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:

Finally, many commented on how much they disliked the community. The community, they concluded, focused too much on the commercial realm. Everything was about making money. There were too many extensions that were paid. There were too many people out for themselves, especially those in positions of leadership.

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.

The barrier to content creation on these platforms is non-existent. You can't compete with that.

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.

While we were consumed in introversion over leadership structure these rivals have developed a massive corpus of readily available solutions to problems we haven't even imagined.

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.

I can hardly imagine any corporate developer on their right mind messing with JTable and JModelLegacy instead of using Laravel.

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.

Marketing point: Joomla! is secure

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.

Marketing point: Joomla! can be used by small shops for building medium to high complexity sites on a budget, using off-the-shelf software components.

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.

Marketing point: Joomla! is an open product, developed by and for the community.

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.

Joomla! is an open product, developed by and for the community. It is used by end users, site integrators and SMEs to build medium to high complexity, very secure websites on a budget, using off-the-shelf software components they can install, configure and integrate themselves without prior experience with the system or requiring knowledge of PHP, HTML and CSS.

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.


  • Good post. The part about not needing prior experience with the system or requiring knowledge of PHP, HTML and CSS might be a stretch. :-)
    • I think the comment is spot on. Many of our clients have 0 knowledge and don't want to have any. They just want to write content and that is it.

      Over all - great article Nic.
    • You don't need to know PHP, HTML and CSS to build a site with Joomla!. Of course this will only get you as far, but it's far enough for most people. You can take off the shelf components, modules, plugins and templates to create a medium complexity site without knowing much more than clicking stuff on your browser.

      Granted, if you want to create a complex and good-looking site you will need to know some HTML and CSS. You will still only need actual PHP knowledge (as opposed to blindly copying stuff) when you're neck-deep into very complex site building. So there's that.
    • i agree with this comment (but am otherwise in complete agreement with Nic). the reason is that there are many businesses that want to erect substantial websites with actual functionality that the easy sites can't provide. a web site worthy of an SME is of necessity never going to be an easy build and Joomla! i feel has the right balance in this regard.

      in terms of Nic's overall emphasis, i would suggest that Joomla! focus on improving the content editing environment, so end users can do their part with better facility. that's where i think the Joomla! environment loses contact with the end user.
      • And things like workflow, staging and so on but yes the main focus is making content creation suck less. After all we're supposed to be making a Content Management System. Right now Joomla! is great as a web site building platform but its content management leaves much to be desired.

        I have to admit that seeing all the comments makes me more confident of the bullet points I have already written in my vision document. A lot of people, from coders to site integrators, have approached Joomla! from our different POVs and make pretty much the same conclusions. That's really awesome! Not because there are problems, but because we all agree</em> there are problems and even mostly agree on <em>which problems we need to fix. That's actionable. If it's actionable it can be fixed.
  • This is the kind of blog post and thought process we should be seeing from official working group teams like OSM, PLT, marketing, etc. Great that you are working to push this forward at such a critical time.
    Andrew Eddie is working on a similar revitalization push for the Joomla Framework Team as of yesterday.
    Good to see people stepping up. THANK YOU!!!
    • I'm happy to help any way I can and you know it. If it takes someone from the outside to shake the tree and get things rolling I'm happy to be the tree shaker :D My thoughts on the Framework in the context of the CMS and the overall product strategy of the organisation will be in a future installment.
        • Yes, I'd love to. Due to lack of space in my second-to-next post I will only make a passing reference. My idea is that the Framework can and should follow its own release cycle, development vision etc. The CMS will be using the Framework through Composer (allowing it to pin to specific releases for each FW package), not built on top of it a la Joomla! Platform. Likewise, if a problem springs from the [old, pinned version of the] FW the CMS people will do PRs on that old branch and a liaison between FW and CMS will assess and merge them. That's inspired by Guzzle 3: deprecated but still in wide use, see Amazon AWS SDK for PHP.

