Telligent's primary offering is Community Server (news, site), a social media and community solution. But it's not the only thing they have going. They also offer a web content management system called Graffiti CMS.
Graffiti CMS is a simple web content management system -- the CMS in its name actually stands for "content made simple". Some consider it a blogging platform, but it contains features and functionality that you don't normally see in such as platform. And anyways, the lines between blogging platforms and web content management systems are rapidly blurring, n'est pas?
Our interest piqued, we took a look at Graffiti and here's what we found.
Telligent refers to Graffiti as "content made simple". They call it blog software and they call it content management software. What Graffiti really is, is a combination of the two, offering an easy to install solution that you can get up and running in a very short period of time.
If you want a blog, Graffiti can do it. If you want basic web content management, Graffiti can do it -- depending on the version of the software you have.
Default Graffiti Home Page
The Basic Story
|Product Name ||Graffiti CMS v1.2|
|Product Category ||Web content management, simple web cms, web publishing, blogging|
|Typical Scenario ||Semi-pro blogging, basic web websites, micro publishing websites|
Company & Product History
Telligent is best known for its social media community solution, Community Server. They are considered a leader in this area by research analyst firm Forrester. Community Server includes blogging capabilities for multi-user blogging scenarios.
Telligent says they had a number of customers who wanted an easy to set-up and use blogging platform. So they built a web content management system to meet this need and in February of 2008, they announced version 1 of Graffiti.
Market & Pricing
Graffiti is for "everyday people". It is targeted as a solution for the small to medium sized business market. A free version is offered for non-commercial or not-for-profit use.
It is built in such as way that both designers and developers can use it for a blogging platform or basic web content management system.
There are three different versions of Graffiti: Express, Single and Server. Express is free for non-commercial use. Single and Server are commercial licenses and within each edition, there are different prices based on the number of content publishers.
|Program Level ||Cost/month||Description|
|Express||Free||Non-Commercial use only, 3 content publishers, limited support and some commercial capabilities are disabled, must show Powered by Graffiti Logo|
|Single Server|| |
US$ 99 - 3 Content Publishers
US$ 399 - 10 content publishers
US$ 799 - 25 Content Publishers
|A single website implementation, includes everything in Express Edition plus reporting and workflow. Support is also included.|
|Server Edition || |
US$ 5000 - 10 content PublishersUS$ 7500 - 25 Content Publishers
|Unlimited Graffiti sites on a single server|
Key Features and Ratings
Graffiti is built on Microsoft ASP.NET v2.0. It can use one of three different databases including MS Access, SQL Server and VistaDB.
For those who don't know VistaDB, it is a serverless TSQL database engine that maps very closely to SQL Server for data types and syntax.
With the exception of the Server Edition, Graffiti comes configured with VistaDB out the box. What is nice about the database configuration is that you can easily modify the web.config file to use any one of these databases without having to make any changes to the code itself (see tutorial here).
To install Graffiti you simply copy the Graffiti code to an Internet Information Server (IIS) website or virtual directory, change some system security settings and IIS settings, and you are done. It's that easy.
Designing Your Website
Graffiti utilizes a templating language called Chalk. Chalk is a combination of NVelocity (a port of the java Velocity project) and Graffiti functionality and is used to render themes for the website. Templates are a mixture of HTML/CSS for look and feel and Chalk for site content.
The basic content entity in Graffiti is a blog entry. This also equates to a webpage in Graffiti land. Attributes -- or fields -- include all the standard ones such as Title, Category, Body, Extended Body, Tags and Publish Date.
Graffiti -- Authoring a Content Item
To create a webpage that is not included in the list of blog entries on a website, you simply leave the category empty and then create a navigation link to that entry. And yes, that is a bit hacky feeling, not to mention prone to user error.
Display as Feature Settings
There are several settings you can set in the content entry post settings. If you want the item to be displayed on the Home Page of the website you can check an option called "Display on Home Page". If you want the item to be featured in various areas, one can check the option "Featured Category Post" or "Featured Site Post".
Graffiti -- Content Item Settings
Other attributes related to the blog include those required for good SEO like Metadata description and keywords. There is also a Name field that lets you override the webpage name of the post to something more SEO friendly.
Graffiti -- Content Item Options
Although this is the standard set of attributes for a content entity, you do have the ability to add custom fields. Custom fields are discussed in the Customizations/Integrations section below.
As this is a content management system primarily designed for blogs, it also contains all the standard blogging features such as comments (with Akismet ID), Comments Days -- the number of days people are able to comment on the entry and the ability to email comments.
This is a simple content management system. As such, there are some editorial features, but they aren't extensive.
You can search for entries by category or author. You can also leave Notes on an entry -- using it for workflow notes or just general notes.
