Trusting the Little Yellow Bird
5 April 2011
As I said in my first post, one of my main goals when making this site was to try out new things. I didn't want to stop at the design - I wanted to use something I hadn't tried before.
I actually started out my first design in the browser, using a basic Wordpress template and dummy database provided by my friend Sean Johnson. After deciding on a direction for the site I quickly discovered that Wordpress was total overkill for the project - I wanted to have something where I could create markup as lean as possible, and just drop in content where it was needed.
I'm not going to go into the technical bits here (you can get that from the Perch website if you want to know more); instead I'm going to tell you why I like it, and why I'm already using it for one of my next projects.
It's Really Simple
I had a design. I installed the Perch backend, and told it where I wanted the content to be displayed (and how it needed to come out of the database). I refreshed the page, and my editable content appeared in the admin panel. That's it. No loops to get your head around, no setting up new pages through the interface.
It's Really Quick To Set Up
Downloading, installing and setting up Perch took about 20 minutes. Dropping the content tags into my HTML page took another 10. Typing some initial content took about 15 minutes. So, in well under an hour I had a fully-functional website in a completely custom design - something I've not managed to do with Wordpress.
It's Really Extensible
There are a number of plugins available for Perch that make adding more complex bits to a page easy as dropping in a content tag, and setting a plain HTML template. Events listings, photo galleries and blogs are all possible, and no doubt more will be added soon - Perch is still young and it's constantly evolving, with improvements suggested by the community being incorporated into newer releases.
It's Really Well-Supported
The tech support from Drew at edgeofmyseat.com has been absolutely brilliant. The documentation can be a little hard to navigate at times, but when I posted problems that I couldn't solve on the support forum, Drew almost always replied within a few minutes (and since I did all my work on the site in the evenings, this was a really pleasant surprise).
I really like Perch (can you tell?). But there are a few things you need to be aware of:
It's Not Free
This will immediately put some people off; after all, you don't need to pay for Wordpress (or Drupal, or Joomla) and factoring in extra cost for a CMS into any project - particularly a personal one - starts reducing profit margins. What you need to ask yourself is: how much billable time will I lose hacking a free CMS into outputting the code I need, and cleaning up after clients who start adding pages where pages aren't meant to go?
It's Not a Magic Bullet
No CMS will completely remove the possibility of a client trying to do something they're not supposed to, or turn marketing jargon-laden copy into beautiful prose. What you can do is minimise the risk that the client can create 200 empty pages because they kept hitting the refresh button.
It's Not Right For Every Project
As with any CMS, you need to look at the pros and cons of using it for a given project. If you need all the features that Wordpress ships with, and the power it provides, then you're probably best off using Wordpress. If you want something really modular to power a portal site, you're best going with Drupal or Joomla. If you want something simple, and to keep tighter control over what your clients can do, I'd heartily recommend Perch.
And no, I'm not being paid to say all this.