Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Perfect Harmony

Posted on 21 June 2010 28 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!

28 comments

  1. Robert Chambers

    Robert Chambers

    21 June 2010 @ 10:51AM #

    As a big WordPress fan, I am sad to hear you’re moving away from it – especially when such a fantastic update has just come out. I’ve always considered this to be a great example of a portfolio website powered by WordPress and was the inspiration behind my own.

    On the other hand, I really respect you for trying something new and Harmony does look nice – I will be checking it out. I’m sure the recent attacks on your site have been very frustrating too.

    Good luck with it.

    P.S. Connecting from the UK, the site seems to be running nice and fast.

  2. kumbi

    kumbi

    21 June 2010 @ 10:53AM #

    hmmm… interesting read. particularly following the release of wordpress 3. still interested in what other features may have wooed you over to applying harmony over wordpress, besides the stated fluid ui and easy-peezy theme integration..

  3. Lee Simpson

    Lee Simpson

    21 June 2010 @ 10:53AM #

    Interesting move. Harmony does look like a really sharp systems and as far as backends go the design and layout beats anything else I’ve seen hands down…

    …but one thing you haven’t mentioned above is that Harmony costs $30 p/m at the lowest costing package.

    I understand that Wordpress has its short comings and that on the security side of things they haven’t yet been able to plug all of the holes event after all this time. But as Wordpress gets better and better (WP3 has plenty of new awesome features) is there really a future of hosted/paid CMS systems for the mass market?

  4. Rachel

    Rachel

    21 June 2010 @ 10:59AM #

    Hi Elliot. The site looks great and seems to be running quicker for me than it has before now! Well done :) It looks very interesting. I’d definitely want to know more about Harmony in the future.

  5. MrQwest

    MrQwest

    21 June 2010 @ 10:59AM #

    I’m glad you’re back regardless of what back-end system your site is running. The issues you were having sounded like a bit of a nightmare.

    I’ve heard a bit about HarmonyApp and plan to have a poke around once it’s more readily available. From the sounds of it, it’s quite a wolf in sheeps clothing as far as a simple yet powerful system goes.

  6. Dave Smith

    Dave Smith

    21 June 2010 @ 11:04AM #

    Hi Elliot,

    Harmony looks really good and I’ve signed up for the update.

    However with a max of 6 Live sites I can’t really see it being a feasible alternative for many web designers.

    What do you think?

    All the best

  7. MrQwest

    MrQwest

    21 June 2010 @ 11:05AM #

    Also, the comment times appear to be out by several hours for us UK folk.

  8. Thomas

    Thomas

    21 June 2010 @ 11:06AM #

    Replied this to you on twitter but as you sed to post thoughts on here, ill say it again?

    @elliotjaystocks wow, harmoney looks nice, but what sets it apart from say squarespace, which is much cheaper and more feature rice?

  9. Tom Walters

    Tom Walters

    21 June 2010 @ 11:12AM #

    Although I really love Wordpress I think it’s really good that you are trying something new – after all if we all stuck with what we were used to it would be a very boring web indeed. I’ll be interested to hear of your experiences and if the app can compare to Wordpress in the level of functionality and support.

    It’s also nice to see someone who is well known in the industry doing such a thing – maybe we are glimpsing the future.

    Great job on the migration by the way! And good luck.

  10. John Griffiths

    John Griffiths

    21 June 2010 @ 11:14AM #

    nice to hear your back, was getting worried for a moment there.

    agree with your decision to move off Wordpress, it’s an awesome platform & all but it is a bit of a jungle when creating cool content.

    Not sure about Harmony but may give it a go, UI looks devilishly sleek.

    ..going to make the jump myself soon, built my own blog engine but maintaining it is a chore. Either move to Jekyll http://github.com/mojombo/jekyll which has always struck me as really geeky and super-light to host or something else.

    Look forward to some new articles & 8faces when it gets published http://8faces.com/

    Great stuff.

