As some of you may have noticed, Reddnet.net got a face-lift last week.
I’ve migrated off of the BlogEngine code base (which I reviewed a while back) in favor of Telligent’s new Graffiti CMS product. So far Graffiti is making me quite happy even though it is only in beta 1, but a few important features are still missing.
I thought I’d go ahead and do a review on it, but once I started writing I ended up with a lot to say. So I’ll be splitting the review into a several parts over the next week or two.
So for the first part let me just tell you a little about Graffiti and Telligent in general.
Graffiti – It’s not a blog exactly…
CMS is an industry standard acronym for “Content Management System”, but with Graffiti the “CMS” part of this product’s name supposedly stands for “Content Made Simple” instead. The dual meaning is quite deliberate, and Telligent is promoting Graffiti as a light-weight Content Management System even though they are playing around with the acronym.
Graffiti is somewhere between a simple HTML content platform and a traditional CMS system.
I should say up-font that I’m very skeptical of anything that calls itself a web based CMS system. The web itself IS a CMS system by design, and so the only real value anything can add to that is just gravy. CMS as a term is kinda hard to define. But generally CMS systems manifest by giving the site operator tools to organize, control, and search content once you’ve accumulated a metric ass-ton of it. Of course, any web platform has to provide this kind of functionality so generally when you hear someone talk about CMS they are either stating the obvious, or just talking out of their ass.
But even though CMS is a flimsy marketing word there are a couple of things a good “CMS” will have to provide. The most important is tools for creating content that is of high quality. That means a simple and effective online content editor and usually also includes revision tracking, and content review and approval (work-flow) features. On the other end, a CMS should provide some mechanisms for organizing content. Usually that means categorization, labeling of some sort, reporting, and searching functionality. All this is necessary to keep old content from being buried under a mountain of newer stuff.
As I said though, any decent web platform has to do this. The only difference between a “CMS” and an online catalog or online discussion forum is the kind of content being dealt with. In Graffiti’s case, the content being managed is HTML “posts” like articles, blog posts, and similar.
In beta 1, Graffiti has a good start on the publishing end of things. It provides the essential tools to easily and quickly creates content, and it presents that content in an effective way. It also presents content over RSS feeds as well as HTML web pages. It is also highly optimized to search engines and has a beautifully simple way of managing URLs automatically so they remain very human friendly.
But the bulk of the heavy CMS features such as revisioning, review, and moderation are incomplete in beta 1. The searching, sorting, and categorization of content is present, but also not quite complete yet. There are a few rudimentary reports in beta 1 but presently this is limited mostly to summary traffic information… Basically beta 1’s reporting amounts to a glorified “view counter”, but the reports are very pretty.
Fortunately for smaller organizations or casual bloggers, the heavy CMS stuff is unobtrusive, optional, and if used will add a lot of value without adding a lot of complexity.
While Telligent is very careful to make sure everyone knows that Graffiti can do things other than blogs, the reality is that Graffiti’s design is very much blog-inspired. The only real difference between Graffiti and most other blog kits is that Graffiti is a tad more polished, more flexible, and built to be extended in other directions. But the core is very bloggish.
The light-weight CMS components will probably allow Graffiti a good bit of success in other markets such as for news and other “article” based sites as well as in product/service support applications as a knowledge base. I fully expect to see Graffiti add simple forums and wiki functionality very soon after the initial RTM release. If not, I expect the developer community will probably quickly move to supply such as add-ons.
But the largest market for Graffiti will certainly be the bloggers. Beta 1 lacks some essential blog related functionality though. The biggest for me is support referral services and trackbacks. But those are promised for the final release, and it already has rock solid posting and RSS support.
I’m a huge fan of Telligent and I’ve been closely following their work since the company first formed a few years ago. If you were to ask me where I’d most likely seek employment if I were to relocate out of South Carolina, then I’d give you a list of companies with Telligent’s name at the top. They are a great group of very talented people and they make some of the best code on the planet!
On the flip side though, I’ve never been that big a fan of Telligent’s flagship product, Community Server. CS is just too big, heavy, and purpose built for my tastes. CS is most certainly the best large scale forums and blog hosting platform on the market. CS does what it does very well, but it also sticks to its niche pretty tightly and is hard to adapt, especially in smaller environments.
As a developer, I’ve always found extending and customizing CS to be… well… less than fun. It is quite painful and difficult to work with and requires a strong grasp of both .net as well as the CS product’s internal architecture. CS has gotten much easier to develop against over the years though, but also during that time it has grown into a monstrous beast with about a dozen optional enterprise level add-ons. So while developing for CS may be easier than in the past, there is a lot more to develop against too. CS is almost so big that you could make an entire career out of just developing CS sites…. kinda like sharepoint, which is another product I’m not all that fond of –and for many of the same reasons.