When to Use WordPress and When to Use Joomla

Joomla and WordPress are the most popular content management systems (CMS) in use today, with WordPress the undeniable market share winner. A discussion of the relative merits of WordPress and Joomla can quickly turn into something akin to a religious war. I support one non-profit website, and in recognizing a need for the eventual replacement of another non-profit website, I’ve struggled with which of the two systems to use; WordPress has an easier-to-pick-up user interface, but I hear of WordPress admins writing PHP code to do things that Joomla does through the admin interface; my perception is that WordPress is faster to build initially, but for some user requirements can be more difficult to maintain than Joomla. I decided to put my questions to a panel for discussion at a Dallas/Ft. Worth Joomla User Group meeting. Tony Hanson and Wilma Howell agreed to be panelists to discuss how the two systems would satisfy the specific requirements for the two web sites. Both have worked with both Joomla and WordPress and are familiar with what is easy–and not so easy to do in each of the two systems.

The short answer is that both could be made to work, but that one site would be better staying with a WordPress implementation, while due to a requirement to support multiple blogs, one would be better implemented in Joomla. In general, if a web site needs template-independent menus and/or flexible user authorities, Joomla is appropriate; you can implement these features in WordPress, but Joomla is much easier for these two requirements. If the site does not require these two features, WordPress may be easier to implement. The discussion was based upon two case studies:

  • Arts District Chorale
  • Corinthian Sailing Club

The sections that follow summarize the panel discussion for the two case studies.

Arts District Chorale Case Study

The Arts District Chorale is an auditioned choral ensemble that performs four concerts per year in the Dallas Arts District and generally sings with about 40 voices, though the roster of singers is generally about 100; most singers sing two of the four concerts. The web site is used to for advertising the chorale and providing information to singers, concert goers, donors and media. The chorale has used Ning.com to manage communication with singers, but this is being phased out to reduce costs. The chorale needs more robust donor management capabilities. The current web site is set up using WordPress; the singers and volunteers with IT backgrounds primarily have Joomla and Drupal experience. The general requirements for the web site are as follows:

  • Interface to ticketing systems
    • Eventbrite for non-City Performance Hall concerts
    • ATT Performing Arts Center for City Performance Hall concerts
  • Login access and separate menu system for singers to get access to rehearsal notes and other information that singers need but which is not appropriate for a public website.
  • Donor management capability to track donations, issue receipts, and provide exports for rolling 12-month donor levels for use in programs.
  • Email communication with singers to be managed by Artistic Director.
  • Granularity for user authorities and user-based menus:
    • Singers, perhaps broken out by section
    • Board members (may or may not be singers)
    • Donors
    • Volunteers
  • Marketing emails are handled in MailChimp with sign-up page on website.
  • Audition form
  • Blog with several authors with necessary authority to post blog entries.
  • SEO is important, though the site is easy to find for people who are looking for choral ensembles, but almost impossible for people who are interested in general entertainment activities.

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion originally focused on how to provide donor management and replace the Ning functionality. The general consensus was to look at hosted donor management systems to simplify PCI compliance, and that this probably was not a factor that would differentiate WordPress vs. Joomla. Google for non-profits was discussed as a possible alternative.

The discussion about replacing Ning functionality revolved largely around menu capabilities and whether this it was acceptable to do this using a plugin (WordPress) or whether it needed to a native capability (Joomla). WordPress has subsequently implemented some menu capabilities natively that may meet the need for singer-only menus. There was also discussion of WordPress plugins to provide additional user authority granularity that is native to Joomla.

There were several WordPress plugins discussed to provide some of the additional functionality needed:

  • WordPress
    • Ninja Forms
    • Formmaker
    • Members plugin to provide additional granularity in authorities
  • Joomla
    • RS Forms
    • Cobalt
    • Quickbooks with zap linkage
  • Donor/member management

The general consensus was that the needs could be met with WordPress and that enhancing the existing site was probably better than rebuilding in Joomla.

Corinthian Sailing Club Case Study

The Corinthian Sailing Club is based on White Rock Lake and has more than 300 members who participate in day sailing and racing programs. There are five active racing fleets, each of which maintains some combination of scoring, email, web site, social media and newsletter programs. Active social media programs are a clear benefit to helping fleets grow, but some fleets do not have people with the necessary skills to implement web sites or social media programs. Providing the capability to support fleet websites, blogs, scoring and scheduling capabilities is not a current requirement, but is anticipated to be a possible future requirement.

The club’s web site was custom developed by club members in the late 1990’s and has been subsequently maintained by the same members. There is no compelling reason to replace the current web site, but it is recognized that it will need to be replaced at some point. The current web site is not easily usable on mobile devices. While the club has several members with WordPress experience, it does not have significant numbers of members with Joomla or Drupal experience. The general requirements for the web site are:

  • Provide easy to find information and menu systems for information on membership, education, racing and other activities.
  • Provide a central location for each fleet to host a website and blog so that the smaller fleets can host a web site without the technical upkeep of hosting a site individually (new).
  • Enrollment management capability for both Jr. and Adult Education programs (new).
  • Online membership dues payment
  • Online regatta registration, either natively or via third-party service
  • Calendar management and publishing
  • Usable on mobile devices (new)
  • Integration of legacy weather station
  • Different menus and authorities based upon role: (new)
    • Member
    • Fleet member (not hierarchical, as members can participate in multiple fleets)
    • Fleet officer
    • Board appointed roles
    • Board members

Panel Discussion

Since many of the issues with this web site design are fundamentally the same as the design issues with Arts District Chorale, the discussion focused on a requirement that was unique: the potential need to host multiple blogs. The panel concluded that this would be a serious barrier for a WordPress installation, although there was some discussion of using the multi-site plugin. The consensus was that this approach would make administration more difficult than necessary.