Silverstripe CMS – good at what it does

I tried out Silverstripe, a new CMS that is getting a lot of buzz, mostly because it was used by the 2008 Democrat Convention, definitely a high profile site.

While I’m impressed with it’s usabilily and polish, I don’t think I’ll be using it. It’s a good product for what it does, but I think “Content Mangement System” is a bit of a stretch. “Page Content Editor” is a better definition.  Even menus are do it yourself.

On the one hand, that’s nice. The philosophy of “get out the way and let the PHP and CSS coders do their thing ” is a good one, but it still forces you to work within the confines of the framework. Granted, it does a good job of making the framework simple and intuitive to use. It’s not a byzantine structure like Drupal or Joomla, by design, but both of the big league PHP CMSes have way more features.

I’d lean towards building a simple plugin and having my functionality outside the CMS entirely. WSGI middleware might be a good candidate for this. But not only do small services need to be lightweight, they need to be responsive, and probably cacheable, and integrate with the CMS authorization and access scheme. External dynamic content can’t block the completion of an HTTP response.

Silverstripe is designed to be easy to use for content editors. Unfortunately, this boils down to a tiny, solved problem that every other app in the world already has — TinyMCE, the rich text javascript HTML editor. Of course, the real solution is a HTML widget built in the browser, or editing outside the browser.

One nice feature of Silverstripe that isn’t fully developed is virtual URLs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow a hierarchy, so you can’t just create a logical grouping of URLS like:

/about
/about/partners
/about/investors

That would make it worthwhile.

Building a template, a style, and a layout are all left up to the developer. It doesn’t look like styles or layout can be dictated on a per-page level. Which is okay, even desirable for simple sites.

All in all, if you’re looking for a slick, reliable content editor for a basic custom site, hire a good designer, and install Silverstripe, it’s better than most at what it does.

Oh yeah– one small complaint. The Silverstripe forums are littered with unanswered questions. It could be a huge selling point, but if you’re a small firm with some fat clients already in the bag, you can’t be faulted for not spending all your time giving out free support to all the potential would be small fry. A possible solution would be to hire an intern (not a slave; a well-compensated, inexperienced developer) to answer replies to questions posted by people who click a button next to their question labeled something like “gimme tier 1 support” and a forward to a paypal account where they can pay $5 or something.

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2 thoughts on “Silverstripe CMS – good at what it does

  1. Aaron, thanks for your thoughts on SilverStripe – it is excellent to hear of dialogue.

    I’m glad you’ve picked up on the user-friendiness of the CMS, something we’ve been pushing on for a long time.

    Along the same lines, our focus on simplicity and not having every feature in the world is not only our focus, but a market trend:

    http://www.steptwo.com.au/columntwo/robertsons-rule-of-cms-usage/

    You are right that, like any other software project, there are new features to add; I appreciate blog posts like this as it helps us to prioritise them.

    In regards to suitability for larger projects, we’ve found that giving PHP, HTML, JS experts rein over the website is the best approach. It provides a developers lot more flexibility than using a GUI to configure and build the site.

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