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Built upon Laravel PHP, Coaster CMS is aimed at independent developers and development agencies that handle large scale projects.
According to its website, Coaster CMS is, “the next generation of Content Management Systems” – which is a bold claim indeed.
But as I explored the features of the platform, I began to see where the Coaster CMS team was coming from. Kind of.
I’ll tell you exactly what I mean by that throughout the course of this review. Let’s get started.
As always, I began my journey – as any user would – through the vendor’s website.
I found the Coaster CMS site to be bold, professional, and informative. All positive signs.
It also boasts an interesting chart pitting Coaster against WordPress and Joomla. To be fair to the Coaster CMS team, the results show no bias, and they aren’t attempting to preach that Coaster renders WordPress or Joomla useless.
Instead, it’s more about highlighting the areas that Coaster excels in, where the other two fall short.
As you can see, the chart happily presents prominent areas where Coaster CMS isn’t so well-rounded. This level of honesty right there on the homepage is endearing, and I think it does a sound job of contextualizing Coaster CMS for those who aren’t familiar with it.
To get started, the platform is – as previously mentioned – free and open source, so you can download Coaster CMS directly from their website. Or, you can make use of their free online demo which demonstrates most, if not all, of the platform’s functionalities.
I like a platform to wow me when I first arrive at the dashboard, but to be frank, Coaster CMS didn’t do that.
The only piece of information displayed is the site’s recent administrative updates, which is handy if you work as part of a team that regularly makes website changes. Other than that though, the Coaster CMS dashboard is quite bare indeed.
As for the default theme, I really liked it. It wasn’t your stereotypical white-washed plain Jane attempt at a template – Coaster CMS had given it some personality.
However, I didn’t come across any design customization features, which is a shame. Although, do bear in mind that Coaster CMS isn’t geared towards small businesses in need of a website builder, it’s very much designed to be tinkered with via code.
To manage a website’s pages, Coaster CMS has drafted in a tree page view system that has been adopted by a growing number of content management systems as of late.
It’s easy on the eyes, and gives you a clear overview of your site’s structure via a relatively small amount of screen space.
You can drag-and-drop pages around to adjust their positions, and you can also drag them into sub-page positions. An edit and preview button are both visible on the right-hand side.
You can also open and collapse sub-pages quickly and easily. Just as with the rest of the platform, it’s all very fast and responsive.
I also noticed that on the contact page – a page type which comes out of the box with Coaster CMS as opposed to having to install a plugin – you can quickly view submitted forms by clicking a button on the tree page interface.
When it comes to editing pages, Coaster CMS takes a very detailed approach. Content can be configured for the main area of the page, sidebars, and footers. SEO options are also available.
The WYSIWYG editor was made up of all the standard stuff, as it should be. That includes image insertion, linking, aligning, font formatting, and so forth.
There was also an option to insert files from Coaster CMS’ file manager, and a video insertion tool that lets you find and embed YouTube videos without having to leave the Coaster CMS interface. It even uses YouTube’s search function to suggest similar videos to you – which is pretty cool.
Time Specific Pages
Here’s another feature I found interesting.
With Coaster CMS, you can make pages visible to the public during specific time periods only.
There are also repeat options available if you wish for pages to appear annually, weekly, monthly, and so on.
For example, you might want to specify one day of the year to offer a 50% off sale on all your products. With Coaster CMS, you can create a page to promote that sale in advance, and then configure it to automatically be accessible for just 24 hours on any chosen day of the year.
This can all be set when creating or editing a page, under the Page Info tab. (or using the versions tab for more complex rules with versioning turned on.)
Coaster CMS also lets you configure site-wide content, including:
Scroll to the top text
Footer HTML, links, and other footer content
Meta title, description, and keywords
This is all done via the Site-Wide Content page, which segments all of the above (and more) into five different tabs.
NB: some of these features may depend on the template you are using meaning that themes in Coaster can use a wide range of features as required by each website.
Coaster adopts a similar tree page view system to handle menus, which works nicely.
You can rename menu items, and specify the amount of sublevels you want to display to users all from the same interface.
A beacon is a small Bluetooth transmitter that transmits a single signal that other Bluetooth-enabled devices can see.
By using beacons, brands can transmit marketing materials to people passing close by, alerting them to sales and information directly to their smartphones or other devices.
When it comes to beacons, Coaster CMS teams up with Kontakt.io to produce the neccessary functionality.
