You have something to say. But with so many online tools to share your wisdom with the world via the web, how do you choose? Thursday Friday Saturday presents to you: CMS Fight Club.
Blogger, WordPress, ExpressionEngine and Squarespace each have strengths and weaknesses as content management systems, depending on what your online communications goals are. I've used each of them, been happy and unhappy with each, and have tried some up-and-comers, too. Check out the brief comparison review:
WHAT IT IS:
Fully hosted website content management system. Thursday Friday Saturday runs on Squarespace.
Starts at $8/mo. Free trial. Month-by-month and annual plans available.
Amazing. The best part of Squarespace is the user interface used to redesign sites. Called the Appearance Editor, it allows you to change the layout, CSS and pretty much everything on the fly and doesn't require you to know hardly anything about HTML. Don't like the design of your site? Completely customize it in minutes flat.
The Squarespace iPhone app is amazingly user friendly, as well, making it easy to post new articles to your site or modify old.
Adding various widgets (archives, search, custom HTML) is simple.
Upgrading isn't a concern as it is with WordPress, because Squarespace handles it all for you.
File management is easy, too, so sharing photos, music and more is a snap. Unfortunately, the biggest downfall to Squarespace is lack of FTP management: you can't manage files in this way, but Squarespace makes managing your site so easy, this isn't too big of a problem for most people.
The Squarespace Blog Importer makes it easy to import WordPress & other blogs. After importing several self-hosted WordPress blogs, my only complaint is that there's apparently no way to house a Journal (Squarespace's name for individual blogs on the same site) in the top-level directory of a Squarespace site. So where my old WordPress blog was housed directly at thursdayfridaysaturday.com/(article name), Squarespace requires a subdirectory, so my imported WordPress blog posts are now at thursdayfridaysaturday.com/main/(article name). I was concerned this would destroy my Google link juice, but it doesn't appear to have negatively impacted it. Search Google for "Heath Ledger crazy" and one of my old posts, now transferred to Squarespace, should show prominently in the top 5 links in spite of having a new URL.
Thankfully, I haven't had to contact Squarespace about any problems. I've posted a few questions in the easy-to-use forums, and other users respond quickly. Given the paid nature of Squarespace, I imagine tech support will be much more helpful and responsive than free services like Blogger.
CMS FIGHT CLUB TITLE:
Future Champion. The ability to change your site's design so quickly and easily is Squarespace's best feature - and it's likely to be aped by many services. WordPress and Blogger, take note - even advanced users want ease of use and flexibility in their CMS.
WHAT IT IS:
Fully hosted or self-hosted blogging software. Until recently, Thursday Friday Saturday ran on Wordpress for several years.
Free, though premium features such as removing Google Ads, adding extra storage and more will cost you.
EASE OF USE:
Depends. Thousands of free and paid themes are available, though if you use a free one, your blog will likely look like a few - or hundreds - of others. My biggest complaint is that customizing the design of a WordPress site is not user friendly. Sure, you can modify a theme, but if you don't know much about PHP or HTML, you'll either have to stay content with a theme someone else is using, or pay someone to customize your WordPress blog. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who can do this well, such as Tribeswell.
WordPress blogs can have a simple mobile theme which shows the blog in an easy-to-read layout on smartphones. WordPress also has an iPhone app for publishing, though Squarespace stole me away before I could try it.
Adding various widgets can be simple, though many are made by third parties and can get you into a decent amount of frustration if you aren't careful.
Upgrading a self-hosted WordPress site is a regular hassle - they seem to come out with upgrades on a monthly basis. Though hosting services such as DreamHost offer one-click upgrades (Thursday Friday Saturday used DreamHost's green web hosting successfully for several years), you have to be careful and follow all the instructions. If you can't do a one-click upgrade, making database and widget-setting backups and following all the directions to a T is more hassle than it's worth for many people. I quickly got to the point where I became so tired of updating, and with WordPress overall, that I stopped using the service for months until moving to Squarespace.
File management is fairly simple. If you use the self-hosted version, you'll likely have FTP access through your hosting company, allowing you to store pretty much whatever you want on the servers. But if you aren't too familiar with how this works, you could get yourself into big trouble without meaning to.
The nicest thing about WordPress is its popularity. So many people and companies use it, it's bound to stick around for awhile and become more user-friendly and robust. But the worst thing about WordPress is also its popularity. It's open source, meaning that there are thousands of developers mucking about with it, so you never know whether the widget you're installing or the theme you've just selected will continue to be supported - or work properly. Plus, hipsters are tired of seeing "Powered by WordPress" in so many site footers.
