Joomla - can anyone do it?
February 13, 2008 1:46 PM   Subscribe

CMSFilter: Joomla for a pseudo-beginner? Is this a good idea?

I haven't developed a website since 2002 - I was very well versed in Dreamweaver MX, the adobe suite and Java and I'm very comfortable with html and css. Flash forward to today, and my boss wants to know how to get a website that's "hip" and "cool" for our church like the neighbor church's website. The thing looks pretty straight forward and frame-ish... I see that it was built with Joomla. Assuming that I have completely missed all revolutionary web developments (I mean, everything) over the past 5 to 6 years - will I be absolutely lost here? I don't want to waste my time with something that requires a current knowledge of web development to operate (I'd rather just hire somebody else to do it) but I thought I read somewhere that people have put together bang-up sites in a matter of hours with Joomla.

...also, I don't think I can handle working with a screen of code, anymore. I really need some form of WYSIWYG crutch to get things under control. Does Joomla offer that? Is it anything at all like Dreamweaver?
posted by Baby_Balrog to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can mess around with demos of Joomla online. I like OpenSourceCMS because you can try out a whole bunch of different solutions.

I do quite a bit with Joomla sites and I'm not sure I'd recommend taking this on by yourself with what background you've provided.

If you do use Joomla, I would recommend setting up the sections you need, with categories by the exact same name under each one and not really deviating from that unless you know what you are getting into. Also don't bother with the static content manager because no one ever thinks to look there to edit content. Set the sections to show a large number of posts in one column and it can be pretty effective as a small site.
posted by advicepig at 2:00 PM on February 13, 2008

I think you're confusing Joomla with an editor. Joomla is just a CMS written in PHP. You can make it look however you want using templates, but integrating them is another story.
posted by cdmwebs at 2:07 PM on February 13, 2008

Web designers and people who do this kind of work for a living are thrilled about Joomla. The reason? Because amateurs try to make it work, waste hours getting basic functionalities up and running, and then are absolutely delighted to hire a professional, with a much better appreciation and understanding for the difficulty and the quality of the work they're getting.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:19 PM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: Boo. I was a n00b when I started with Joomla...other than having written several sites and some hostile java back in the 90's. Now, even without using Fantastico, I can have a site up and operational in about 15 minutes---and most of that is upload time. Takes longer than that to fill in the content of course, but if you can type in MS Word you can make content changes in Joomla.

Seriously, joomla is VERY easy to set up and install if you have access to your cPanel and generally understand how to FTP and change permissions of files with your FTP client. The new version (1.5) will eliminate the need to do that, even.

I've got a bunch of joomla sites, some are uglier than others, but I'm not responsible for the content on any of them, only the set up and navigation of the site. There are free extensions to do just about anything you could possibly need, and pay-for extensions for the extremely random and rare things that almost nobody needs.

It's also a great way to get your feet wet with some PHP and CSS.
posted by TomMelee at 2:35 PM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: Hardcore Wordpress advocate here. I've used Joomla/Mambo in the past, and hated it. Nothing felt like it was where it ought to be, intuitively. Wordpress is so much simpler, and very very hackable, i.e. you can make it do just about anything you want with minimal effort.

Plus, there are SOOO many great-looking WP themes out there, to serve as starting points for your design (find one with a visual structure that you like, then hang your own graphics on it).
posted by jbickers at 3:00 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might also check out Drupal. I had a client who switched from Joomla to Drupal and can't say enough good things about Drupal.

(Note: My only exposure to Joomla was helping maintain the site before the switch, so I am not a Joomla expert. I don't want to give the impression that Joomla's no good; it's clearly a powerful CMS with a lot of fans. In voting for the 2006 CMS Award, Joomla and Drupal tied - Joomla won by the tiebreaker vote. I'm sure there's been a lot of development on Joomla since then, but I'm unfamiliar with it. There's been a ton of activity on Drupal, and version 6 was just released today.)

One of the things my client hated about Joomla was the difficulty of dealing with "unfriendly" URLs, like this: . It's possible to rename that to something like in Joomla, but there have been lots of issues where multiple versions of that URL alias exist, and the original URL changes, and it can be a real headache. Drupal handles friendly URLs really well. Some people think friendly URLs can improve search engine rankings.

Just to point out a few features on the Fountain Street site you could do with Drupal:

You can do all kinds of sidebar/navigation things with Blocks. Besides navigation, you could highlight popular pages, list recently changed pages, and so on.