Kontakt provides the hardware and software required to manage beacons, and Coaster CMS makes it easy to integrate it all with your website.
You’ll need to purchase beacons from Kontakt, and sign up for a free account to access their web panel, too. At the time of writing, that will set you back $60.00, which gets you three beacons.
Would it be even better if Coaster could offer all of this by itself? Yes, but that’s not really the point. Coaster CMS is the software that helps you align your beacon marketing efforts with your digital strategies. As such, I don’t expect it to be a hardware vendor too – although it would be pretty awesome if it was.
The Coaster CMS team are meeting this requirement through a separate solution called proximateapp.co.uk which will allow beacon purchases and pre-defined templates for users to quickly and easlily deploy beacons and make use of the unique Coaster features as an off the shelf solution.
Of course more complex solutions can be handled in a more bespoke manner using Coaster.
There aren’t many bells and whistles, but Coaster CMS does have a built in page redirection tool that’s simple yet effective.
Furthermore, I noticed that the file manager was fairly feature rich, with folders, a variety of viewing options, detailed filtering, and a range of search options.
I also found additional options under System Settings. There, I could specify an administrator email, page limits, and a URL for a WordPress powered blog, which would be redirected to whenever users access the /blog/ page on my Coaster CMS site.
Unfortunately though, there is no native blogging functionality, which is something that a modern CMS should have, in my opinion.
This was originally done intentionally as the Coaster CMS team felt WordPress was so widely known as a blogging platform and could be used to supplement Coaster. However, version 5.3 of Coaster (line with the next release of Laravel) will address this with blogging in the default theme. This makes use of Coaster’s standard feature of multiple templates (depending on design) for varied blog post (page) designs.
There also seems to be no officially endorsed plugins or themes, which is an area I think the Coaster CMS team should focus on, given the platform’s open source nature of the platform.
After all, part of the greatness of being open source is all the useful extras that the community can come up with.
NB: Coaster CMS will be creating additional “Coaster CMS wrappers” for specific purposes, such as ecommerce and marketing. We will begin to encourage others to develop these “wrappers (or plugins) keeping the main framework code at their heart and adding features specific to a purpose to avoid bloat.
As far as support options go, Coaster CMS offers up some decent documentation for general user and developers.
Other than that though, you’ll be hard pressed to find help if you run into any issues.
It would be nice to see a community forum set up, where the Coaster CMS team and community can come together to aid each other, share project, and cultivate a community feeling that – in my opinion – fuels the growth of any platform.
Coaster CMS have addded a forum to coastercms atcoastercms.org/forum.
Coaster CMS offers features that align with the next generation of marketing. Beacons have been around for a while in primitive forms, but as location-based marketing evolves, they’re set to be used more intelligently by brands such as Nestle and Mercedes.
I also like Coaster’s time-specific page publications, a feature which will give marketers an idea or two.
The platform also deploys a tree page view, a trend which has well and truly caught on amongst modern content management systems – and for good reason.
However, would I describe Coaster CMS “the next generation of content management systems”?
No, not really.
There is no blogging feature, for starters, but by decision to hold back on such a statement is less of a reflection on the platform itself, and more of a call for the Coaster CMS team to re-think their homepage copy. After all, there are very few platforms out there that I would refer to as “next generation”.
It seems to me though, that Coaster CMS is primed to be a content management system suited to modern brands with big marketing plans. Beacon technology is indeed a growing trend among larger brands, and if the Coaster team can supplement this compatibility with some more marketing features, I can see them carving out a real niche for themselves.
All in all though, I enjoyed using Coaster CMS, and if you’re looking for a platform that’s free, open source, and beacon compatible, I can’t think of a simpler solution.
The features that are in the latest version of Coaster, released on 31st August 2016) are detailed on their blog.
Coaster CMS is free and open source – which is always a positive.
Beacon compatibility is an increasingly relevant feature as far as marketing is concerned.
Time-specific pages further bolster the marketing capabilities of Coaster CMS.
Tree page view interfaces for page and menu management.
Makes it easy to integrate a WordPress powered blog.
The file manager is of a good standard, with plenty of search and filtration options.
Support options and the community feeling you expect with an open source platform is lacking somewhat.
No built-in blogging functionality – although it is coming in version 5.3.
The user interface isn’t the most beautiful I’ve come across, and sometimes looks a little cramped. However, the Coaster team has assured me that they’re focusing on improving this with the release of version 5.3.
Have you had any experience with Coaster CMS? Let us know how you feel about it in the comments section below!