          I'd love to get into more details about how to revitalize JFW and how to make it move forward right after JaB. I won't have the necessary time before JaB. So around June 2rd send me an email and we'll discuss further on this.
  • Nicholas, Great perspective. The conclusions you came to essentially reflect the findings of Joomla's SWOT Team's results, along with recommendations of a marketing message and which audience to best target, which was all presented to, and by Joomla's own Marketing Team. (Scroll to bottom for my short response summarized, as this turned into a blogpost in of itself---sorry! LOL)

    If you're not already on that working group, you should join that working group, Nicholas, and help get the message out.

    Along with a SWOT Analysis of the framework and CMS offerings from Joomla, the Team also conducted a SWOT Analysis of the Community itself. As you mentioned in your comments, from an outsider's/first-time user's perspective via Jen Kramer's group, the perception of the community's organization (or in Joomla's case, disorganization and disarray) does greatly affect first-time customers' opinion of Joomla's stability and longevity in the marketplace. They were turned off by a disorganized and disgruntled community, much as you are. For your own reasons, like many who are vested in Joomla, you chose to stay in the community, invest your time, talent and business acumen, providing suggestions and solutions for a better community experience.

    Right now, the SWOT Team concluded as you did in this blogpost, Joomla's Community is both 1) its greatest asset; while simultaneously, 2) its greatest weakness, for precisely the reasons you pointed out above.

    So your point precisely illustrates why the Marketing &amp; SWOT Team recommended putting the horse before the cart, and fix our community first, before launching a major marketing campaign.

    I'm a former Creative Director, from an advertising agency, Nicholas. One of the things I learned to embrace was an old saying: "Great advertising makes a bad product fail faster."

    So, we've got a marketing message, and we've got a pretty outstanding product. The codebase isn't perfect, but I guarantee you, it beats the snot out of WordPress or Drupal. It's faster-performing, it's more modular in its architecture, it's a damn good extension management system for rapid application development. We also know what MARKET and personas to whom we should direct our message (you nailed it above). But we both know there are a few logical and somewhat painful to hear reasons why Joomla is stalled, and the others are making progress (along with their own sets of growing pains, mind you -- the grass is not too many shades greener over there either, believe me). The primary focus for 2015 needs to be thorough and honest improvement of our community management. We haven't stopped this racecar to change the oil, tires, or transmission for nearly a decade. So now, while we're experiencing a lull, what better time to fix what we all know is broken? Once we get that right---and not until then---we can turn "ON" the marketing machine. Wow, I just noticed, I used up all of WordPress's allotted storage on this server, so I'll log out and let someone else comment.

    Overall Nicholas, I'm in total agreement with you, just needed to qualify (above) why I believe we haven't yet pulled the trigger on releasing the marketing message you're so passionate about, to the target audience you so rightly suggest.
  • Wow! A great article. I have been getting sick of reading mediocre articles on Joomla everywhere, repeating the same stuff about why they use J or why people should use J or the perpetual favorite; WP vs J vs D.

    But this article identifies the correct issue ailing J and gives a very reasonable, believable and most importantly an achievable solution.

    I remember once on the unoffical FB group, when a WP user raised the issue of Js lack of extensions which were free. That guy was bashed by one and all. But there was truth in it, as explained above.

    I also think the last line of the bottleline quote is a bit of stretch!! But it can be changed. It has to change if J needs to go ahead.

    Can't wait for the next part! Keep it up.

    Apologies for preferring to stay anonymous! :)
    • Well, the WP guy's criticism –and the resonation of that criticism in the focus group– is unjust and the product of a misperception. Let's see what WordPress is doing, since this is what Joomla! is compared with.

      WordPress Plugin Directory only lists free of charge plugins. However, inside those listings, it's perfectly allowed to list the features of your plugin's commercial version, with a link to your purchase page, and not even clearly explain which features are NOT available in the free-of-charge version. Even worse, while the free version must be GPL the paid version doesn't need to. If you have a proprietary version of your plugin, limiting your users' freedoms, nobody is going to kick you out.

