Over the last year I've collected my thoughts on Joomla! the CMS, the project and the community. We've finally all come to the conclusion that Joomla! needs a revamp. The time is ripe to discuss the future. This is a very big subject so I'm going to present this as a series of blog posts. In this first installment we'll talk about Joomla!'s target audience and a unified marketing message to frame our vision.
Before revamping a software product we need to identify the target audience. Who's using it and why? Who do we want to use it and is it really possible? Is the product resonating with the target audience or do we need to change it? In other words we need to identify the target audience and create a unified marketing message.
The best place to start is a focus group. A collection of unbiased outsiders who will test drive our product and give us constructive feedback. This effectively happened last week at Harvard Extension as reported by the instructor, Jen Kramer. The students were not impressed with the balance between the learning curve and the control exerted over the outcome. But the more scathing feedback is this:
This hurts. They are telling us that the "something for everyone" marketing message has landed flat on its face. The product is not simple enough for casual users and not good enough for enterprise settings. This makes the –inevitable and in par with competitors'– commercialization look like a thinly veiled attempt in monetizing a bad product.
This feedback makes me think who Joomla! is targeting. It's clearly not the casual user who wants to get something published on the web, fast. These people have no need for the powerful features, they just want to get things done easily. They will choose a self-hosted WordPress site for the perceived simplicity. The irony of writing these words in WordPress' very efficient "focus mode" on my blog doesn't go unnoticed by yours truly. Let's also not forget that the majority of these people are not even CMS users: they are creating content on social media. Casual users crave for the "do not make me thing" approach of WordPress, hosted blogging services and social media.
Does Joomla! appeal to the enterprise / commercial sector? No and it's not just because a random collection of people at Harvard Extended said so. Joomla! doesn't have a cat's chance in hell of competing with the behemoths that Automattic (WordPress) and Acquia (Drupal) currently are. Just today we've read that Automattic bought WooCommerce, currently the most popular e-commerce software on the Internet.
Chew on that for a minute. WooCommerce is more popular than Magento, a product backed by the 400-pound gorilla called PayPal. WordPress has become a de facto e-commerce behemoth. It should be quite clear that Joomla! doesn't have any realistic chance of competing in that sector.
What about bespoke sites? Does Joomla! appeal to that? Hardly so, I'm afraid. This niche is dominated on one hand by Drupal and on the other hand by established PHP frameworks such as Laravel, Zend Framework and Symfony.
Not to mention that the overall PHP community has a very negative view for Joomla!. Granted, they still remember Joomla! as it was in 1.0 and even 1.5, i.e. not the compelling development paradigm. But even today, Joomla! 3 is archaic by modern standards.
This leaves us in the valley smack in the middle of simplicity and enterprise. Historically this was exactly Joomla!'s position as attested by countless comparisons of the "big three" (WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal) and the overall sentiment among the majority of users and developers. Granted, some of you do know of people using Joomla! for simple blogs and complex enterprise sites but these are the exceptions validating the rule.
Let's refocus. How can we market Joomla! to people? Why should they use Joomla! instead of anything else?
Looking for inspiration I stumbled on the blog of Tower, the most popular Git GUI client for Mac OS X. These very smart people, who are not web developers, decided to build their own blogging application. Why? In their words: Using the most popular web software on the planet also means you're using one of the most popular hacking targets.
We've solved this problem years ago and not just because we're the second most popular CMS. Joomla! is one of the most secure CMS out there right out of the box. And it's outright simple to make it airtight.
The other important thing about Joomla! is that it's cheaper than its competition when it comes to medium to high complexity websites. WordPress is fine for simple sites but if you want to integrate several advanced features, such as an e-commerce platform, it gets very complicated very fast. This is sort of the point behind Automattic buying WooCommerce, make no mistake about it. Drupal, on the other hand, requires you to write code or install dozens of modules for doing pretty much anything useful. Obviously PHP frameworks require you to write code for everything.
Joomla!, on the other hand can do a lot of very powerful things by just installing and configuring off-the-shelf extensions. The immediate advantage is that a small team, or even an individual, can create a complex solution which would require a significantly larger team and a proportionally higher budget with any other competitive solution.
Finally, we need to take a look at the identity of the competition. Even though both WordPress and Drupal are nominally community projects they are dominated by for-profit corporations (Automattic and Acquia) which exert indirect but strong control over the product. If nothing else, the CEOs of these two companies are the figure-heads of the respective product. In Drupal they even have a special term: benevolent dictator for life.
Joomla! is, was and hopefully will continue to be a "hippy" product. There is no figurehead. There is no corporate overlord. Joomla!'s core value is the embrace of openness and equality. When the other projects have based their structure on a dictatorship (benevolence of the dictator notwithstanding) Joomla! is –at least nominally– an open, grassroots project.
TL;DR – The bottom line
Combining all these marketing points you can come up with a powerful, unified marketing message which frames our vision for Joomla! and resonates deeply with its user base.
Let's stop claiming that Joomla! is something for everyone. In the wise words of Sir Max Beerbohm "Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best." We don't want a mediocre product which is equally bad for everyone – remember that this was the conclusion of our focus group for the current product. We need to simplify the marketing message and make our vision laser-focused. Remember the tagline of Joomla!'s predecessor Mambo? "Power in simplicity". It's time to reclaim our legacy.
To be continued: Joomla! 4 and Beyond: A vision for the end user.