Jay Gilmore just asked me on Twitter what changes I’d make to the modX user interface and my mind exploded with ideas. Usually when I complain about WordPress’ issues, people hum and haw about my comments, but no one ever throws it back in my face and asks me what I’d do better.
Here are my thoughts on changes that could potentially make ModX easier to use.
Content Aware Site Tree
I find the current site tree to be very annoying, especially on sites where we have more than one hundred pages. This is especially true for situations where we have almost sections of a site like the Blog, Photo Galleries, and other features that really, in most ways, aren’t part of the general page structure, but are more like mini-sites themselves. I am aware we can collapse these items, but management of sections should be focused on sections themselves. Like how most systems separate posts and pages, ModX could easily separate out any top level page/container from the sub-pages below it.
Maybe making it easy to have a section called Blog with its own “site tree”. This could then allow me to add users to see only that site tree in an easy to manage way. That way I could have an option to manage Blog or manage Gallery or manage any specific section and not have to see the rest of the site tree.
Going hand in hand with this, I would like to be able to drag and drop pages to re-assign parents. This would be much easier than the current system.
Here’s a video of my current site tree:
Stop Using Images for Important Functions
When I want to teach someone how to create a page, do you think they really understand what picture they need to click on? What do the following images mean to you?
Do any of them really look like an icon for a new page?
It might work better if there was just a new page option at the top. Purge, new link, expand, contract and sort could go somewhere else (maybe at the bottom of the site tree area). So then at the top we would only have New Page and New Container.
Extra Items Create Confusion
Why is there a Preview link? I agree a link to the active site is important, but should it be called preview? Is it so important that it needs to be a main navigational item?
If we added the new page and new container options within the site tree, we could then remove the “duplicate” items in the navigation. New resource is also not very helpful in that people don’t understand what that means. What does a resource do? Not very user friendly.
Or what about all the “extra” fields you get when you create a new resource or link. The average user is confused by things like having both Title and Long title or Description and Summary. It would be nice if, like WordPress, I could easily enable or disable these fields/sections from my view.
This is what happens when you give “too many” fields to users:
All navigational items and fields on pages in the admin panel should be looked over and it should be decided if an average user could understand them. Extra attention should be paid to where the links are placed, their wording, and if they are truly needed at all.
WordPress Does Link Management Right
New Weblink doesn’t really inspire me with confidence. It doesn’t help with understanding the structure of the data, or how it can effectively be used. WordPress’ management of links is, in my mind, ideal.
The ability to categorize links, assign various details to them, and easily display them makes more sense than the way ModX manages these items.
While ModX has made great strides in the ease of extending the platform with Revolution, I still think there is much that can be done to make it ideal. Looking at Habari for instance with how their plugins page functions would be a good start for the ModX team.
I can easily active or deactivate plugins, as well as change configuration details, easily and quickly. Same with WordPress. They have gone a step farther and made installing and updating plugins an art form.
One of the ideals that I think needs to come forward in ModX more is “how can we keep people from not needing to leave the admin panel to extend the platform?”
I feel like I am using Windows 3.1 when I am dealing with media in ModX. There are so many better ways to manage media, and it really doesn’t feel like this aspect of ModX was given much time or attention.
A great example, in my mind, of what can be done with media management features is what Habari has done with theirs.
It was also made to be extended and use third party services as though they were local. This seamless use of flickr within Habari makes for a great user experience.
Reloading to Remove Editor?
Why should I have to reload the whole page when I just want to turn off the TinyMCE editor for a second? WordPress has made it reasonably easy to change between WYSIWYG editing and raw text editing, why can’t ModX?
Don’t get me started on the issues I’ve had with WYSIWYG editors!
In the end, I am sure there are many other small tweaks that could be made to not only make ModX seem more modern as a CMS, but also to lower the barrier to entry in helping users understand how to use the system without removing the power features.
Usually, all it takes is just giving people options to remove features and fields so that they don’t get confused, distracted or otherwise have issues.
ModX was built for programmers, and it shows. It is a shame though as they’ve built something that’s powerful but is nearly unusable for most of the end-users I deal with.