The Upcoming Events looks like a static page. Drupal has an Event module that lets you set up events with dates, locations, and even registration for participants, as well as a Calendar module for simpler display of date information (and even an implementation of WebCal, if you prefer that).

I suspect Contact Us is also a static page, but if you wanted to get fancy, you could create a custom content type so each person had a phone number and email address and maybe some other things besides - title, department, photo, shoe size - and then you could use the outstanding Views module to create sortable, filterable lists. The Contact module is part of the core Drupal install.

And actually, looking around, it looks like most of the content is static pages, so what you're mostly looking for is the menuing/navigation system, which Drupal and Joomla can both do just fine.

Drupal has a number of WYSIWYG editor modules (the best known being FCKEditor, TinyMCE, and newcomer WYSIWYG. Personally, I've found that they're all a little iffy in terms of creating clean HTML, but that's me. Drupal also offers a number of input filters (some extensible) that you can use to create shorthand references or smart macros to do things like BBCode or footnotes.

Other things Drupal does well that you may or may not need are forums, blogs, user profiles, and built-in search.

Since Joomla and Drupal are both open source, it's easy to download them and get a feel for them. Drupal's handbooks can give you a ton of information about what the features are and how they work. I can nearly always find answers to my questions in the Drupal support forums.

I'd definitely expect to spend some time learning whatever tool you adopt, though. People who know Joomla and Drupal can often put together a simple, if fairly snazzy-looking, site in less than 40 hours, but they already know the tool.

If you do go with Drupal, I'd recommend staying with 5.0 (actually 5.7) for the time being. It'll take a while for all the modules to get upgraded to work with 6.0. (On the other hand, 6.0 looks really nice, and if you don't need events right away, you might be fine with the core set of modules.)
posted by kristi at 3:26 PM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! These are all fantastic answers!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:05 PM on February 13, 2008

If you're not adverse to yet another suggestion, I have to throw out a recommendation for Textpattern. I've been using it for a few years now and I can't recommend it enough.
posted by phaded at 7:35 PM on February 13, 2008

I've got a wordpress site too---and I use it often. Wordpress isn't a CMS though---it's a blogging platform. Don't get those two confused.

Search Engine Friendly (SEF) URL's are a big deal in Joomla. 1.5 should address this further, but ALL of my sites have SEF URL's and all it took was 1 component install and 1 .htaccess edit as per the component instructions. Total time commitment, maybe 5 minutes. I actually have this install saved separately, and it's the one I upload and recover when it's time to start a new site. I very much like the modularity of the Joomla package, and their support forums kick butt. I'm by no means an expert, but there's something to be said for a total noob being able to help with the development of components (I found and fixed a bug with PHP Cart, for example), and realistically---there's enough perfect ones that you never even have to get your hands dirty if you don't want to.

I've successfully trained the staff at 2 NPO's on how to update and maintain their own Joomla site. Between that and google-hosted email/apps, it's a very easy time to be a friendly web designer.
posted by TomMelee at 7:51 PM on February 13, 2008

Agreeing with odinsdream. Drupal is very good but if you want to get going fast stick with joomla or wordpress.
posted by ilike at 12:57 AM on February 14, 2008

Mambo/Joomla and Drupal are going to give you "a screen full of code" you'll need to deal with when it comes to designing the site template/s. (html+php+any scripts built into the template) In m/j you can do this from within its administrative backend. With drupal, you have to edit the template and manually upload it.

After the template is out of the way, you are done with seeing code only if you need to modify a module or hack the core. With m/j you don't need to manually upload extensions. With drupal you do. m/j has a WYSIWYG editor out of the box. Drupal does not. m/j has a pretty straightforward windows style administrative backend. Drupal blurs the front and back together. Drupal has the higher learning curve but is more powerful in how it actually conceives of and allows you to organize content. The UI is frustrating at points in both, more so I would say in drupal.
posted by dpk at 8:52 PM on March 12, 2008

I need to point out and even though this is a long over discussion, to the aghast of TomMelee Wordpress is 100% most certainly a just have to make it so.
I use it as a CMS and for further proof check out WPDesigner.

I also use Joomla and it is pretty straight forwards...Drupal (and TRUST me I wanted to love it so much...) is a nightmare. It's like taking a sheet of wood and pasting odd parts on there to make a car....its pretty bad and far from intuiative. I tried for about 3 months to get a handle on it all to no avail.

I say, get a Wiki and attach Joomla to it and your good...
posted by TeachTheDead at 9:31 AM on July 23, 2008

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