What's the new big thing in web development (suitable for non-coders)?
March 29, 2017 4:36 AM   Subscribe

For the past 10 years, I have been creating websites using Content Management Systems (CMS). It's been a good run but I feel trouble brewing ahead on the CMS front: so what new technologies are suitable for someone who does not write code for a living?

CMSs such as Drupal and Joomla have allowed me to create complex sites in a relatively short time without having to code anything but the occasional snippet of HTML/PHP/Javascript/SQL/CSS. The rich CMS ecosystems of ready-to-use components/modules/plug-ins/libraries have been more than sufficient to me: I've been able to develop sites, keep full control of them, add features and fix stuff myself. If necessary, I outsource the development of specific modules to developers. The sort of websites I do are relatively static, but they need to present vast amounts of content (text and data) to visitors, so highly customized content management/presentation and user-friendly content editing are necessary.

I've been worrying lately about the state of CMS development: for instance, Drupal 8 has been released in November 2015, but many important modules don't have a version 8 yet. When I looked for charting modules for Drupal 7, I found a wasteland of half-finished modules created in the mid-2010s: developer interest in CMSs (at least on the F/OSS side) seems to be waning. CMSs are also plagued with issues of broken dependencies and security. CMSs are still big now but I think that I should plan ahead for the day when I am unable to update a website because the underlying CMS is no longer popular. The non-CMS solutions (frameworks) I have looked so far are very coder-oriented and don't seem provide the kind of out-of-the box, plug-and-play solutions I am familiar with (note: I can code, and I have coded entire websites in PHP from scratch, but that was 10-15 years ago I just don't have the time resources and the expertise to do that today). So my question is: what should I look into now? Should I spend a couple of months learning the most promising framework? Should I give up and only outsource web development from now on?
posted by elgilito to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
The big trend that is putting these kind of frameworks under pressure is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering like Squarespace, Shopify, etc. There are also hosting companies that deploy things like Wordpress in a way that practically makes it SaaS, and sometimes cuts out or minimizes the customization work.

Even in the field of snap-it-together yourself sites like you've described developing, I'd say Wordpress has become more of a winner than Drupal and Joomla.

I have this feeling (which I have not put to the test, i.e. I myself have not gone out and tried to sell these kinds of solutions, because I work in enterprise level eComm myself) that there is still a clientele out there that does NOT want to DIY or hire staff to set up, configure, and add content to one of these SaaS platforms to make it their own. However, this would be less work, and less technical work, than you've described doing in the past. It would also be more in the domain of a marketing agency than a technical one.

Your last question "should I give up and only outsource web dev...?" - I'd say the answer is to get to know more CMSs, including Wordpress. I just don't think Drupal and Joomla are up-and-coming; I think they're declining.

I also think there may be an opportunity in piecing together SaaS offerings. The modern solution I seem to run into or see with companies that are a bit below our market level is to subscribe to whatever SaaS platforms you need and then get them talking to each other. For example, set up an online store using a SaaS platform and then look through their marketplace and find an order management/sales management/customer relationship tool you want to use and get the two accounts talking to each other. These integrations are supposed to be simple, and yet I think some businesses are struggling to implement them well. Like I said earlier, this is probably less of a lucrative opportunity than coding or customizing websites used to be, but it is what it is.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:03 AM on March 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

I didn't start coding seriously until I was in my late 30s and within 4 years I was a senior software engineer at a big tech company. There are so many resources for people learning to code from scratch these days and so many new frameworks that make web development easier than ever.

I know you don't think you have the time, but if your frame of reference is php 15 years ago, you might be surprised at how quickly you pick it up.
posted by empath at 5:14 AM on March 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, to specifically answer your question: public cloud and serverless are the big new thing, if you're not already in aws or azure. It's possible to spin up Dbs, front ends, load balancers, etc, never touching the os and with near infinite scalability.
posted by empath at 5:22 AM on March 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Drupal 8 is a entirely different thing than Drupal 7, and doesn't need as many modules as you can do a lot more with just Drupal core in Drupal 8. I work in enterprise Drupal development, and the trend is very much to do absolutely as much as possible with just core. Also, using Drupal as a back end CMS supporting a variety of access devices (websites, mobile devices, voice activated devices such as Alexa, etc.) that are all built independent of the Drupal back end is also a trend that I think is in the early stages of growing.

So I don't think Drupal 8 is failing at all, but it is very much an enterprise solution now. Small businesses really shouldn't be building web sites with D8. They probably should stay away from Wordpress too, as it's complexity has exploded in recent years.

If your clients don't need a web interface for frequent updates you might look into what you can do with the flat file CMS'. They present a lot of advantages in security and resource requirements as they are just collections of html pages on the server.
posted by COD at 5:46 AM on March 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another growing segment is content strategy. Can you imagine selling the process of gathering and organizing this data? There are those who "want more" from their web sites and online platforms and don't know what the next steps are. (Yes, I'm aware there's a ton more to content strategy, but I didn't want to spend all day getting into the weeds.)
posted by advicepig at 6:17 AM on March 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might consider looking at Content Construction Kits (CCKs) which enhance the functionality of CMSes. They might be too incremental a change to be what you're looking for. K2, SEBLOD, ZOO, Cobalt, and Fabrik are some to consider. Of course you know Drupal itself already has some CCK functionality, but not to the same extent.

