Why not Wordpress?

At some point, every developer has to declare their [primary] allegiance to one CMS or another. They are an essential part of the modern web, and help our non-savvy clients maintain the sites we design long after we have moved on to the next project. I've used a couple in my day (good and bad) and I find myself entrenched firmly in the MODX camp. Bring it on, Wordpress nuts.

First off, I'm a realist. I realize that Wordpress is certifiably huge. What's more, I fully understand that there's a reason for this—no software gets a user-base like it has without doing something right. However, with mass appeal, you have to make compromises to keep that massive base happy and committed to your product, and let's face it—compromise never created an innovative product. Wordpress is safe—but that's not necessarily a good thing.

MODX is different. Where Wordpress compromises to keep the masses happy, MODX provides a completely blank slate: total creative freedom. You can make it whatever you want: a blog, a portfolio site, an e-commerce portal—even an app.

Let's talk about some specifics.

The user community is amazing

While most CMSs can boast a decent user community, MODX has one that is second to none. There is hardly ever a question asked on the forums that goes un-replied to. Often, you even see the members of the MODX core team on there answering questions.

Not only that, but I have yet to witness the condescending behavior towards noobs that you see on pretty much every other forum out there. Everyone is friendly, helpful and often they go above and beyond to answer any question, be it very simple or very complex.

The community is also very diverse; there are a lot of hardcore programmers, but there is also a plethora of front-end devs (like myself). That brings me to my next point.

MODX is the Front-End Developer's Best Friend

When I was starting in the web-design world, I did what most folks were doing at the time: I hand-coded static sites. This allowed for full creative freedom, but made sites very bloated, unorganized and hard to maintain. It was actually this problem that made me seek out a CMS in the first place. I found Wordpress first, and actually launched version 1.0 of this site on it in 2006. While it was great to be able to update content easily, I longed for the ability to do whatever I liked—and Wordpress simply did not allow this. It still doesn't.

MODX is a totally different take on the CMS. Wordpress tries to impose structure, whereas MODX assumes that you will provide it. You can code whatever you can imagine, and once your code is perfect, integrate MODX to manage the content. In other words, you get the ease of maintenance that comes with a CMS, combined with the creative freedom that comes with hand-coding a site. It's a beautiful thing.

Documentation is Taken Seriously

While it isn't a hard and fast rule (this is open source, after all), by and large the MODX extras are plentiful and well-documented. Personally, this is a great thing for me, as I have a very diverse client base, and they are continually thinking up new things they need for their sites. I have a stable full of typical extras, but each site brings at least one new request—and there's typically a well-documented extra waiting to fill the role—and the RTFM is growing every single day.

Wordpress documentation is a different story. Often, Wordpress plugins are developed and then left to the elements with very little support. Yes, there are a lot of them, but using them is hit or miss if you're not a seasoned Wordpress expert. I've often found a plugin that is [seemingly] perfect for what I need, only to discover  I had no idea how to use it due to lacking documentation. This is a huge deal.

This is Only My Opinion

Before the WP masses rise up and burn me at the stake, I wanted to remind you that this is all a matter of perspective. MODX has risen to the task for me so often that I feel an obligation to share it with my fellow devs. Wordpress may have done the same for you—and if so, share your experience! There is a lot more nuance to this conversation, and I'm not trying to paint any CMS in a negative light. As my mother (wise woman) taught me, it takes all kinds. Peace.

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  1. lossendae

    lossendae

    Mar 28, 2013

    Interesting article, let me play the devil advocate.

    Wordpress still has a few advantages against Modx.

    1 - I came to hate having Chunks & Snippets in the database when using Modx.
    While I can do differently for my own packages, I'm stuck when using 3rd party components.
    Using static elements is not an acceptable fallback for me (cache issues + sync issues + plus having to still going back and forth in the UI = No!)
    It's a huge pain in the arse.
    With WP (or any CMS for that matter) I can edit a file directly, it's a huge time saver.
    Furthermore WP provide a fallback UI to edit files from the admin if necessary (Less usable but who really care, it's there if needed).

    2 - While i certainly do agree that Modx template system is more elegant than WP, it's also somewhat more limited.
    For simple conditionnal structure, the current template engine lose its edge compared to real template engine.
    And there are no possibility to do simple loop either.
    It's more lacking against competitor like Drupal, because honestly WP templates are a just a big mess.

    3 - The admin.
    WP admin is faster and easier to customize.
    The only advantage i can see for modx would be the resource tree.

