Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Euology for a Friend

We are here today to mourn the loss of a dear friend. One that has stuck by us, was loved by a select few, who fought the good fight. I am speaking of course, of our friend Concrete5. As much as it pains me to say it, after years of devotion and support, it is time to move on. But is it truly dead? That page has yet to be written. But I fear my blind devotion has finally cleared and I have reached a stage of clarity where I can see other vistas upon the horizon. New beginnings. Putting aside the fear and loathing of what I once spurned as a CMS after-thought, I am returning to WordPress.

Ok, enough histrionics.

It’s true. I decided to work with C5 because it was geared specifically to the needs of the CMS community, not first a blog. It was flexible, could be added to existing designs with a little programming, and was supported by a small, yet robust community. The C5 team worked apace and continued to develop the app and supporting addons like eCommerce and Discussions. In addition, there were great addons provided by the community for calendaring, blogging and more. Themes abounded. Life was good. I produced about 30 sites using C5 over the course of 3 years.

Then disaster struck.

The good folks at C5, seeing the changes in the industry, decided to upgrade the core of the application. Good thing, yes? Yes. Mostly. However, several things happened preventing the upgrade from becoming a one-click move. First, the apps were not compatible, designers were forced to recreate their sites by hand. Secondly, developers were required to rewrite their themes and addons. Designers whose sites that were developed using custom themes and addons discovered that many if not all of their themes and addons weren’t available in the new version.

Doggedly I forged on, trying to shoehorn solutions into C5, thinking all the while, “It shouldn’t be that hard to do this!” And secretly wondering if there was a WordPress plugin that could meet my needs. And the answer was almost always yes. You see, while C5’s users are devoted, they are few. WordPress developers are vast. That is certainly one major advantage of WordPress. Another is that the developers have adopted a basic/pro functionality with a majority of their plugins. That is, the basic version of most plugins work with limited options, functions, templates, etc. for free and the pro version gives you everything but you have pay for it. Makes sense. What I don’t like is that they sometimes ask you to subscribe rather than just buy it outright. The subscription entitles you to all the features, enhanced support and upgrades for a period of time, usually a year. Then you can continue to use the version you have, but without the support and upgrades.

“Well,” you say, “isn’t WordPress the Windows of the CMS world and as such is subject to hijacking, viruses, and spam? Yesss... but if you are concerned about that, there are ways to deal. Three options off the top of my head are custom webhosts specializing in secure WordPress installs like WebSynthesis and Dreamhost, caching services like CloudFlare, and plugins like WordFence, Loginizer and Akismet, that make your sites less likely to succumb to these threats.

I used a couple of wonderful templates in C5 (Supermint3 and Fundamental) that were more design frameworks rather than fixed layouts, something I could translate my or my associate’s designs onto rather than dumping content into specific sections. They provided the responsiveness, mobile support and code needed to build a modern site, while allowing me to implement the design almost completely as I saw fit. Luckily, there are a few of those now available for WordPress. Divi 3.0 by ElegantThemes, is my current go-to. and they are constantly updating and upgrading it, I mean like weekly. New features, bug fixes tutorials, etc. Pretty great. Their customer support, even for lifetime subscribers, is not super responsive and you need some patience, but they generally will help you solve your problems and even provide the necessary code.

Is C5 dead? Not quite. I still maintain both older and newer sites, the developers continue to provide patches and security upgrades. What is falling behind is their addon and template support and the support from the third-party developers. Maybe it’s just a growing phase that will pass, but in the meantime I need to get my client projects up quickly and efficiently. WordPress has just become another arrow in my tech quiver.

1 comment:

David Lasky said...

Both have their place, and that I will definitely agree on.

C5 is (and has been, for a year and half) at a crucial transition point. They did a major upgrade and overhaul of their tech stack, bringing in the best options from a lot of other frameworks, and adding some much needed features (like the recently released express). This will make them more flexible in the long run... and they learned some of their lessons, for sure, on this go round. But under the hood, the changes were vital, and important.

By far, the best thing about C5 is in-context editing. They do it very well. In fact, that is why David started using C5 - we had a client that wanted "something easy like my fantasy football page". Well, that was hard coded for a specific purpose, but the idea was there. After quite a bit of research with about 10 frameworks, we settled in to use C5, because nothing else was that user friendly (which, it still is). The fact that they broke out their templating made things even easier as David could focus on the design, while I focused on the code.

Wordpress has a ton of great plugins - and to be fair, a ton of duds. And yes, it is more vulnerable, and some of that has to do with tech stack. Can WP transition to the more modern php features like namespaces, which would be amazing to fix issues within their plugins? I am not sure, nor to be honest have I dug in much due to other things going on.

I look at it this way: If there will be someone competent maintaining it, and someone checking for updates at LEAST once a month, then use WP. If it is a site that will not be checked in on as often, or has a lot of less than tech savvy people, some of the C5 new features look promising. That is how I personally look at it. I think that as the core team finally stops adding as much, and starts refining, C5 in the next year should, I hope, finally emerge as a very strong contender again. The fact that I've got a list of several plugins I could code in it and make some money on is also an option, but I have little time for that.

The other big thing about C5 is that due to the structure, I find it a bit slower on budget hosting. That can also be a factor. There are a LOT of db calls.

I'm still keeping abreast of the C5 space, and still maintain some code out there for other developers to ease the transition, and I have also added documentation to their doc pages, which I have some more to write up. Sadly, that requires time.

C5 has been a good friend, but it is going through a rough patch. While I still want to keep in touch, I can understand David's desire to go with something he feels safer with in the meantime.

As long as he doesn't hit the unfriend button too fast, all should be good. I want more great options out there, not less, so I would hate to see another contender fade, as can too often happen.