The CMS War

In response to my post waxing on about creating a CMS that I would actually love, more than a few people wrote in to ask for my opinion on their chosen CMS. Rather than attempt an in-depth examination of all major CMSs, and given my limited experience of most, I decided instead to give you my general thoughts on the matter.

Hosted vs. Self-hosted

Firstly, decide whether you want to manage the hosting of the site yourself, or not. It’s typically cheaper to handle higher volumes of traffic if you choose not to host the site yourself. (Unless you use Tumblr, which must be hosted on a third-world electrical grid, given the number of issues they have.) Personally I think that choosing a hosted CMS is pretty smart in almost every case.

However, when somebody else owns your data or the hosting infrastructure, you may run into problems that are impossible to fix or resolve to your satisfaction.

(Note: Not all hosting is the same, the cheaper the hosting, the less control you typically have.)

Personally I choose to self-host because I want as much control as possible. I want to truly see where my data lives.

What’s Important

Once you decide on hosting, you need to decide what features are most important for you.

Instead of focusing on which CMS “looks the best”, focus on features. Any platform can serve great looking pages, just as any platform can look like shit. Think about features first, then look at themes if you need a tiebreaker.

When considering CMS features, I tell people to think about:

  • How important is a good iOS client?
  • Do you want to run a DF-style link blog? Can the CMS do that out of the box?
  • Do you want a robust developer community in order to find free resources for developing the site?
  • Do you want to have multiple authors?

There’s dozens more important CMS features, but I think you get the point. Some popular CMSs do some of the above, but I don’t know of one that does them all well.


I chose the self-hosted version of WordPress for a few reasons (in no particular order):

  • It runs on whatever server I want/need it to.
  • Lots of plugins, themes, and resources.
  • For the life of me I could not figure out Drupal.
  • I only half figured out MovableType before I banged my head into my desk.

WordPress isn’t perfect — it has a lot of flaws — the most obvious being the server requirements to handle a high-traffic site (which can be mitigated with any free caching plugin). However, for all of WordPress’ flaws there are definite advantages: I was able to have a custom paywall built for a pretty low price. I can expand and modify WordPress to suit my needs.

I’ve looked deeply into SquareSpace. I know a lot about Shopify. I had this site running on MovableType, and tons of other CMSs — but at the end of the day I realized that WordPress works fine and I need to concentrate on the things readers will actually notice.

Originally posted for members on: February 19, 2013
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