  11. dungiis

    dungiis

    21 June 2010 @ 11:11AM #

    I have nothing to do with Harmonyapp but feel like that a lot of bugs will be found out

  12. Rory

    Rory

    21 June 2010 @ 11:23AM #

    Hi Elliot,

    Im in South Africa and the site is fast and snappy. Might be an edge over the Wordpress install.

  13. TheFella

    TheFella

    21 June 2010 @ 11:35AM #

    Glad it all went smoothly mate! I’d probably be tempted by Harmony if I didn’t build my own using a framework. (The benefit of also being a developer). (It’s also a curse!)

  14. khelll

    khelll

    21 June 2010 @ 12:37PM #

    wow, I’m in Syria and the site is super fast.

  15. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith

    21 June 2010 @ 01:05PM #

    Glad to have you aboard, man! Great work, looks like you’re picking it up quickly, which makes us really excited! Cheers!

  16. Rob Gough

    Rob Gough

    21 June 2010 @ 01:17PM #

    So that’s what happened to the RSS feed :P

    Thought I was experiencing Deja Vu.

  17. Dmitry Chebakov

    Dmitry Chebakov

    21 June 2010 @ 01:28PM #

    Your friendship with Steve is definitely a big advantage for Harmony. Otherwise, your opportunities would be limited to a single hosting company (forgot about dedicated server) and regular payments for life. Not sure it is worth it.

  18. Daniel

    Daniel

    21 June 2010 @ 01:45PM #

    I had talked to Steve about Harmony back at FOWD NY 2009, and it sounded great then. I know he and John have put a lot of thought and dev time into it. It sounds very robust, yet super easy to use. I think the UI is fantastic. I think its going to be a huge hit when it comes out of Private Beta.

  19. Nate Klaiber

    Nate Klaiber

    21 June 2010 @ 01:46PM #

    Congrats for the simple fact of getting off Wordpress. You can take a sigh of relief now knowing you never have to look at the horrendous PHP – you now have real content and a templating language.

    Obviously, you are in good hands with Steve/John, and I can guarantee your security will be much tighter. It’s not hard to exploit WP when it’s open source and the PHP itself looks bipolar. It’s part of the trade-off you have with moving to a new hosted-CMS.

    Glad to see everything in working order – beautiful as usual.

  20. Yaron Schoen

    Yaron Schoen

    21 June 2010 @ 02:35PM #

    Hi Elliot, I was wondering, when you say Harmony is flexible like Expression Engines, do you mean flexible? I have been using expression engines for a long time now, and to be honest, though it is extremely flexible (which I need for my site’s customization) it is such a pain to admin and to set up sites. It’s like Windows, flexible but such a cluster fuck. Anyways I was just wondering if you think that Harmony is a good fit for sites such as mine.

  21. Toby Howarth

    Toby Howarth

    21 June 2010 @ 03:14PM #

    Hi Mr Stocks,

    Site looks lovely and is very quick on Harmony, however I have noticed the Search bar in the footer has disappeared. Is this due to Harmony having a different search method ?

    Other than that the site still looks the same and Harmony is something I will keep an eye on but as a starter WP 3.0 is grabbing my attention.

  22. Brian

    Brian

    21 June 2010 @ 06:04PM #

    Hey Elliot!

    Great post and an interesting read. I had a question after reading… You mentioned that the Big Cheese at @harmonyapp handled the migration for you. I personally am a WordPress lover and while reading your blog entry I was expecting to find a reason to consider switching. Like you, probably my #1 hesitation in considering a switch is learning curve + data migration. After reading that Steve had so graciously handled migration for you “gratis” I found myself thinking “Huh, I thought Elliot would try to sell me on HarmonyApp but unless Steve is going to personally offer data migration to all us designers, I’m not really sold on the switch at all”. So that just gave me a frowny face, what do you think?

  23. J-P Teti

    J-P Teti

    21 June 2010 @ 10:26PM #

    Elliot, the site looks great and works great on Harmony. It’s also noticably faster.

