While the rest of the political world has absorbing Obama’s South Carolina victory/Ted Kennedy endorsement two-fer, e.politics has been following a different obsession I’ve been experimenting with my first open source content management system installation. This weekend, I got Joomla up and running on a test site where I can blow things up with great abandon and see what makes this sucker tick. So far, I’m impressed, since even out of the box it’s more than adequate for the kind of issue advocacy sites I’m starting to build clients these days (bidness has started coming in nicely, a source of some relief here in the e.politics bunker).
The one danger I can see with these template-driven CMS’s is how easy they make it to crank out sites that end up all looking pretty much alike. These days, I seem to see fewer and fewer distinctively designed sites new sites often have lots of interesting functions and applications built in, but too often their actual appearance feels cookie-cutter. I’m sure that in part it’s just the growing base of experience among web developers: after more than a decade of heavy web use, we have a good idea of what works, and sites tend to look alike for the same reasons that aerodynamic design leads to cars that tend to look alike.
Still, I’d hate to get into the habit of reusing templates over and over for different sites (with relatively minor changes to graphics and colors) without much regard for a site’s actual purpose and audience. And, I’d also hate to see quirky, interesting visual design disappear online. Distinctive layouts can and should coexist with prepackaged technology, but only if we bother to take the time to make it happen.