underdog score – several of my colleagues are avid supporters. It doesn’t fail entirely though. That’s the province of Wordpress, which is utterly unacceptable for what I want and need.

One of the other options I am investigating is a small little CMS called Symphony. It’s got a fairly active community – many of whom are former Textpattern folk, and it seems to be actively developed and supported. That’s two in the win column. But it’s also a whole new thing to learn, as it’s based on XSLT, something I’ve had little to no experience with in the past.

That’s not a bad thing, really. I like learning new things, it’s good for me. Symphony seems to do just about everything I need to, if only I can figure out how. I know that sounds like virtually every other system out there, but there’s something about Symphony that clicks with me on an intuitive, non-logical gut level. Playing with it has been an interesting experience. It has, in some interesting cases made me rethink the way I have done things in the past with my sites. In many ways, it’s both a CMS and a web development framework, which really appeals to me in terms of functionality.

That’s not to say that A Rain of Frogs will suddenly be a Symphony site though. I have no real plans at this time to port this site to Symphony, though it might be a test-bed for learning. If Symphony clicks in my head, and I find myself able to achieve the things I want to achieve with it, then yes, eventually this site will be built upon Symphony. But before any of my sites go into production using this new system, I have to learn it, and become familiar with it in the same way I am with Textpattern. And I expect that will take some time.


Comments

Markus Merz | Hamburg St. Georg Friday December 11, 2009


I invested some time in reading about MODx, and yes, MODx seems to be a good CMS for my publishing needs. But I am still fully satisfied with Textpatern…

Adrian Friday December 11, 2009


Hi Markus,

I totally agree. Textpattern does seem to do what I need it to, though as I say, I have been nudging up against the limitations lately. I know I could write some plugins to work around these limitations, but the general lack of activity in and around Textpattern development lately has been a bit of a turnoff.

Commenting has ended for this post, but I'd still love to hear from you.

The website of Adrian Lebar

A Rain of Frogs is written, designed and built by Adrian Lebar, a twenty(!) year veteran of web design and development. He is currently managing web and mobile development teams at Canada’s largest and most beloved classifieds site, Kijiji!

He is a father, sailor, snowboarder, skier, cyclist, writer, artist, graphic designer, classically trained musician and afraid of heights.

Adrian is not currently available for freelance and contract work. Learn more.

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work.”
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