    4 - I don't know if it's because you're first and foremost a front end developper, but while WP force file structure, it doesn't force any specific output.
    Once you know both system, I find that slicing a static template is as easy to do in WP as in Modx.
    Maintaining it is another story though :p

    I can't find anything more directly comparable. The rest is a matter of preference.
    Cheers.

    Reply to lossendae

    1. Jesse

      Jesse

      Mar 28, 2013

      Thanks for the well considered response. I'll be the first to admit that Wordpress is definitely a decent approach to the concept of a CMS.

      The main point of the article here was to provide my own experience (an OpEd piece, if you will), as I often get asked why I don't just use Wordpress. Not trying to gloss over any faults of MODX or any benefits of Wordpress at all.

    2. Jayden

      Jayden

      Aug 31, 2013

      Well thought out and balanced response. WP templates can be a big mess for sure but I actually think Drupal themes are way way more messier than WP themes.

  2. Heather

    Heather

    Apr 02, 2013

    Just have to say that as an ex-Wordpress gal, I agree completely with the Wordpress side of this article. A blogging engine that eventually morphed into a CMS (kind of) is going to have inherent problems simply because it is not being used for its original intent.

    As to the MODX side of things, I've never given it a go (use Expression Engine currently) but perhaps it's time to give it a look. Thanks for an interesting read.

    Reply to Heather

  3. Menno Pietersen

    Menno Pietersen

    Apr 15, 2013

    Great post!, 100% agree.

    Love your site btw great responsive work, keep it up!

    Reply to Menno

    1. Jesse

      Jesse

      Apr 15, 2013

      Thanks, Menno! Your site is pretty awesome too. You wouldn't believe the response I've had to this article from the Wordpress crew; usually you'd expect an uproar, but I'm actually getting a decent amount of them saying something to the effect "I've been thinking this for a while - maybe I should give MODX a look." Really encouraging stuff.

  4. Tjay

    Tjay

    Jun 03, 2013

    @Jesse:

    I think you will love PyroCMS ( http://www.pyrocms.com ) it's easy, clean, lightweight and offcourse opensource ! :P

    Reply to Tjay

    1. Jesse

      Jesse

      Jun 03, 2013

      Thanks for the suggestion, Tjay - I've actually played around with PyroCMS. The main reason I still choose MODX is that it has quite a bit more functionality. It's a little higher learning curve, but the investment is worth it.

  5. sepiariver

    sepiariver

    Aug 28, 2013

    This article darn near made me cry (with joy).

    "MODX is the Front-End Developer's Best Friend"

    Reply to sepiariver

    1. sepiariver

      sepiariver

      Aug 28, 2013

      Ouch! My post got sanitized! Let me repost please with the whole content:

      This article darn near made me cry (with joy).

      "MODX is the Front-End Developer's Best Friend" - I totally believe that to be true. Lossendae brings up some good points, but they aren't necessarily true for the front-end dev/design guru. I think the MODX templating methodology and the ultimate flexibility that comes with it makes it hands-down the choice for FE people who simply want their custom designs and markup to be rendered on the page, dynamically.

      Sure, you can do anything in Wordpress, IF you're a WP expert, IF you know your way around PHP, IF you have experience with the hundreds of thousands of plugins and know which ones NOT to use, IF, IF, IF...

      IF (!$conditions) you are left on your own to fight WP, and most likely make compromises to get things done.

      No compromises with MODX. Sure other platforms do certain things better, but MODX can do it all with relative ease. It works for personal blogs and enterprise solutions. It's the "swiss army knife" and "silly putty" of CMSs and I wouldn't want to even work on the web if not for MODX.

      So thanks for this article. I needed to clear my tear ducts this morning LOL!

  6. Joey Augustin

    Joey Augustin

    Aug 28, 2013

    I'm mostly in the same boat. As a front-end dev, I do prefer MODX. I think with a leaner, lighter manager and a better UI, MODX would be the ultimate. WP media management is better, but MODX will get there.

    Reply to Joey

    1. Jesse

      Jesse

      Aug 28, 2013

      Just wait until 3.0 - I hear through the grapevine that a lot of what you just mentioned is coming VERY soon.

    2. Dan Gibson

      Dan Gibson

      Aug 30, 2013

      There's a new manager coming in 2.3

      Check out http://23.modx-test.com/manager/ for a live preview (u: demo p: demo).

    3. JP DeVries

      JP DeVries

      Sep 01, 2013

      I'd actually say the 2.3 Manager is a re-skinned and updated version of the existing Manager. The real new Manager will be 3.0.