      On the other hand, the Joomla! Extensions Directory REQUIRES clear separation of free-of-charge and commercial plugins. You are NOT allowed to list the features of the paid version in the free version's listing and you are NOT allowed to link to your purchase page from the free version. You MUST only list the features the user gets with the software they download. Even if you have a paid version you MUST provide it under GPL. In fact, Joomla! goes one step further and FORBIDS any extension to be listed by developers who make non-GPL Joomla! extensions available on their site.

      In short, Joomla! is better at protecting the users' freedoms under the GPL than WordPress is. The rate of commercialization in both communities is exactly the same. The major difference is that WordPress users are less likely to pay for software because they confuse free as in beer with free as in speech. When you pay peanuts you are buying a monkey and that's true for a hell of a lot of WP plugins. If developers make no money they have no incentive to provide a good quality product. This leads to bad, abandoned and insecure code. No wonder why plugins are the major gateway to hacked WP sites.

      Currently the best WordPress plugins come for a fee. And, man, are they expensive! A backup product which does less than JoomlaPack was doing in 2009 costs four times more than Akeeba Backup. Security products, same deal. Download managers which do more or less the same as the free offerings in JED cost north of $100. Developing professional sites on WordPress is more expensive than developing on Joomla!. Personal sites in both platforms should be fine with the free offerings. The guy in the FB group expected to develop professional sites without paying a dime which is simply possible in neither WordPress nor Joomla!. His only experience seemed to have been the development of personal, small sites on WordPress and then he jumped to Joomla! for professional site building. He was comparing apples to oranges.
  • Nicholas you are Joomla, not this mediocre burocrats installed in the working groups and leadership teams. John Coonen that name sounds familiar to me...
    • I am just a guy working from the sidelines. I am happy to help from any unofficial or official position. Badges are irrelevant. Some people crave for them, some people respect them, I just ignore them. It's a simple question of can we get stuff done or not.

      As for other commenters, I have an open comment policy. Anyone is free to comment in this blog despite my opinion of them. I firmly believe that people are judged by actions. I am not going to moderate anyone but I'm not obliged to respond to people I don't want to respond either. It's a fairly simple moderation policy :)
    • And until now, your name is unfamiliar to me, Xavier, I'm sorry. I don't believe we have met. Perhaps one day we'll meet in person, or work together remotely on something good, so and we can get to know each other, rather than talk around each other. That would be nice.
  • First of all nice article, a good read not complicating things with voting and structural changes :-)

    But i have a question about the one marketing point: "Joomla! is an open product, developed by and for the community."

    If the focus group says : "Finally, many commented on how much they disliked the community. The community, they concluded, focused too much on the commercial realm. Everything was about making money. There were too many extensions that were paid. There were too many people out for themselves, especially those in positions of leadership."

    If the "public opinion" is that the community is disliked, then it would be wrong to use it as a marketing point?
    Or did I misunderstood something
    • The focus group complained about the perceived commercialization of the community. As I explained in the other comments this a misconception. WordPress is more strongly commercialized. Under the pretext of the plugin directory not allowing paid extensions to be made available (yet, perfectly allowed to be listed as long as there is also a free, installable version) this commercialization is lost on its users. In my opinion this is a bait and switch strategy of the worst kind. Especially with the price tags I see. Seriously, would you pay $240 for Akeeba Backup instead of about $45 (with the current exchange rate)? Because that's happening right now in WordPress.

      Also let's not forget that WordPress and Drupal do have corporate overlords. They do not control the majority of the development teams but I say that if the key people with commit access are in a company's payroll then it's safe to say that the product belongs to the company more than it belongs to the community. Joomla!, on the other hand, is not subject to a corporate overlord. We embrace openness. I see that as a strength, but ONLY if leadership listens to the community. This allows us to claim that hey, Joomla!'s direction is not pinned to a CEO making his investors happy, it's based on what its users want. That's a huge selling point, don't you think?
  • Joomla needs to decide whether it's a social club for developers and users, or a community laser focused on producing a software application. The latter is what I want to be involved with and to be involved, I need to know what it's plan is (and I'm willing to help providing there are people willing to plan a plan).