Graffiti -- View of Published Items
You are able to see a list of entries you are working on (Draft), entries you have published and entries that are waiting for your approval.
There is also a section to view and approve, edit or delete comments made on entries.
Graffiti -- View of Published Comments
Graffiti has a built in rich text editor for content authoring. It is a basic editor and as such may not provide all the functionality you have come to expect. In this case, you case use any Editor that uses the Metablog API to connect to Graffiti. In particular, Telligent offers instructions on how to integrate the Windows Live Writer Application. There are plenty of other options in the field though.
Graffiti Text Editor -- Select Presentation Template
When you first log into Graffiti, you see the Dashboard. One section of the dashboard displays list that tells you if there are any items waiting for your approval, including both content and comments. It it also tells you how many content items you have published and if there are any comments on those items.
Graffiti supports three predefined roles:
- Admin: The Administrator has full privileges for creating, managing and publishing content and comments. They can also modify themes and widgets, add/modify users and add categories.
- Manager: A manager approves the content of Contributors and can publish their own content without approval.
- Contributor: A contributor can create and edit posts, but they cannot publish directly to the website.
You can add new Roles to Graffiti with permissions options Read, Edit and/or Publish based on Categories.
Graffiti -- Managing Roles
Graffiti -- Managing Users
Something you don't often see in blogging software is content versioning. Graffiti stands out in this regard as the software does have content versions. A complete history of changes to a content entry is maintained. You can compare changes between revisions or the current version.
Graffiti -- Content Item Revision History
Content that has been deleted is crossed out and colored red. Content that has been added is highlighted in green.
Graffiti -- Viewing Content Version Differences
Another nice feature is the ability to retrieve a deleted content entry. Graffiti maintains a Deleted area that is similar to the Recycle Bin on your computer. Deleted content goes there and it's from the Deleted area that you permanently remove the content.
Graffiti has basic workflow capabilities in the Single and Server Editions. Workflow is related to your role on the site and the publishing of content.
Graffiti -- Basic Workflow Options
There are four workflow states in the publishing process:
- Published: The content entry has been published or will be published on the Publish Date.
- Draft: The content entry has been saved, but not published to the website.
- Pending Review: An email is sent to editors and managers requesting they review and approve the content entry.
- Require Changes: Indicates changes must be made before the content can be approved.
Graffiti's workflow is email based. This is to say that email alerts are sent to the appropriate people when a post is ready to review and also when it has been reviewed and either approve or sent back for modfications.
The Graffiti back office interface is currently only available in English. Since Graffiti is built upon .NET, all the native .NET multi-lingual capabilities come to bear. With that said, it is probably not a good assumption at this point to think that you could use Graffiti to manage non-English language websites. A proof of concept and related testing would be advised.
There is a Site Administration Section in Graffiti that enables you to manage a number of useful things:
- Site Settings: Set site wide defaults including Website Title, Tagline, Copyright, Metadata, Timezone, Feedburner links, Header, Google Code for Analytics
- Comments: Site wide settings for comments on entries such as the number of days an entry can be commented on, the Akismet ID, email comments and enable comments altogether. Note that even if comments are enabled on a site wide basis, you can disable them for a particular content entry.
- Custom Fields: See our discussion below.
- Plug-Ins: View and enable Plug-ins currently installed in your site
- Packages: Packages are a collection of themes, widgets, plug-ins, Alert Filters and more
- Email Settings: Set your outbound email settings
- Utilities: Used to manage your site including Rebuild Pages, Logs (similar to IIS and Windows logs), File Browser and Migrator (migrates other blogs into Graffiti).
- Licenses: Manage the licenses you have for your software
Graffiti -- Migration / Import From Other Blogging Platforms (note support for BlogML)
Content Administration, other than workflow, includes the ability to manage Categories and Navigation for your website. Also included is the modification of the look and feel.
Blog content is organized into Graffiti Categories. Categories can be nested and include not only the Category name, but the names of any links to the category, category descriptive text and meta data. Clicking on a category in the website displays a listing of all content related to that category.
You can create your Categories before or during the creation of a post related to that category.
Graffiti -- Managing Content Categories & List Presentation
By default, Graffiti will create Navigation links to all top level categories. In addition to these navigation elements, you can also create navigation links to uncategorized entries as well as custom links.
Your Graffiti website is based on a default theme. You have the option of editing that theme, selecting a new one from the Graffiti Marketplace or Uploading your own themes.
Graffiti -- Managing Themes
Graffiti -- Editing a Theme
If you choose to modify a default theme page, Graffiti maintains a copy of the default page. You can read all about the theme components and how to modify them to change the look of your website.
