Horrific CMS Interfaces, Part 1

Usability and design guru Jeff Veen is looking for a better open source content management system, after demoing the selection available at OpenSourceCMS.com: “What I experienced was obtuse and complex software that was packed with gratuitous features at the expense of usability and user experience.”

I share his frustration, having gone through Mambo, phpWS, Xoops, Geeklog, Siteframe, PHP Nuke, and PHPWCMS in my search for a decent CMS for AteneoDC. I can tell you firsthand: dealing with open source content management is bad for stress levels and blood pressure. Never more in my life than in the past two months, building AteneoDC.com, have I so often yelled “WHAT WHERE THESE PEOPLE THINKING?!?!?” at the screen, at the horrible navigational structures I was subjected to, at being made to leap through any number of hoops just to make categories and articles and populate a sidebar menu. None of the above-mentioned apps are capable of producing fully valid, standards-compliant output, and none of them can manage a page made out of simple, structural markup right out of the box. Nested tables, unquoted attributes, and ALLCAPS tags are embedded right into the code, and no amount of PHP-savvy custom templating can get rid of them. (Though there are hundreds of custom templates out there, each more bloated, gradiated, and graphics-heavy than the last.) And the URL structures, oh the mess of ampersands and strange query string variables!

I finally settled on Mambo as the least of all evils and the most extensible of the CMS’s out there, but it’s still mostly a pain to use. There’s the strange dichotomy between “components” (main content extensions) and “modules” (sidebar extensions). When writing articles (for which one must first make “Sections” and “Categories”) needs one to enter a “name” and a “title,” and the interface leaves it unstated as to which is used for what part of the site. But wait, there’s more.

Probably the two most annoying parts of the Mambo admin interface involve the top of the screen, where they’ve put (1) a huge javascript hover dropdown menu, and (2) the form submit buttons. Having the form submit buttons up there means that you have to fill out a form to the bottom, then scroll back up to hit Save. And if you’re not extra-careful with your mouse, a dropdown menu directly above it will, well, drop down, obscuring the Save button while you click madly about, trying to get rid of the menu. It’s even worse when you use tabbed browsing. Anything will bring up those menus. Anything. And they don’t work properly in Safari on OS X 10.2.

The forms also break the Enter key. You have to go up and click on Save, otherwise nothing happens. And Mambo can’t parse line breaks unless you use the WYSIWYG editor, which only works in IE on Windows. The “weblinks” component is not customizable. You have to hack /languages/english.php to edit the intro text and graphic.

And this was from Mambo, the best of the bunch.

I’m sorry. I just can’t go on. This happens everytime I try to do something with an open source CMS: I approach the fringes of a nervous breakdown. Dealing with misanthropic user interfaces is just too horrible.