WordPress. Joomla. Drupal. Yawn. 25+ powerful CMSes for hipsters

It’s estimated that WordPress, Joomla and Drupal combined, constitute roughly 70% of the CMS market. Probably for good reason too. All three are highly customisable, extensible and have massive loyal — some say cult-like — user communities.

CNN and Time run on WordPress. Joomla boasts big clients such as eBay, Barnes & Noble, Ikea and Pizza Hut. Ever heard of a little site called The Economist? How about The White House? Drupal have those covered.

Clearly, if you’re cool you wouldn’t be caught dead using one of these mainstream CMSes to bootstrap your project. Or maybe you would? Because hating mainstream is too mainstream?

Either way, while the masses are dancing to the latest club hit *eye roll*, indulge yourself in these indie hits, hopefully there’s one that strikes the right chord with you.

For a more comprehensive list check out the W3Techs list.

Simple CMS

It’s hard to decide which is the easiest CMS in the world to use, Simple CMS or Cushy CMS. There’s no installing software, creating databases or learning tags and syntax.

With both Simple CMS and Cushy CMS you simply define areas on your existing static site that you want to make editable. Boom. Done. It’s basic, but if basic is all you need, this is what you’ve been looking for.


Traditionally marketed as forum software, vBulletin has evolved to include a content management system. The system is pricey, starting at US$379 for the forum software alone or US$469 to include the CMS. The CMS makes sense if you’re invested in the vBulletin forum software, which is widely regarded as the world’s most overachieving online message board system — it has an overwhelming number of features.

The additional CMS enables vBulletin forum members to easily create content and cross-publish between the forum and CMS articles.

If you’re looking for free forum software to complement one of your existing CMSes, give the Open Source phpBB a look.


*Serious face* TYPO3 bills itself as an “enterprise-class”, Open Source CMS and claims to be the safest and most robust platform on the market. The learning curve for TYPO3 is considered to be as steep as it is powerful. Theming for example, requires that you become proficient in TypoScript and TemplaVoila, two TYPO3 proprietary concepts. Hmm. Esoteric. Are your hipster senses buzzing yet?

Its extensive feature set is said to be overkill for small to medium-sized sites that don’t necessarily require things like granular permissions control or multilingual sites.

Also check out Contao, formerly known as TYPOLight, it’s said to be like TYPO3 with a more modern interface and easier templating.

Expression Engine

Expression Engine or “EE” to those who wear plaid shirts and skinny jeans, is considered to be the antithesis of WordPress. It’s Apple to Microsoft (before Apple was mainstream).

If the site you’re envisioning does not look like a blog, then this CMS deserves a closer look. EE can be used to develop various different site styles, and is a favourite with front-end developers and designers, since it requires less coding knowledge.

It comes at a price though, ranging from US$99 to US$300 depending on the features and license you require. The money goes to a dedicated development and support team, so there’s a community willing and able to help.


Pligg calls itself a “social networking CMS.” Traditionally, content management systems are geared for a small number authors who produce content for a site — like Memeburn. Now, think of hipster hangouts like Reddit or Digg. These sites have a potentially unlimited number of authors. Pligg was designed with managing those users in mind. Using Pligg, users can for example, submit and vote on news articles.

Users can also form groups, engage in private messaging, and have their own profiles. Much like a bulletin board system. Pligg free and supports plug-ins and templates too.


Developed in ASP.Net, the Open Source DotNetNuke might be the CMS for you if you’re versed in Microsoft’s .NET.

The free community edition is quite popular and there are also better supported and more stable Professional and Enterprise editions of the framework available. The Professional edition is pricey at US$2 998 a year. FML.

Make sure to check out the Umbraco CMS as well, even if it’s just to marvel at its impressive list of clients.

Ektron and Sitefinity are also good alternatives to DotNetNuke.

Movable Type

Considered by mainstream haters to have “lost the war” against WordPress, it still has its loyal supporters, who dare to think differently. The Huffington Post runs on Movable Type, ’nuff said.

Written in the Perl programming language — though knowledge of it is not required to build web sites in Movable Type — it falls under both a commercial licence and a GNU GPL.

Installation can be a bit tricky depending on your host’s CGI setup, so check out TypePad if you’re more comfortable with a hosted solution — it’s not free though.

eZ Publish

The Norwegian eZ Systems has been “in the business of web content management solutions” since 1999 and is the company behind eZ Publish, an open source enterprise CMS developed in PHP. There’s a free “community” version available under a GPL, as well as versions that include commercial support — they fall under proprietary licenses though.

Things you can build with eZ Publish? Think personal homepages and multilingual corporate websites to please your boss — which include role-based multi-user access, e-commerce functions and online communities. It’s far from the most popular CMS and yet its client portfolio includes names such as Heinz, the Financial Times and the US Department of Defense.

eZ Systems also offers a curated plug-in directory called eZ Market, for the ez Publish platform.


If you’re a Java evangelist, you’ll appreciate Liferay Portal. It’s a free and Open Source enterprise CMS written in Java and distributed under the GNU Lesser General Public License.

It’s kind of a Swiss army knife, but some of things you can do with Liferay Portal include managing content and documents, publishing web sites and creating enterprise portals.

High profile clients include Cisco, T-Mobile and Barclays.

Also check out OpenCMS, another Open Source website content management system written in Java.


Love the Python programming language? Hipster alert! You’ll probably love Plone. It’s also free and Open Source.

Plone was born in 2001 and boasts features like inline editing — there’s no need to reload a page to edit content — strong security and high marks in performance. This CMS is said to work best for groupware sites like portals, intranets, and community run sites.

Plone claims to be in the top 2% of all open source projects worldwide. Fancy.


One of the few hosted CMS solutions listed in this article, Squarespace is focused purely on helping you build great looking websites. It has a very elegant and intuitive interface with plenty of great looking templates to choose from and if you have CSS skills, you can quickly cook up a unique looking design.

Instead of plug-ins, Squarespace employs “blocks” to help you quickly add extras like galleries, forums, forms and maps.

As it is a hosted solution, it might not appeal to advanced users who like to tinker with the base code.

Plans start at US$8 a month.

CMS Made Simple

Said to have similarities to Joomla, CMS Made Simple is Open Source (GPL) and is built on PHP and MySQL. It’s great for building small-ish (dozens to hundreds of pages) semi-static websites. Typically CMS Made Simple is used for corporate websites, or the website promoting a team or organisation. It claims to not specialise in building portals, blogs, or article based content, it’s too cool for that.

Its template system is driven by the Smarty template engine.

Concrete 5

Concrete 5 is great for non-programmers that want a basic, static website. Think simple About, Contact, Services pages. It boasts inline editing — you don’t need to open the admin back-end to make changes — and an intuitive interface, but the support community is small and doesn’t offer much in terms of plug-ins.


If you love/loved Ning, you’ll feel right at home with Elgg. The difference here is that, instead of having your own custom social network hosted on someone else’s server, you can host it on your own. You are in control of the data and the code.

Be sure to also check out BuddyPress.


Despite being a relatively new kid on the block, MODX is already boasting some impressive clients. If you know a little band called Wolfmother, you’ll be impressed. It also has the words “MOD” and “X” in its name. So cool.

If you’re into things like AJAX and Javascript libraries, this might be the CMS for you, but it might prove to be a little overwhelming at first.

Honourable mentions

  • Xoops and e107 — for developing community sites
  • Vivvo — a news focused content management system (newspapers, magazines, etc.)
  • MediaWiki — a free, Open Source wiki package written in PHP
  • Telligent — for customer-facing communities that improve customer support and brand loyalty
  • Open Text — an enterprise content management system



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