Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, co-founder of lifestyle magazine Lagom, founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, and an electronic musician.

Perfect Harmony

Posted on 21 June 2010 Comments

Article illustration for Perfect Harmony

Notice anything different about the site? No? Good. Because, bar a couple of very minor tweaks (more on that in a minute), only one thing has changed and it’s something completely invisible. But it’s also something rather huge:

As of now, this site is no longer powered by WordPress. Say hello to Harmony.

A brief history

This is a pretty significant move considering my long-standing relationship with WordPress, but in truth I’ve been wanting to try out Harmony for quite some time. Last year, Steve gave me a demo of the CMS while it was still in a very early beta and I loved what I saw: both the admin system and the templating system were incredibly easy to use (don’t forget: Steve was the guy behind the massively popular Tiger Admin style plugin for WordPress, and Harmony’s admin UI has the same beauty and elegance), and this massively appealed to me as a designer, as I’d long ago grown weary of having to delve into complex back-end code to get theme files working the way I wanted.

Screenshot of Harmony

But it wasn’t just about ease of use: it was clear from that very early demo that Harmony had a great deal of power and flexibility behind it. Dan and Andy had been singing the praises of Expression Engine to me for a long time and I was keen to try it out, but I was always slightly wary of what I perceived to be its steep learning curve. So with Harmony offering power and simplicity, it was understandably very appealing.

But that was last year. In spite of my enthusiasm for Harmony, the reality was that I was extremely busy, and because I was so comfortable with WordPress, there wasn’t really the time or motivation to make the switch.

Until now. As you may know, about a month ago the site was hit by the Pharma Hack (which looks like this) and although I successfully removed the offending code using Chris Pearson’s very helpful article, it came back again. And again. During that period I was forced to take my site down temporarily (a couple of times), and I was then advised that the safest bet was to re-install WordPress. And with that, I’d had enough.

Screenshot of Harmony

The thought of moving a website from one CMS to another scares the hell out of me. Getting a whole new templating system to behave like the old one — complete with all the funny little nuances and semi-hacks I’ve thrown in there over the years — was surely going to be a huge challenge. And what about that huge database, with tables and tables of data that need to play nice with the new system? Fortunately, the whole thing was a breeze, thanks to Steve, who basically moved the whole thing over seamlessly in what amounted to just a few hours. I have to admit that while I love the open source community, there’s nothing quite like having the founder of the company and co-developer of the CMS handle your project migration personally! And because the Liquid templating language is ridiculously easy to use, I was able to go in and tweak the small stuff where necessary, while Steve did most of the heavy lifting.

Screenshot of Harmony

I’m not turning my back on WordPress

I want to be really clear about this. Because of the size of this site and the way in which I publish content, I felt that it had outgrown WordPress, but I still feel that WordPress is perfectly suited to powering a number of my other sites, and I still have plans to continue the Starkers project for the foreseeable future (more on that soon), so I’m by no means turning my back on the publishing platform or setting out to disrespect it. I love WordPress and I love the WordPress community; there’s too much history there for me to ever feel otherwise. It’s just about choosing the right tool for the job.

Also: a quick note on hosting

Harmony is an app hosted on the servers they have with Rails Machine, which obviously means that this site is now hosted on Rails Machine as well. But for me this was just a bi-product of moving to Harmony. I’m very happy with Media Temple and they host all of my other websites, as well as several of the assets used on this site. I want to make it absolutely clear that hosting did not come into my decision to change CMSs.

However, I would certainly be interested in hearing how the site is performing for you. Faster? Slower? About the same?

The future

Moving to Harmony has given me the impetus to start making the changes to this site that I mentioned previously, so expect to see some of your suggestions appearing quite soon. Thanks to Steve and a quick bit of jQuery, the Twitter and Delicious feeds are now working properly in the footer (they frequently failed to load when using WordPress plugins) and I’ve also updated a few bits of content here and there, like on the About page. The search functionality is still being worked on, so we’ve disabled that for now. If you spot anything else behaving differently, please let me know.

In this post, I haven’t really gone into any detail about Harmony’s impressive feature set, or demonstrated just how easy it is to manage content and theme files. I think that’s an article in itself — or several articles, in fact — so expect so see more on that very soon. The app is still in ‘private invitation only mode’ so the user base is still relatively small, but perhaps it’d be useful if I wrote some tutorials, ready for the public release?

If you’d like to read more about Harmony in the meantime, head over to the Documentation section of the Harmony website. These two videos are particularly tasty:

Right now, I couldn’t be happier with the new CMS. Long live Harmony!

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