    I do have a question for you though – why would you bother with WordPress? I respect your decision, you can do what you want, but I am curious why you would go with WordPress when you have both Harmony and Tumblr. It seems to me that you can run regular blogs with pages through Tumblr, and when you don’t need Tumblr, Harmony would do the job. Just curious, not angry or mad or anything. Great job to you on the swithch.

  24. Ian

    Ian

    22 June 2010 @ 11:40AM #

    I’m interested to find out how easy it is to migrate without direct help from the Harmony developers.

    The new site seems nippy anyway. Do you think you’d have changed if it were not for the dreaded Pharma hack?

  25. Tevi Hirschhorn

    Tevi Hirschhorn

    29 June 2010 @ 03:39PM #

    Kudos for having the guts to jump to a new system! It’s so easy to get complacent. Trying new things is what makes the web evolve!

    While a paid system is less popular to try and exploit by hackers, it really needs to blow my socks off to justify spending that money and giving up the host. If you’re getting this free, I would expect full disclosure.

  26. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    03 July 2010 @ 09:04PM #

    Cheers for taking the time to leave comments, everyone. I understand why some people are wary of hosted / paid-for CMSs but I’m fine with it and am happy to pay for something that just works. I can’t have a site running on a CMS that has security holes, especially when it’s then left to me to try (and fail) to sort them out. I still love WordPress but for this site I needed something a bit more robust.

    @ Thomas: SquareSpace seems cool, but is not as customisable as Harmony, from what I can tell.

    @ Yaron Schoen: I’ve never actually used EE on a site so I’m not that qualified to say — I’ve just been given demos by people — but as far as I know, EE and Harmony appear to be on par in terms of how you can customise the data you manage, the way it’s collected, and the way it’s rendered in the templates. But this is all extremely easy with harmony, whereas EE seems to have quite the learning curve. And I’ve even been told that by the friends who’ve given me demos and tried to get me into it. I don’t want to diss EE in any way because it looks great, but for me, the appeal of having that kind of power without any of the learning curve was the biggest draw. So, to answer your question, Harmony offer flexibility in spades, and so far I haven’t hit any frustration. It just works.

    @ Toby Howarth: Yeah, as I said, we had to remove the search functionality for the time being.

    @ Brian: You raise a good point and I admit that knowing Steve could help me out personally was a big plus point. However, even with that element removed form the equation, as it would be for someone else, Harmony still has the edge: a templating system that’s super-easy to use and an admin system built around highly customisable content management (rather than being based on a blogging engine with added extras). Plus, there’s the whole technical support / security / hosting support that anyone would benefit from, not just someone who knows the CEO.

    @ J-P Teti: I don’t really know enough about Tumblr to comment on that side of things (I’m in the process of setting up my first Tumblr-powered blog as we speak). Perhaps once I’ve got my head around Tumblr, I won’t have a need for WordPress. But I don’t want to speak out of turn; we’ll see what happens.

    @ Ian: The Pharma Hack was the straw that broke this camel’s back, but I’d been looking to move to another CMS (for this site) for a while, and had been wanting to try out Harmony for ages.

    @ Tevi Hirschhorn: Nope, just so you know: I am a regular paying Harmony customer.

  27. S. Preston Chuhon

    S. Preston Chuhon

    04 July 2010 @ 11:27PM #

    Interesting switch. I’ve been stuck in Wordpress land for years. It’s that dirty shirt that’s really comfortable but I know needs to be replaced. ExpressionEngine was a recommendation but maybe this is something that’ll work better.

  28. Kanwaljit Singh Nagra

    Kanwaljit Singh Nagra

    04 July 2010 @ 02:30PM #

    Hi Elliot,

    Maybe its psychological, but the site does seem to run quicker, either that or my internet connection has suddenly improved.

    Overall great article and your reason about the security problems with Wordpress definitely seems like a good reason to switch from Open Source. However, like others have commented it just seems like another skill to learn on top just about grasping Wordpress.

    Would be good to know how it works out for you in the near future and whether you would still consider worthwhile option for others to switch.

    Thanks.

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