The WordPress versus Joomla Decision

The content management system battle

Since the early days of web development, content management systems, or CMS, have allowed webmasters to build and manage a website without knowing how to code. These platforms were designed to store and present text, images and video to visitors and the website owner didn’t have to know how to write HTML, JavaScript, or cascading sheet styles.

More remarkably, there are teams of dedicated programmers and database experts willing to give their time to create and maintain these systems. Certainly, many of these same individuals benefited from their involvement in creating these content management systems, but without their dedication many of us would have never built a website.

Of course, popularity tends to build on itself, so there is a lot of competition in this space too. Without a robust user base, developers and volunteers’ interest in supporting the CMS fade – as does the project.

My experience with content management systems

I’ve been building websites since around 2003. I started my journey with PHPNUKE, which was a popular system that I found easy to use. This first effort of mine also failed miserably (I am not too proud to admit failures) and for my 2004 venture I decided to try Mambo, the same year it won Best Free Software Project of the Year.

Just one year later, after some legal and organizational wrangling, all the programmers left the project, most of whom started supporting Joomla – a “rebranding” of Mambo. Since this software is open source, developers are free to create a “fork” from another project – this happens all the time.

Joomla frustrations

So starting around 2005, I grew up on Joomla. I thought the administrator backend was smartly designed and suited my writing style and website requirements. Unfortunately, there were also some frustrating moves along the way too. In 2012 the programmers introduced Joomla 2.5 – but converting from the prior version was technically challenging. This was my first experience with the Joomla community being pretty upset at what was happening with the project.

In fact, this experience was so bad for users Joomla’s market share would soon start its slow decline. In 2010 Joomla’s market share of websites built using content management systems was around 12%. By 2015, that share dropped nearly 50% to just 8.6%. By 2021, it fell even further to just over 3%.

Joomla 4 – an ever-moving target

The project announced Joomla 4 around the middle of 2018 – which means it’s over three years in the making. It also means the Joomla 3 project is incredibly old – the framework was built back in 2012. Sadly, Joomla seems to be dying this slow death whereby development is almost at a standstill. Ever since the announcement of Joomla 4 in 2018, functionality of Joomla 3 has been frozen. New versions are limited to bug and security fixes.

What really opened my eyes in terms of the development team was the reaction to version 3.9.25, whereby a backwards compatibility bug was introduced. This meant some users could not upgrade to 3.9.25 without the risk of their site breaking. Typically, an emergency fix would be issued in a day or two – but not this time. The developer versus community reaction is what convinced me to look elsewhere. It’s an interesting read.

Enter WordPress

Unlike Joomla, the WordPress market share has been growing over the last decade. As of 2021, approximately 40% of all websites are powered by WordPress. This growing market share is a result of a robust community of developers (over 50), as well as a selection of plug ins far in excess of those offered by Joomla. Unfortunately, as Joomla’s market share drops it doesn’t make sense for the developer of an extension / plug in to continue to support the project.

The thing that really impressed me with WordPress is how intuitive the administrative back end is laid out. The learning curve is short, and this is especially important to me since I will be in a position to recommend a content management system to clients.

Prior to launching this website, I had zero experience with WordPress. It took me less than a week to figure out the ins and outs of WordPress. The Gutenberg editor is a dream to work with compared to the version of TinyMCE shipped with Joomla. Once again, since the Joomla 3.9 framework is frozen, it continues to use an outdated editor. The same goes for Bootstrap 3 which is shipped with Joomla and is two major versions behind.

Do some research, demo each project

I thought it would be easier to make a case for WordPress. It really has that a quality that cannot be described or easily identified. I can say the administrative back end of Joomla has a “dated” feel to it, while WordPress seems to check all the boxes for me in terms of what I would expect in a modern content management system. But don’t just take my word for it, set up a server or spend some time using each project’s online demo. And since support will likely be limited to a user’s forum, look through each and see how quickly questions are answered. When I first started using Mambo / Joomla, I was extremely active on their forum both asking questions and trying to help others. I don’t have any experience with the forum at WordPress because it works so well.

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