Can PageLines DMS Save WordPress?

Samurai KenBlog21 Comments

I am only half kidding about the title. While few in the community see it yet, WordPress has a serious problem.

“But Samurai,” you cry “WordPress is strong in the market and there are millions of dollars, surely it is thriving!”. I hear you and yes, currently WordPress is doing very well. It powers much of the web, and more and more people come online with WordPress every day. Seemingly then, all is well… this is an illusion.

To understand the problem, you must understand two things.

  1. What is a “maven”?
  2. The current state of WordPress themes sucks.

What is a Maven?

In “The Tipping Point” author Malcom Gladwell introduces the term to describe those individuals who sit at the center of a large social graph as it relates to a product or trend. You ever notice that there is usually someone you know who seems to be “the guy” to go to on a specific topic? You might know one person who is “really knows laptops” and another who “has a line on the best new bands to check out”.

Get it?

It is the mavens who set the trends into motion. Much of the advertising you see today that doesn’t ever give you real information about a product, just flashes of motion and small bits of the product in use? Those ads are coded for, and targeted at, the mavens. They don’t need the ad to give them detailed information because they either heard all about your product months before you released it or they will find out all about it within an hour if you can get them to care.

WordPress dominates in large part because it became the go-to tool of tech mavens. Each of us is approached multiple times a week at least, dozens sometimes with the same question – “I need to set up a web site, what should I use?”.  For years now the answer to a huge number of these has been “WordPress”. More specifically for many of us it is to recommend one of the WordPress specific hosting companies.

We pointed folks at WordPress because it was  good, easy to set up and well understood. For a long time WordPress was much better than anything in its class and even now holds its own. The problem is not that WordPress has changed so much in that time… it is that the nature of these requests has. The web is continuing to burrow deeper into the economic lives of everyone in a developed nation with a free economy. Not only do more and more clients and friends need a web presence but they need them to be more sophisticated, stand out or solve just one little quirk of their specific need.

Many of the mavens however, myself among them, grow more and more reluctant to say “WordPress” these days. We still do say it, of course, because often there is no credible alternative but we say it with a resigned sigh like a man who is about to drive in his 1000th screw with the only convenient hammer at hand (see note at bottom before you freak out please).

The cause of this reluctance brings us to the second issue.

The current state of WordPress themes sucks

Sad, but true.  Remember, this is from the perspective of someone who spends a lot of talking to clients and friends about these. I will often be the guy not only recommending a theme, but doing the customizing and support. Lets run over the big options fast so you can get a feel for my thought process.

  • Elegant Themes – some incredible designs, but overall too much work to customize to be worth it for me
  • ThemeForrest – some really good themes, but almost all from small vendors who I will never trust for long-term support
  • Headway – a good visual editor, but I spend too much time re-inventing the wheel to get anything done fast
  • Thesis – Slow development progress, too much upgrade pain, last generation technology
  • Genesis – Last generation technology, inefficient to customize
  • Woothemes (all but Canvas) – some great stuff, but I always seem to need to tweak something that is just too inflexible… it is baffling that all their themes are not based on Canvas.

All of which means that for the last year, the only serious contenders I had when building a new WordPress site that needed to deviate from the norm at all were PageLines 2.x and Woothemes Canvas.

It was a toss-up.

Canvas was the less flexible of the pair but PageLines had some quirks that slowed me down. When I was working in Canvas I often really missed many of the choices I had in PageLines , and in PageLines 2.x I missed the fast navigation and fantastic plug-in integration of Canvas. I often had to supplement both of them with the awesome Views plug-in to get close to what I wanted.

About 40% of the time it was just easier to download Twitter Bootstrap and build the whole thing from scratch.

That says it all. With the entire WordPress ecosystem at my disposal, the search for a flexible and supported theme base from a reputable company left me with exactly TWO choices and they often failed me.

This is why myself and many mavens are hungry for an alternative to WordPress. This is why among the larger client consulting developers WordPress is no longer often considered as a viable base. We are no longer looking for ways TO use WordPress, but often ways to avoid it. Andrew at PageLines obviously feels my pain on this.

Can DMS Turn this Around?

The short answer is yes, I think it can. I have worked with the beta and I have to tell you honestly that it is good. Really, good. For the first time in a fair while I am able to start working on a new WordPress site and consider the ways to solve my clients problems, not work around issues in the platform.

