Review: Concrete5

Website Builder: Concrete5
Pros: ability to revert to older versions, using versioning
Cons: limited functionality; limited options for customisation
Price: Hosted packages range from $7.90 a month for the Starter package, to $50 a month for the Enterprise package and $150 a month for resellers. A free trial period is available.
Ideal for: very basic websites

Concrete5 is an open-source Content Management System (CMS) that is available in both a freely downloadable, self-hosted version and a paid, hosted version. Concrete5 uses a model that is similar to that of WordPress.com (see our review) and Drupalgardens (see our review), though in this case both versions are available from one website.

In this review, we will look at the hosted version of Concrete5.

Concrete5′s concept is slightly different from that of Wordpress or Drupal in that Concrete5 features on-page editing, something that is also offered by services like Squarespace (see our review), SiteKreator (see our review) and many others.

With on-page editing, content is not edited in an administrative interface, but in-place, right on the page of our website. This has the advantage that we can see what our page looks like, even while we are still working on it.

The appearance of a Concrete5 website is a combination of what is called a Page Type, a Theme and Content Blocks.

The hosted version of Concrete5 comes with only 3 Themes pre-installed, though we can install additional themes.

Page Types offer general page-layout plans and are independent of Themes. Page Types available include Left Sidebar, Right Sidebar, Fullwidth and something that is called Press Release, with a layout very similar to the Right Sidebar layout. All content on pages is contained in so called Content Blocks. When we click on a Block, a pull-down menu provides access to editing options for that particular Content Block. Options include edit content, move, delete, but also design – which lets us set fonts, colours and sizes of text, among others.

Two links, at the bottom of each column and labelled Add to Main and Add to Sidebar respectively, let us add new Content Blocks to our pages. Content Blocks can contain any kind of content, from text (with or without images), to Flash-based content, Google Maps, video players or a user survey.

To control which users are allowed to create, edit or delete posts, Concrete5 uses a system of permissions. The basic, default system has only 3 levels of access. A more advance system is available, but requires that website owner modify a PHP file, something that users of a hosted service might not feel comfortable doing.

Final words
Basing a hosted service on an open source solution has proved a good strategy for both Wordpress.com and Drupalgardens. In the case of Concret5, however, this strategy fails to some extend.

Hosted service users are given the same documentation that self-hosting solution users use, with no indication as to what is different. Editing a PHP file is something that self-hosting users might not be afraid of, but a hosted service user probably would like to be shielded from this experience.

Concrete5′s feature list says you can add new functionality to your site. To do this, you have to go to the Dashboard, then Add Functionality and Connect to the Community. When we tried this during our review, we were unable make this connection as Concrete5 kept refusing our login and password.

Update: While wrapping up this review, we found a note elsewhere on Concrete5.org that the account used to edit our website, is actually a different account from the one used to access the Concrete5 Community. The lack of clarity in the error message presented when we tried to log in is, in our humble opinion, exemplary for state of much of Concrete5′s documentation.

Because of its lack of customizability, and because we were unable to add much needed additional functionality, we would not recommend Concrete5 for anything but the most basic of websites. At $7.90 a month, Concrete5 is going to have a hard time proving it offers value for money.

To sign up for your free Concrete5 trial, click here.

If you use or have used Concrete5, we would like to hear your experience in the comments below.

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