Joomla! templates and plugins user experience: Is it any good?

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The final technical test run for one of the big three content management systems (CMS) this week ends with a closer look at Joomla! user experience. With it’s excellent customization features, a great user experience would definitely help bring its score closer to winning the CMS contest for the new Library Currents blog. At the same time, too much customization could also create a lengthier learning curve. How did Joomla! fare in the areas of template design usability and ease of plugin administration?

Joomla! Design Experience

Library Currents home page with Joomla! sample content

The Joomla design experience proved to be fairly frustrating at first. Like Drupal, there is no template search function with the administration area, so the user must hunt for templates on other websites. In the case of Drupal, free templates can be found on the Drupal website. However, finding templates on the Joomla website was difficult. Most of the extensions were of the plugin variety, and the directory did not bring any to the forefront. I had to search in Google to find templates, but many of the templates were not free. I did find a free template at RocketThemes.com, however it broke my Joomla install when I uploaded it using the Extension Manager. I had to re-install Joomla from my GoDaddy control panel, because switching back to the native default template did not fix the fatal error. This worried me a lot, since system-wide crashes can be costly in both time and money, especially if a programmer needs to be hired to work through the code or database settings.

On my reinstall, I wanted to transfer my Tame the Web Library Currents project blog posts to see how they would look in Joomla I noticed in my research on the Joomla website Extension Search that most of the plugins have fees between $50-$200. The ability to import WordPress files is free for other CMS’s, so I was surprised at the cost for this functionality. I would notice later that Joomla does have a higher cost factor in implementing it’s extensions. As a result, I decided to user the Joomla sample content for the screenshot above.

A final note: although Joomla left me with a below average template design experience, the templates themselves are much more aesthetic than those in WordPress and Drupal. I find them to be professional, elegant and engaging, all worthwhile factors in choosing a great CMS to work with. It helped bring Joomla’s score back up from a near abyss.

Joomla Design Experience rating: 6

Joomla! Directory Extension

 

Joomla! JoomGalaxy directory extension with sample content

A search on the Joomla website for director extensions yielded around a dozen, with most of them commercially sold packages between $50-$200. The directories seemed to be geared to businesses and ecommerce, such as the JoomGalaxy extension pictured above. Unlike many of the WordPress plugins which are free or have a free + premium fee structure, all of the Joomla extensions that were considered had upfront costs.

Given the financial considerations for the Library Currents beta, no Joomla directory extensions or templates were bought for study, as the costs to buy several for testing and development (estimated at ~$500) would be beyond the scope of this review. But, once again, many of the directory extensions provided a healthy suite of functions with aesthetic qualities.

Joomla Directory Extension score: 5

Joomla! Social Sharing Extension

Joomla! Social Sharing extension

Most Joomla’s social sharing plugins are commercially sold, but I did find one in the Joomla search directory that was free to use for basic features with the ability to upgrade to a premium model. The extension was easy to install and is pleasing to the eye. I was very impressed.

Joomla Directory Extension score:10

Joomla Score this week: 21/30. Joomla total score so far: 61/80

So far in my experience with Joomla it seems that you can build an aesthetically pleasing site with a wide range of functionality depending on the amount of time you can invest into the site along with a higher budget. Is this a good strategy for a blog? That really is the question here, as larger organizations with higher budgets or bigger teams could create an amazing product with Joomla without worries of crashing databases or templates. In my next post, I will be comparing online reviews on WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, and scoring them based on what the experts say.

Series Navigation<< Trying out useful themes and plugins for a Drupal siteComparing Costs and Scalability of WordPress, Drupal and Joomla! >>
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Mickel is an MLIS and the creator of Library Currents. His inspiration for the blog was the SJSU course "The Hyperlinked Library" taught by Dr. Michael Stephens, a course that is also a worldwide MOOC. If you wish to contact him, feel free to write to Mickel Paris at librarycurrents1@aol.com.

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