Where’s The Structure?

I think I know how Jeffrey Veen felt when he wrote his frustrations about open source software back in October 2004. In similar tones to Wendy’s famous commercial where they said "Where’s the beef?", I’d now like to know "Where’s the structure?" The structure in what? In blogging and content management software today.

You see I’ve been looking for an open source solution for Squarespace for some time now but I’ve yet to be successful at finding anything remotely like it. I’ve now just realized one very important thing that Squarespace has, that no other software I’ve researched (i.e. WordPress, Textpattern, Drupal, etc) has in comparison. A structural interface area.

I mean when most developers build a website, one of the first things they usually ask for is a site map, so they can see the various content areas you’ll have within your site. One of the key reasons why Squarespace has such rapid site development is that you can then take that site map and quickly recreate a similar structure of it using the Structure & Style > Architecture area of your Squarespace site. Of course it doesn’t look exactly like a site map when you view it in this area (which would be amazing if it did, say something similar to how NetObjects Fusion used to create site maps) but it still allows you to quickly recreate the structure very easily nonetheless.

In effect, think of the Squarespace Architecture area somewhat similar to the outline feature of Microsoft Word. It allows you to quickly create an outline of your site that you fill in later. This is exactly what I want because it’s exactly the steps I take in building a site. I plan what I want the site to be about, I define it’s structure, give it a design style, and then fill in the content. Yet most other blogging or content management software don’t seem to follow this same process flow.

Why is this the case? Is it because no other solution takes a modular approach to site creation like Squarespace and thus can’t emulate a structure without modules? Or is there some blogging or content management software out there today, that I’m not aware of, that does allow you to visually define the structural outline of your site first, just as easily as it can be done in Squarespace? If anyone knows, definitely let me know.

Update: It appears that TYPO3 may have what I’m looking for. It’s definitely not as elegant as Squarespace but it does look like it has some of the same functionality. For example, it’s Navigation Pane area looks somewhat similar to Squarespace’s Architecture area, so you can quickly structure your site on the fly. It also has some other features that I’ve been looking for as well, such as a Mail Form Wizard which allows you to add additional custom fields to a form. Of course, how TYPO3 works will really be the test (which I’ll need to setup a test site for it to be sure). I’ve seen a ton of apps that sound great from a feature standpoint but when testing them their functionality is always lacking. Hopefully TYPO3 will fare better than the rest.

Update: Plone is another CMS that, while not having an architecture-like page similar to Squarespace, makes it easy to structure your site by the use of the age old folder approach. So if you want to create a new section off your home page called "About Us", you just add a new folder called "About Us" and then start adding "page documents" within it to fill it. It still doesn’t seem as simple as Squarespace though.

And Exponent CMS is one more CMS that is actually very similar to Squarespace’s modular content approach (so much so that I wish Squarespace took some hints from it). The downside is that it’s still in beta (although nearing version 1.0) and a lot of it’s documentation still has to be written. Still, I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on this CMS as it develops.