CCKs been around for a while, so maybe they're more "last new thing" instead of "next new thing." But they might be an easy way for you to expand based on your existing skill set and increase your opportunities/income in the short-to-medium term, as opposed to the real "next new thing" that you'll need in the long term. You could re-visit previous sites you've built and suggest functionality upgrades based on adding a CCK. And you can, as you have been doing, build everything with the system itself and only occasionally resort to added HTML/CSS/JS/PHP.

I've built websites in Wordpress, Joomla (up to V1.6) alone, and Joomla 3.x with SEBLOD. For a database-driven site that you want to be able to both template and easily customize, Joomla with SEBLOD worked for me. (But I haven't tried other CMSes or other CCKs, so you would need to evaluate on your own or get more authoritative opinions.)

For me the great benefit of SEBLOD was that it allowed me to create custom database fields tied to the Joomla article system that survive an upgrade.

The other beauty of SEBLOD for me is that it allows you to keep the Joomla article system to manage your content. Other CCKs take that away from the CMS, which is fine for building new sites, but for enhancing existing Joomla sites it's nice to keep the article management system.
posted by lockedroomguy at 7:10 AM on March 29, 2017

If you want to remain in the CMS world, take a look at Craft. My shop has been using it for years - it's easier to deal with than Wordpress (very much the market leader in our space) and Drupal.
posted by lousywiththespirit at 7:26 AM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wordpress still continues to power a ridiculous amount of the web. If you know Drupal and Joomla, then you pretty much have to know Wordpress. If you don't, go learn it - you'll catch up quick.

I can think of some very expensive enterprise CMS's that if you have skills in you're highly sought after and very well paid, but the only real way to get experience is to work with those systems in the enterprise environment.

Me personally, I'm a huge fan of static site generators whose pages can be hosted anywhere dirt cheap. Jekyll is the one Github pages can use, for example, but it's not a CMS.

Contentful is the CMS I've been meaning to look at. They've advertised a lot on the Deck (used here in metafilter) and they look amazing.. no idea yet if they really are though.
posted by cgg at 7:37 AM on March 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I do some consulting, and I have a client who uses another consultant who specializes just in setting up and customizing (making templates for, etc.) Shopify stores. That's literally all he does, and from the sounds of it, he's quite busy. I'm not sure what he's charging (I know it's less than I charge, because one of the reasons they hired him was so that they wouldn't have to pay my rate for that stuff*). But I imagine he's doing ok. It might be worth going down that path or finding another similar platform to do the same thing for.

* I'm totally fine with this, because that's not the kind of work I want to be doing anyway. I think the overarching lesson here is to find a well-defined niche for yourself and specialize in it. So I think you're smart to not get into the stuff that requires coding if that's not what you enjoy or want to be doing. I have a ton of software development experience, but my consulting gigs rarely involve coding because I don't enjoy it that much and it's not where I find that I add the most value for my clients.
posted by primethyme at 7:57 AM on March 29, 2017

Best answer: When I looked for charting modules for Drupal 7, I found a wasteland of half-finished modules created in the mid-2010s: developer interest in CMSs (at least on the F/OSS side) seems to be waning.

Yeah, kind of an echo, but: as someone who's just been getting into web development generally during this time, I assure you, the problem is not that people aren't using CMSs, it's that people are much, much less frequently using Drupal and Joomla at this level. Everybody I know who does this now uses Wordpress. Nobody seems to be making any serious noises about giving up Wordpress anytime soon. I think you're in a position similar to where I was a couple years ago where you're still thinking that Wordpress is a blogging platform, but, well, it's the thing everybody uses, blogs or otherwise. Squarespace and its ilk are possibly a bit faster for people who don't need to do much configuring and don't want to worry about custom design, but for what you're doing, I'm actually quite surprised that you don't seem to have noticed Wordpress previously.
posted by Sequence at 9:38 AM on March 29, 2017

I think the bottom end of the market is going to things like Squarespace and then Wordpress if they need more customization. The Enterprise side of the market is healthy with CMS tools. My impression is that Drupal is a big player and SiteCore is big on the Windows side.

I would say that purely in terms of CMS, Wordpress and CMS as a Service on the low end and anything with decent or growing market share and commercial support on the high end. I love the idea of static site generators, and I've looked at them for some of the work I do, but they're not yet suitable for business users who enter content, so I couldn't go that route.
posted by cnc at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2017

Ex-agency content/UX dude here - echoing the above, this isn't a 'CMSs are going away' situation, it's a 'sprawling open source CMSs like Drupal are being ditched for cleaner, custom-built and more focused CMSs'. I've used Craft, ExpressionEngine 3 and little weirdo things like Bolt and they are all pretty decent.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:47 AM on March 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

public cloud and serverless are the big new thing, if you're not already in aws or azure. It's possible to spin up Dbs, front ends, load balancers, etc, never touching the os and with near infinite scalability.

Are there starting to be "cloud" service offerings that make sense in the space Wordpress serves yet? I've worked with a lot of small/medium sized businesses that benefit from having public-facing web content or even modest applications, but may not ever face a scenario where a decent shared or virtual hosting setup won't cover their traffic needs.
posted by wildblueyonder at 4:18 PM on March 29, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks all for the answers. So it looks like I'll have to have look up WordPress and see what it can do. I understand it was not clear enough in the original question but a big reason I've been using Drupal is indeed its built-in CCK (in core since D7), which allows me to replicate the data structures that I need, so I'll also look at WordPress' CCK plugins.

A link that was posted a few days ago gives a list of tools that seem interesting ("recommended for non-technical people") so I'll be checking these out too.
posted by elgilito at 2:26 AM on April 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Learning tai chi online or through an app?   |   Hair care with flair Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.