The UI choices are excellent, providing a much needed visual advantage over PageLines 2.0 while not going as far as Headway. The decision to base DMS on Bootstrap (which was true of 2.x as well) is inspired and makes DMS modification friendly in ways you cannot appreciate till you work with it. The ecosystem for additional sections and extensions is thriving. DMS is a great tool.

If that was all there was to the story though it would not be enough to bring the mavens back in force. Three factors will be the key to the impact DMS will have on the ecosystem.

  • DMS gets all the big choices right: It is good looking out of the box, easy to extend, developer friendly and fast to build custom layouts with. When you are done, it is easy to get that same layout on another site.
  • DMS will force competitors to match it: They will have to evolve and raise their game some, or become side notes. Woothemes in particular is in the cross-hairs here.
  • DMS will be ubiquitous: As an open source project there is zero cost to entry for working with DMS and no excuse to not at least evaluate. Obviously PageLines has a revenue model for extended features and support but I promise you once you see what they have in mind on that you will understand why that will be no barrier.

The entire thrust of “The Tipping Point” is that the right event, at the right moment can kick off a large change. WordPress is ripe for something to happen, the tensions and strains are taking a toll. With new options coming and its PHP core showing it’s age WordPress has lost it’s mind share among the folks who make the choices for projects. Something has to give, or the long slow slide WordPress was just starting becomes inevitable.

It is unfortunate that this had to come from outside the WordPress core, but fortunately it has.

Note: We could argue for days about the alternative CMS choices but it is beyond the scope of this post. Yes, there are some, yes many of them are superior to WordPress in many ways, yes for larger clients custom work is also an option and no – not a single one of them but Ghost is any threat to WordPress at this time.

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  • olivernielsen

    A good read mr. Samurai:-)

    While your blog post title could be accused of link baiting via sensationalism, I think it has validity. WordPress could need a rewrite. Plain and simple.

    WordPress is good, but if concrete5 wasn’t held back by lack of competent leadership and the geeky nerdy tone in their community, it could threaten WordPress. concrete5 has some good things going for it. Yet, for now at least, WordPress it is. You’re right I’m not as enthused as I could be, when recommending WordPress these days. There’s just so much that’s more cumbersome than it could be.

    I enjoyed reading your take on Headway btw.


    • soulhuntre

      @oliver – “While your blog post title could be accused of link baiting via sensationalism”

      :: innocent look :: Wow! Now that you mention it… 🙂

      @oliver – “I enjoyed reading your take on Headway btw.”

      Thanks. I like Headway, have a dev licence and am an active user so it isn’t that I don’t enjoy the tool – I just absolutely see myself pulling out DMS much more commonly in the future.

  • Randy McEwan

    Q: What’s the best indication that someone is not a maven?
    A: They refer to themselves as a maven.

    • soulhuntre

      You will notice from the tone of the site, I am not burdened with modesty – false or otherwise. You (and anyone else in the audience) may well find that off-putting and that is totally cool and of course your choice.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • leslie_nicole

    Interesting post for me. I’ve been trying to figure out what to move my blog to as I’m feeling constrained by my current framework (nice framework – just not doing all I want now.) I’ve been wavering between Canvas, Dynamik child theme for Genesis and Pagelines. I’ve been purposefully waiting for the DMS launch to check it out before deciding.

    P.S. It’s interesting noticing from comments and posts around the web that there seems to be a whole behind the scenes, WordPress developer politics going on re the DMS release. Just noting. I don’t really care to get involved, just looking for the best solution for me. 🙂

    • soulhuntre

      I know the feeling Leslie, that sort of back and forth is exactly the frustration I am talking about.

      As for the politics – yeah, pretty odd what people will form tribe’s over huh? Astonishing how quickly ego gets in the way.

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  • Hey, don’t forget the new-comer in town: Nexus Themes using front-end editing, drag’n’drop in the front-end. One of the delta’s with PageLines is that PageLines focuses on designers, where-as our themes are targeted on business owners. O, and the good news is we’ve got front-end SEO optimization integrated as well. If you would like to review one of our themes, or do a comparison with the newly release PagesLines, tweet me @barkgj

    • soulhuntre

      Hey man!

      I looked at your site, but didn’t see any video or screenshots showing off the front end editing. I would be happy to get more info.