    If the latter, Joomla needs to pull it's head out of the sand and realise it has competitors, and those competitors have a commercial mandate to making sure Joomla gets pushed further and further into mediocrity (no matter what they say in public). Therefore, there needs to be as much analysis on what the competition are doing right as what we are doing wrong.

    Joomla also needs to realise that it is competing with companies with budgets, and while the "we only use unpaid volunteers" is all warm and fuzzy, it means the community as a whole needs to get off the "hippy" (as you put it Nic) merry-go-round and think much smarter. It's a noble thing to ideal (to do things with no budget) but it doesn't "just happen". You can't afford mistakes. You can't afford to let silly dramas distract production every day (and I mean that literally). You can't afford to let whiners whine on and on and on. You can't afford not to plan. You can't afford to allow every other developer and template designer to invent their own way of solving the same problem with their own frameworks. You can't afford for everyone not to be working TOGETHER!

    The call for a target audience is also spot on. My feeling is we lost the low end of the market to WordPress a long time ago, but most Joomla devotees are still in denial about that fact. I know for a fact that Joomla is not enterprise ready (because even "I" am recommending to enterprise not to use it, and everyone I know in enterprise on Joomla is getting off it). But I think there is still a sweet spot in the site implementor market and those are the people that we should pander to. That means Joomla needs to clean up a lot, but mostly making it easier for in-house developers and designers to customise, and making sure their customers are thrilled with the experience they produce.

    At the very least we should have a brochure that shows here's how convoluted it is in WordPress, here's Drupal, now sit back with a cold drink and see how easy the same thing is with Joomla. Sip - Ahhhhh!

    Lot's of things need to change. People who do not want necessary change, in my opinion, need to get out of the way. Apologies if that is seen to be a blunt and heartless statement.

    And why is this site powered by Wordpress and I use Jekyll for my blog? Hopefully that says something ...
    • Andrew, spot on. Third time in a row I agree whole-heartedly with you. I can see a trend forming here :)

      I do agree that we're past the point where unpaid volunteers were enough to write the code. I think that we need a paid project manager and a lead developer, as long as there are goals set in stone and the reporting to prove that we're getting our money's worth. In other words, if you start paying people treat it as a business. I know that when you and Louis were being paid that was the intention but the execution, how to put it mildly, sucked big time and poisoned the well for all those years later. I was wrong for not pointing out what exactly the missing bit was back then instead of merely saying that paid development was wrong without explaining it. My bad.

      And yes, we do need to work all together and we do need to treat our software as a PRODUCT because this is what it really is. The competition does kick our butts big time telling prospective clients how much better they are than this stalled hippy thing. Those of us invested in Joomla! know that a medium to high complexity site is built faster, cheaper and better (as in: more robust and secure) using Joomla! than either WordPress or Drupal. There's no shame in marketing it as such. At least in the USA – Europeans are still a bit shy on the negative comparison.

      Lot’s of things need to change. People who do not want necessary change, in my opinion, need to get out of the way. Apologies if that is seen to be a blunt and heartless statement.

      Blunt, yes. Heartless, no. Even the sharpest knife blunts, rusts and needs to be replaced. The real leaders know when and how to step down.

      On a side note, my blog is in WordPress not because it's easier for me to blog with it (not since JCE added the full page mode at least). The commenting system is killing me, marking all my comments as spam and I'm the bloody admin! Duh, would I spam myself? Clearly something fundamental is amiss, but I digress. I use WordPress because I do develop a WordPress backup solution. My policy is that I eat my own dog food. I needed a real world WP site, so here it is. It also gives me perspective on how it feels like using the competition. The one thing I liked is how they have an iPad app... whenever it doesn't disagree with the security plugin I use and locks me out of my site.