Again, WordPress's popularity is a strength. The forums are highly trafficked, and you'll likely get an answer you need. But it might take awhile, and if you're eager to get something up and running quickly but aren't well-versed in PHP or searching Google for hours, there's a good chance you'll end up frustrated. Patience is a WordPress virtue.
CMS FIGHT CLUB TITLE:
Junior Heavyweight Contender. With more features and possibilities than Google's Blogger, it can be quite powerful. But its full capabilities require a decent investment of time and can leave entry-level users feeling defeated.
WHAT IT IS:
Content publishing system. Requires hosting service, offered by the company. I use ExpressionEngine professionally and am thrilled with its versatility.
Free, with costs for various upgrades such as commercial licenses and hosting.
Though powerful, ExpressionEngine has a bit of a learning curve and operates on a template system with its own lingo. ExpressionEngine is a step or five up in complexity from Squarespace, but if you have the time and reason to invest in a long-term, comprehensive blogging solution and enjoy feeling like you're creating things from scratch, EE might be for you. Using ExpressionEngine to publish content online is kind of like walking into a grocery store with the simple goal of feeding yourself: if you just want get it done, you can go the easy route and use what's already been made. But if you're a culinary master, you can create something that will be the envy of foodies everywhere.
You can buy various add-ons, or modules, to ExpressionEngine, like shopping carts and photo galleries. They obviously add to the cost, but because they're supported by ExpressionEngine, you'll likely encounter much less frustration than with similar WordPress add-ons.
ExpressionEngine doesn't have an iPhone app like WordPress and Squarespace (though it might come with version 2.0). They do offer a mobile-blogging module, though getting this properly set up with my employer's email server proved to be enough of a pain that we gave up and simply use the web control panel on my iPhone to update the site from afar.
ExpressionEngine offers upgrades, but they come out at a much slower - and easier to digest - pace than WordPress.
File management through ExpressionEngine can be done either through FTP and your webhost, or through custom ExpressionEngine directories. You can resize article images upon upload, though, as with many elements in ExpressionEngine, you'll have to do a decent amount of setup and work with your web host to get it to work.
Impressive. The reason I use ExpressionEngine at work is the reason I don't use WordPress at work: the ability to wrap a blog into an exisiting site. Though it took a few days of setup, the final product was a homepage that looked no different than the original, yet was completely powered by ExpressionEngine and featured a fully integrated blog. Getting WordPress to do this would've been a nightmare - or at least a costly effort we would've had to outsource to a third party.
ExpressionEngine's templating system is similar to Adobe DreamWeaver's: if you can build a pagewrapper, plugging functionality into the template is relatively simple. And powerful.
I've used ExpressionEngine for almost a year at work and haven't had to contact ExpressionEngine for anything. I've hit the Forums a few times for help and found the solutions I needed.
CMS FIGHT CLUB TITLE:
The Kung Fu Master. ExpressionEngine can teach pretty much anyone some lessons - but if you're looking for an easy solution to publishing online, ExpressionEngine can kick your ass if you don't devote yourself to learning.
WHAT IT IS:
Google's fully hosted blog service.
If my mom wanted to blog, I'd tell her to use Blogger. It's a simple entry-level solution.
Blogger has some decent features, but in no way compares to the above options. If you simply want to post good stories and photos, though, Blogger might be perfect. But if you just want to share those with your friends and family, Facebook status updates might suit you just fine and be more effective.
I've tried contacting Google about non-Blogger issues and received nothing in response. But they have comprehensive online help, and given Blogger's simplicity, answers to problems are abundant.
CMS FIGHT CLUB TITLE:
The Big Lug. Blogger is friendly and unintimidating, and it's powered by the behemoth strength of Google. But Blogger's not the most adaptive or strongest solution, and has remained more or less unchanged - yet still popular - for years, while more flexible options have sprung forth.
Flavors.me is an easy-to-use service which makes it easy to aggregate all the other online social networking accounts you have (Twitter, Facebook and many more.) Likewise, Posterous allows users to link to various social networks, but offers the super-easy option to send an email to one easy-to-remember address and auto-update many different services at once. Just shot a video of the hottest new band at SXSW on your phone? Email it to Posterous and it will show up on Facebook, YouTube, and even your own blog.
Which services do you use, and why?
Share your thoughts in the comment section below so you can help others figure out how to share their thoughts effectively online.