  • leslie_nicole

    It’s interesting – since reading this post and leaving a comment, I decided to give Canvas a whirl since I own it and had never used it. My initial experience was really happy. I transferred from my other theme and had done a lot of customizations in 1 day (Note – most of that time was that I had to go in a tweak every single post to display to the right layout because I had used custom layouts in all of my posts with my old theme.) I’m feeling pretty happy with Canvas and like how things are set up nicely for the average non-developer user. Great plug-in and widget features out of the box. I have hit some snags though in discovering a few things I wanted that Canvas doesn’t seem to do – at least not without getting help. It could be that I just don’t understand the theme enough to make those changes, but a few that I think just aren’t possible. Makes me want to check out DMS after-all. At least try it on a sandbox installation and see if it gives me the freedom I’m looking for. Although I do hope it won’t be a big learning curve.

    By the way, what about the Dynamik child theme for Genesis? Have you tried that? That was one that made my short-list in my research for a new frame work.

    • soulhuntre

      I have looked into Dynamik for a client – but in the end it was not natural enough for me to recommend. There is a lot of work there, and if you were already committed to the Genesis platform it is worth a look – but honestly it is not int he same league as DMS.

  • Jason Gipson

    Tried DMS. Their launch had issues as they were hacked twice…didn’t give me a lot of confidence. The product wasn’t ready for launch, many promised items that either didn’t work or were not available at all…possible because of the technical issues they had. There service was snarky. I purchased the developer package, signed up for the forum but could post any support questions, so I emailed them. After waiting over a week, I received an email saying I should now have access to the forums….no they didn’t answer my questions in the email even after a week. There are many unanswered support or customization questions. Documentation wasn’t real clear on the best places to add custom css.

    The biggest irritant is that before they have the kinks worked out of Pagelines they launched their Karma points. If they believe in Karma, life is really going to suck for them in a few years…just sayin’.

    • soulhuntre

      @jasongipson:disqus you are not alone, by a long shot, in how you feel.

      Let’s be clear – the DMS product is a great one… the PageLines people are individually awesome the PageLines as a COMPANY is not a great vendor to work with. They make bad decisions, they lack communication clarity, they have weird priorities. All of this has left the community uncertain, their reputation sullied if not broken and I am sure it has hurt sales / adoption. It is just a bad situation.

      However, there are glimmers of hope. It is looking like the folks @PageLines are starting to realize the problem and make a concerted effort to pull this plane out of the tail spin. I am in contact with them every day and they do seem to be “waking up” as it were.

      Let’s hope they can pull it off 🙂


      • Jason Gipson

        A product is more than just cool effects, it is the company image, the communication, the support, the reliability, the documentation, and the usability. So, I have to disagree with you. DMS is NOT a great product but far from it.

        How do you get in contact with them every day? It takes days for responses to emails, there is NO chat support available at all (crazy at $30/month) and forum responses are hit and miss. I’d like to hope for them but the launch, an incomplete and not ready for prime time product and their service, with an attitude, has made it nearly impossible. At this point, I’d rather they sell the product to a competent company that actually understands the customers are what make a product like this successful.

        Their “tone” of service has made many customers very angry and Pagelines seems content to let this be okay. I realize there are good people working at or with Pagelines however the culture clearly isn’t customer centric.

        • soulhuntre

          @jasongipson:disqus I promise, I am the last guy to get all defensive talking about the customer experience many people are having. It is very clear something radical needs to change, and soon.

          Your point about a product is a good one as well. As a customer of vendors with incredible support (FlyWheel, WpEngine and others) like Rackspace – who lets face it is the gold standard for amazing support – I hear you loud and clear.

          As for the communication? I was on the DMS Beta before launch and became part of the “PageLines 300”. There is a constantly open Skype chat where a bunch of power users and devs hang out – with regular visits from PL staff.


          • Jason Gipson

            After some more question/answer dialogue with Pagelines. I went back and tried the DMS product again. I’m happy to say that Pagelines seems to understand that service and support are important. I’ve been working with the product again for several weeks and although not entirely glitch free, it is certainly easy to build out a basic but customized layout fairly quickly. Customizing colors, fonts, sections and plugins will take some CSS knowledge and some time but I’ve been more than okay with the product to this point.

            Still not crazy about the monthly fee but if that’s what it takes to keep a product alive and in active improvement then I would rather do that than build on something that the developer is going to abandon or switch in just a year.