From June 10 to July 9, 2013 I conducted a 30 day challenge that involved taking 30 minutes for 30 consecutive days to study and learn the popular Content Management System, Joomla!. This challenge was a lot of fun, but also quite intense, with all the busyness in my life and personal matters to tend to. I've outlined my journey and progress below.
In addition to over 15 years of web development experience, I also have an extensive working knowledge of blogging platforms like Movable Type and WordPress (which are CMSs in their own right). I did not begin this experiment as a green Joomla! user, but 2009 was the last time I even looked at a Joomla! backend.
I don't say this to brag. Rather, had I come completely fresh to web development and Joomla!, I'm pretty sure I would have struggled with this challenge a lot more than I did. That's certainly not to suggest that I didn't encounter trials, however.
This challenge was not initiated randomly or out of the blue (although the decision to do it was made rather quickly). One of my current projects involves blogging for an up-and-coming online music lesson service, and wouldn't you know it, they're using Joomla! as their CMS.
Whether it was happenstance or serendipity, I was glad that I'd spent some time getting to know the platform five years ago. However, it was clear to me that I would need to brush up on my experience and knowledge.
Perhaps this is true of web development in general. Very rarely do you code an entire website once and have it all fit together perfectly. There is almost always a debugging and incremental revision process that follows the initial development phase. One line of code can sometimes break everything, so one could also say that each line of code has a symbiotic relationship
But I digress. With Joomla!, as I would find a solution to a problem, it would sometimes create new problems. At times this would force me to revert to old revisions of content or design elements.
Moreover, as I acquired more skills, I found myself spending more time searching and looking randomly for things to learn, because I wasn't following a particular method or orderly curriculum. I was persistent, at least, but I know I could have gotten the most out of this challenge by creating more structure for it. I feel fortunate, then, that I found all the solutions I needed by the end of the 30 days.
For this 30 day trial, I used Joomla! 1.5 and 2.5. I am aware that Joomla! 3 is out, and if my web host supported PHP 5.3.1, I would have taken 3 for a spin as well. Alas, that never happened.
Having gained considerable experience with various blogging platforms and backends, I cannot help but compare Joomla! to what I've used before. Therefore, I've taken the liberty of considering the pros and cons of Joomla!. For what it's worth, these are my own opinions. You may not necessarily agree.
Where Joomla! Excels
Generally, I have found Joomla! to be a very fast platform. Everything from saving articles and modules to installing templates and extensions, it all feels nearly seamless. I suppose your web host (speed) could make a difference here, but I have Movable Type and WordPress installations on the same host, and Joomla! just seems to go faster all around. It's one of the things I've always liked about it.
Additionally, I like the fact that you can integrate "Print", "Email" and "PDF" functionality into articles, the fact that the platform tracks 'hits' to articles, and that creating columns is fast and easy. There are a lot of great built-in (and extendable) modules too, like breadcrumbs and random images.
As far as installing plugins and themes go, WordPress is definitely faster, as these tasks can be done natively within the platform. Joomla! is a close second and Movable Type comes in third.
Where Joomla! Could Improve
Allow me to explain. A fresh installation of Joomla! doesn't facilitate blogging in the purest sense. You can create articles, and you can even organize them in a meaningful, logical way, but if you want to implement things like trackbacks or comments, you have to use extensions. If you want to create a quick snippet about the author at the end of an article, it's the same deal (you could also create a custom module and position).
Sometimes even the simplest things - like how Joomla! displays dates - seems to lack consistently from article pages to archive pages. Making titles clickable within archive pages but not clickable within the article page itself is also a nightmare. I have seen proposed solutions for these issues, but they don't always seem to work.
In essence, you can resolve all these issues with a good extension, like the K2 component. I suppose this is understandable from the perspective that, even with WordPress, most people install numerous plugins at the outset. However, where WordPress already has a great set of standalone blogging features, on Joomla! you would necessitate an extension just to get its performance on par as a blogging platform.
Another issue with Joomla! is simply the fact that you have to learn new terms and lingo to cope with its many configurable options and parameters. It's great that they have so many elements you can tweak, but unless you know what they are or how it's actually going to affect your website, you would have to do some research.
I suppose this isn't unique to Joomla!, but even the difference between "Sections" and "Categories" is something that could take a little bit of time to understand from a beginner's perspective.
I also don't find developing a website with Joomla! to be terribly flexible. Joomla! does save you a lot of setup and publishing time (especially if you're used to coding by hand), but you have to work your head around how their system works, and there don't appear to be multiple paths to achieving an end.
It probably sounds like I'm being harsh, but there really are a lot of things to like about Joomla!. If you're going to create a static site as opposed to a site with continually evolving, regularly updated content, Joomla! is good for that. If you want to blog, or create a more content heavy site - while it is not as suited to this purpose out of the box - there are ways to do it. You just have to find the right extensions.
I am also aware that the platform has improved considerably with versions 2.5 and subsequently with 3. The fact that Joomla! 3's user interface has been revamped, coupled with its mobile readiness does make it quite alluring. I will withhold any concrete statements regarding its value until I have the chance to see it for myself.
After all is said and done, I'm not sure if Joomla! is the right fit for every website or web developer.
Obviously, for the online music lesson site I mentioned earlier, we will continue using the platform and I will need to keep informed to that extent. As for the test install I did on one of my domains, I am considering replacing it with WordPress. This could simply be a case of different tools for different applications, and for the emphasis I often place on content, WordPress might be the better device. It is entirely possible that I will use Joomla! for a different project, however.
Obviously with any blogging platform, CMS or online web development service, comfort level can play a significant role in user experience. My comfort level with Joomla! still isn't as high as I would like it to be, though I do believe I successfully accomplished what I set out to do with this challenge.
Gaining new skills, acquiring knowledge and becoming a better you can only make you more valuable to your clients and prospects, and I believe a 30 day challenge is a great way to get started on something new. It's great for developing daily disciplines and consistency in your life as well.