  7. JP DeVries

    JP DeVries

    Aug 28, 2013

    I love the design of this blog. Haven't read this article yet, but will soon. Scrolling past it made my eyes very happy

    Reply to JP

    1. Jesse

      Jesse

      Aug 28, 2013

      It was a labor of love, so it's nice to know that it's being appreciated. Thanks, JP.

  8. Viktorminator

    Viktorminator

    Aug 29, 2013

    MODX is the Front-End Developer's Best Friend - MODX is Back-End Developer's NIGHTMARE

    Reply to Viktorminator

    1. Jesse

      Jesse

      Aug 29, 2013

      Sorry you feel that way, V. Obviously, I can't approach that side of MODX as readily, since I'm not a backend dev. That being said, if you can write PHP, you can develop for MODX. That seems pretty straight forward to me.

    2. Jayden

      Jayden

      Aug 31, 2013

      As a back end dev who is very PHP proficient I completely agree. MODX IS a nightmare for the back end dev!! I don't think WP is perfect but I'll take it any day over the absolute horror that is MODX!!view sourceprint?
      Don't know what a front end dev is! Is that a fancy name for a designer????

    3. Jesse

      Jesse

      Sep 01, 2013

      @jayden - put as simply as possible, a front end dev is a designer who can write html, CSS and JavaScript, but is not a programmer. There is obviously some overlap between front and back end, but that's the general idea.

      From talking with many back end devs that I work with, the downfall of developing for MODX is writing inefficient code or ignoring the available features of the CMF and trying to write your own core functionality (also known as thinking too much of your abilities or taking the hard road).

      As someone who tinkers with PHP but is far from proficient, if I can make something that I wrote work (as inexperienced as I am), then the problem is probably at least partly rooted in your code and not MODX itself. Not intending to pick a fight, but I don't think that any of the CMS options out there are a 'nightmare' to develop for - each simply has its own learning curve.

    4. lossendae

      lossendae

      Sep 01, 2013

      @jesse

      Not picking a fight either, but from what i understand, you have a lots of fun when you're working with Modx as a Front end developper.

      You could just make a simple html website with not too much fancy "stuff", but the creative freedom of Modx encourage you to go responsive, try some cool CSS features, making awesome website with modern front end conventions and tools.

      Taking this in consideration, you have to look again at Modx from a PHP dev stand point who also want to have fun with PHP and much more modern code conventions and fancy "stuff" (namespace, routes, composer, IoC, standardization, etc...).
      While keeping the whole process as easy and maintainable as possible.

      I can understand that Modx is not going to become as PHP friendly as many would like it to, and will just keep on patting the back of already convinced front end devs, but it's not a valid reason to not acknowledge its drawbacks.

      The learning curve is not a drawback.
      The process to make a CMP is a drawback.

      Nightmare may not be the right word, but as a back end dev, I don't have the luxury to enjoy the same amount of creative freedom you do when using Modx.

    5. Jayden

      Jayden

      Sep 01, 2013

      Jesse, tinkering with PHP and being proficient with PHP are two very different things. I won't repeat everything lossendae has very articulately stated. I will say that I have written extensions and modules and addons for most of the CMSs out there (my favourite at the moment being Processwire) and I can assure you that I have not stated my thoughts lightly. Continue to enjoy your front end nirvana but I am surely but steadily dumping any and all MODX projects because as a programmer and back end dev I think it's a pretty crap CMS and not getting better. I have been with MODX since the days of Evo and have worked with all it's iterations and I'm done with it. I think that if the MODX community members tone down the "we rock and are better than an other CMS" attitude, they might be able to get somewhere with improving it. My 2c

  9. eyrad4

    eyrad4

    Aug 30, 2013

    Oh thanks, i love moDx to, it`s amazing CMF.

    Reply to eyrad4

  10. John Halsey

    John Halsey

    Sep 02, 2013

    Great post, thanks a lot.

    I have been looking for a php cms for a while, and yes have looked at all the big players like WP, Drupal, Joomla and tonnes of others, but never really found what I was looking for.

    I never built a site from a template, ever. I love building sites from the ground up, and recenlty had to use the .NET CMS Umbraco for work . I had never used it before, so was a bit of a learning curve, but actually, it was quite simple, and much like MODx gave me complete control over the design and functionality which I absolutely loved.

    I've already got my eye on my next project, and will definitely be on MODx.

    Reply to John