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.

Published by Nicholas Dionysopoulos

PHP developer, author of Akeeba Backup and Admin Tools. Father, husband, cat herder and geek. Proudly uses all major Operating Systems on desktop and mobile.

68 replies on “Joomla! 4 and Beyond: Target audience and a unified marketing message”

  1. A very clear, thoughtful and well written piece of mind which is a joy to read. Thanx for sharing your vision.

  2. Just because you suck at using something you own doesn’t mean that everyone else owning it sucks at using it just the same.
    I don’t suck at it. It’s just not the right tool for the job.
    Also, I firmly believe that Joomla! 3’s back-end has made things simpler.


    Joomla! 2.5: 9 fields at the top left of the page, a TINY editor area that’s hidden below the fold(!!!), 5 very long sliders at the right hand page, scroll all the way to the bottom to find the scary-looking “Article permissions”. …

    All in one place. Nothing to miss. No clicking to find things. Perfect (for a laptop or desktop – but not for a tablet)

    A HUGE content area right on my face, inviting me to write profuse amounts of content. Basic controls on my right. Oh, and the sliders have now become much easier to access tabs above the editor area. Even better, the super ultra long slider content is now presented in two columns, requiring me to scroll less.

    Cleaned it up by hiding things. Important things. Important controls are now harder to find – especially for the newcomer. If you know where to look, great. If you don’t, then time to check the documentation which is notoriously poor for Joomla.

    It’s great that Joomla has an option for tablet use. But most productive work isn’t most efficient on a tablet. Most people doing web work aren’t on a beach in Greece.

    @Steve Pignataro
    Mobile is more important than you think it is. And you justifying differently is just a shocking statement.

    Please don’t make my point something that it is not. I think it is great the Joomla was the first to embrace responsive design. I don’t think that the back end should be optimized for mobile at the expense of traditional access. It’s just not efficient. It violates Fitz’ law when working on a laptop or desktop.

    That we tried to address user experience in Joomla is great. But we may have been following the Pied Piper with the responsive back end changes.

    New and shiny is not always better. Look at Windows 8. A horrible experience that spills over and prevades design esthetics everywhere.

    1. Maybe an iPad is not the right tool for YOUR job. It is certainly a great tool for MANY jobs, excluding yours. Unless you believe that me and Steve are either liars or idiots?

      All in one place. Nothing to miss. No clicking to find things. Perfect (for a laptop or desktop – but not for a tablet)

      Seriously, now. All in ONE place? You had to chase every option in the sidebar sliders! All Joomla! 3 did was replace the sliders (which change location every time you click on one of them) with tabs (which stay put). On top of that, Joomla! 2.5 had a miniscule editor area. Have you tried editing a 1200 word article or a price comparison table on it without becoming homicidal? I seriously doubt it. Probably you’re using JCE’s full screen mode but this is not what the majority of Joomla! users, especially those coming to it for the FIRST time get to experience.

      Cleaned it up by hiding things.

      Sliders were replaced by tabs. The options which were above the content editor are now to its right. I did check. Before answering you this morning I installed two stock Joomla! 2.5 and 3.4 sites and compared everything side by side. The rebuttal to your statement of Joomla! hiding things is not subjective, it’s objective. Everyone who has eyes can see that for themselves.

      You need to get your brain unstuck. I get it, you don’t like change. I will make a guess that you’re over 40, white, male and past work experience includes middle management. I’m not a mentalist, that’s the profile of the average person with extremely high resistance to change according to what we had found in the business consultancy firm I was working before becoming a full time web developer.

      It’s great that Joomla has an option for tablet use. But most productive work isn’t most efficient on a tablet. Most people doing web work aren’t on a beach in Greece.

      I replied to your comment that Joomla! on a tablet in the beach is unusable. I did NOT say that Joomla! is mostly used on a beach in Greece. I really DO get it. Your brain is stuck and you’re trying to put words in my mouth. Not appreciated at all.

      1. no, you don’t get my point.
        and I don’t care for the tone or content of your replies either.
        I’m done here.

        1. You keep on telling me that Joomla! has hidden a bunch of options you want to work with. OK. Which ones? Can you please tell me that? I am doing a side by side comparison and I don’t see anything hidden that wasn’t hidden before.

          Granted, when you are setting things like metadata you no longer have the (tiny) content area on the right hand side. I don’t see how this may hinder your work, but you’re not willing to explain it either. Anything I am saying your standard reply is “I don’t like mobile”. Man, all right, I get it you don’t like mobile. Besides that, can you please give me the PRACTICAL issue inflicted upon you by Joomla! 3’s back-end?

          Let me further explain my reasoning. I’ve heard a lot of (mostly 40+) people complain about Joomla! 3’s back-end being mobile-friendly. Every time I ask any one of them exactly WHAT is the problem the tell me that the sliders are gone. OK, I say, the went from side sliders to the top as tabs. “But it’s mobile-friendly!” they reply. OK, I say, but how does that have to do with anything? And then they stop replying. Exactly like you. I’m growing tired of this…

          If you believe that there is a practical issue I’d love to listen to you and try to fix it. Just stop trying to convince me that using a tablet for content creation is impossible because I can tell you from personal experience that it is perfectly possible.

          So, for one last time: what is the PRACTICAL problem you have? Which options do you believe were hidden with Joomla! 3? Where were these options in Joomla! 2.5? Please do not list options which were hidden in the side sliders and are now hidden in the top tabs because it’s quickly becoming a case of I say potAHto, you say potHEYto.

  3. Joomla would be a great platform for targeting publicly traded firms. One improvement that is a must is the category list. It is great for displaying company news for public companies, sorts it by date, allows you to filter by title if you have lots of news, etc.

    Although the columns for the category list are predefined which is good but we need the ability to have columns that we can choose ourselves. For example, right now you can enable hits, author, etc which is great. Although what if I want to display a column that gives the user the ability to access a pdf version or say we have an audio of the press release so we want to put an audio icon and link that, etc.

    This capability is not there at the present making options very limited to the user and client. The WYSIWYG editor can achieve this (JCE) by allowing an insert and link if that option were to be added. Gives the developer more flexibility for meeting client needs AND best of adds better user experience for the visitor.

    Without this the user has to make another click and then find the pdf icon and then click on that and then hit back to go back to the list of release and now click on the next one again etc.

    1. you might want to look at one of the ccks such as seblod or fabrik food that kind of structured content type.

      Seblod recently had a great documentation series put together by James morell.

      content construction kits are something that makes Joomla soar above WP as a system

      1. I agree, the CCKs available for Joomla! are as powerful as what you’ll find in Drupal and much easier to work with. I really do not see custom fields as a competitor to CCKs. I see it as a simpler alternative for the people who don’t need the full power –and setup complexity– of a real CCK.

        It also serves another need as I’m about to reply to another comment 🙂

    2. Thank you for giving me the details. I can see what you mean now. What you’re looking for is actually custom fields in articles. I know, you want them to appear in (the list of articles for each of) the categories. Adding “columns to categories” would put these at the top of the page, once, per category. That’s why I’m saying you need custom fields.

      The current solution, as Mark said in his comment, is using a CCK. Depending on what you need you may go for K2, Seblod, Fabrik, Sobi Pro etc. If you only want to link a media item (e.g. a PDF) to each article they will be overkill but that’s what we currently have. One of the proposals I made in the second installment of this series is custom fields for use cases like yours. Something like a “poor man’s CCK” of sorts.

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