The question pops up regularly: why isn't MODX more popular? Why is it that WordPress has over 20% of global market share, whereas most agencies or designers have never heard of MODX? And what can we do to grow the MODX community?
On the forums or chatting on the MODX Slack you're likely to see one or more of the following reasons getting mentioned:
- The company behind MODX doesn't have the budget or resources that Automattic has, making it harder to reach a large group of people with advertising.
- Perhaps the user experience of MODX isn't good enough.
- Feature X which MODX is lacking is critical to gain more adoption.
- There should be more themes and extras available for MODX.
While depending on your view and relative position within the MODX community, these may make perfect sense, I don't think any of them are truly the root cause here. Each of them might have some impact, and I don't want to discourage anyone from tackling those issues as there is definitely room for improvement, but I think there's a bigger reason.
Asking the Right Questions
To get there, we need to first ask the question who MODX is for.
Some might say "everyone", and that might definitely be the case for WordPress. Their mission is to "democratise publishing" implying they want everyone to be able of publishing their thoughts and ideas, so "everyone with thoughts" is a really broad target group. That's definitely not true for MODX though.
MODX is for the front-end developers, designers and agencies that want to provide their clients with a bespoke experience, without having to reinvent the wheel for everything they do. Why? Because without any HTML and CSS knowledge, you're going to have a tough time building a website in MODX. For that target group of web professionals, MODX provides an easy to use (and extend) content management platform that grows with the project, but does not dictate how it needs to be built.
So, why don't more of those people use MODX?
In my opinion, the primary reason MODX isn't as popular is because MODX has its place in the background of the project.
When someone builds a website for a client, they are building a website, not a MODX website. The fact it uses MODX under the hood, and it pains me to write this, is for the most part irrelevant and transparent. MODX is used as a tool to deliver a project, which is important, but not what defines the project. Many of the developers, designers and agencies that use MODX also recognise that MODX may not always be the best tool for the job, so aside from MODX they might also use WordPress, Drupal, Magento or something else completely, depending on the project.
Now compare that to the situation for WordPress developers. The brand is enormous, and a lot of prospective clients have already decided they want a WordPress website before they even figured out what they want their website to do. I'm sure many of you regularly have to convince clients that maybe, just maybe, WordPress is not the right tool to accomplish their goals, and I think it's very important to educate people about what's available on the market.
Whereas MODX users have to fight for projects with these clients, a lot of WordPress developers are simply tapping into that brand recognition by explicitly providing WordPress services. They sell WordPress websites instead of websites. Given the size of that market, I can't blame them.
MODX vs WordPress developers
This difference between WordPress developers and people that simply use MODX is very obvious when you do a search on LinkedIn.
Taking the numbers above, WordPress developers outnumber MODX developers 87 to 1. These searches are loose, meaning anyone that has "MODX" and "developer" in their profile will get shown, even if they're completely unrelated to each other. If you do an exact search instead, the results look like this.
Let me do the math for you: people that refer to themselves as a "wordpress developer" outnumber those that market themselves as "modx developer" by 266 to 1. Obviously there are a lot more than 27 developers that know MODX very well, but it does make MODX look like a tiny niche.
So we've got a lot people that use MODX as a tool, but very few people that market themselves on LinkedIn as a developer specific to that tool, because it doesn't tell their full story.
Spreading MODX casually
As people don't sell themselves as MODX developer everywhere they go, our peers that have not yet met with Creative Freedom are a lot less likely to stumble across MODX. The CMS market is huge, and converting to a different CMS often depends on personal recommendations or seeing someone use it. This is why WordPress keeps growing and growing, as everyone knows someone that built a site on WordPress.
Late last year a new PHP usergroup was started in my area with monthly meetups, talking about all sorts of PHP-related subjects. As I've been interested in learning more about the best practices in PHP outside of what we've been doing in MODX, I've attended most of those meetups since. While doing so, I also made sure that my introduction on Meetup.com included MODX. While it's not a big ad, or a very compelling statement that gets people to change all their processes, it kept coming up casually in discussions. People asked what it was at the meetup, and at some point I decided to reach out to the organisers and see if I could do a full talk about it at one of the meetups.
Last month that finally happened as I gave my talk titled Unleashing Creative Freedom with MODX at the PHP FRL user group. Rather than a 2 minute elevator pitch over a beer, people got the full introduction of MODX, and learned about the most important concepts and other tools they need to build their first website in MODX. I think it was well received, and may have gotten MODX a couple of new users that night.
Later this month, I'll be doing the same talk again, this time for a larger group of developers at the first PHP Zwolle meetup. What started as a simple mention that I specialised in MODX, turned into two talks already, and likely more to follow.
To make the MODX community grow, I think that's what we need to do: talk to our peers in person. Dropping in MODX on a bio or having dedicated pages about MODX on your site is a great start, but I think that's not enough to convince web professionals to try out MODX. They need more insight into how it fits with their processes and services.
Let's start talking more with people outside our community, sharing experiences and learning more together.
If this article convinced you to seek out local user groups to give a talk about MODX, I would be happy to provide you with the Keynote file of my "Unleashing Creative Freedom with MODX" slides to give you a bit of a head start on your preparation. Just send me an email via firstname.lastname@example.org.