Widgets are components on the pages of your website. Graffiti comes with a number of out of the box widgets that you can include in your site such as a Tag Cloud, List of Links, Popular Posts, Recent Comments and Twitter feed.
You can upload new widgets from the Graffiti Marketplace or build your own. Graffiti includes a drag and drop interface for arranging and customizing widgets for your website. If you choose to create your own widgets, Telligent provides details on how to leverage the Graffiti dynamic form API that derives from Graffiti.Core.EditableForms.
Both the Single and Server Editions of Graffiti include reporting capabilities. These reports show you how your site is doing in terms of traffic and popular content. By default Graffiti provides the following reports:
- Views by Date
- Views by Post (Top 10)
- Comments by Date
- Comments by Post (Top 10)
Most reports are line graphs which can be drilled down into by hovering over or clicking a point on the graph.
In addition to reports on site content overall, you can view reports based on a particular content entry.
Graffiti provides a number of default date ranges for reports including: Today, yesterday, Last 7 Days, Last 30 Days, This Month, Last Month, Forever and Custom. Selecting Custom gives you the ability to enter a set of date ranges.
Graffiti -- Individual Content Entry Report
Social Media Capabilities
Out of the box, Graffiti has a number of social capabilities that we'd say are on par with (but not exceeding) current expectations:
- Commenting with Email Updates: Standard rules apply here, this is conversational media
- Tags: Tags are used to organize content. There is a Tag Cloud widget that you can include on your website.
- Blog Extensions Plug-In: This is a Graffiti plugin that provides you with extended blogging features such as comments RSS and Trackbacks
- Graffiti Extras Project: A 3rd party project hosted on CodePlex, this provides many interesting features such as a Ping-o-matic connector, a Comment Reply Notifyer and a Community Reactions extension
- Twitter Integration: As part of the pre-packaged widgets, there is a Twitter Widget which can pull in your activity in the Twit-o-sphere.
Customizability & Integration
You can customize the look and feel of your website. You can do this by downloading a new theme from the Graffiti Marketplace or uploading your own custom built theme. Themes consists of a CSS files and Views (VM) files. You customize each file according to your needs.
You can install plugins to add additional functionality to your website. One such plugin discussed above is the Blog Extensions Plug-In. You can create your own plug-ins, especially if you are familiar with ASP.NET's HttpModules or Community Server's CSModules, as they are very similar. The Graffiti Marketplace is young yet, but the idea is that this will evolve into a mature zone for buying, selling or just downloading Themes, Plugins and Widgets.
You can extend the functionality of your Graffiti website by building custom widgets. At press time, there were not any Widgets to be found in the Graffiti Marketplace.
An easier way to provide some customization to your website is by using Custom Fields. Custom Fields give you the ability to add additional data elements to your content items. You can assign these custom fields to a particular category or to the content entry in general.
Just remember that to have these fields show up in your display, you will need to modify the theme for your website. So this is not yet a 100% point and click operation.
Graffiti -- Custom Fields
Content Delivery Architecture
Graffiti is typically deployed to a Windows Server with IIS and one of the supported databases. It will run an Windows 2000, 2003, and Vista Home Premium and above. It is really designed for single instance deployments, but one could imagine more scalable, secure or reliable architectures being possible, if a remote SQL Server was employed as the database component and then N number of front end servers were used for delivery. Unfortunately, this is not something we had time to dig into in the scope of this review.
First and foremost, Graffiti is blogging software. Similar products would then include other Micro CMS and Blogging Solutions that can be downloaded and installed in-house. Off the cuff the list would start with such products as Dasblog, ExpressionEngine, Movable Type, Subtext and WordPress.
You could also look at various hosted micro cms and blogging solutions as well, including PublicSquare, SquareSpace, TypePad, Viviti and WordPress.com. And when the SaaS Drupal project, Acquia Gardens, finally blooms, that may also be worthy of consideration.
Moving away from the blogging sphere, there are some simple web content management systems that may be on par with Graffiti. These include products such as Clover Content, Kentico CMS, Telerik's Sitefinity and open source Umbraco. These are all light-weight ASP.NET Web CMS products that fall roughly into the Graffiti ballpark.
Here's a summary table of the review (rating is 0.0-5.0 with 5.0 being the best):
|Product Core Technology||ASP.NET, IIS, Windows, Chaulk||4.0|
|Content Entities||blog entry, templates, attribute extension (partially manual)||3.5|
|Editorial Features||View posts, view list of outstanding items, dashboard,||3.5|
|Content Versioning||Unlimited versions, version comparison||4.5|
|Content Workflow||Basic Approval workflow, email based||3.0|
|Multi-lingual Support||English only back office, ASP.NET multi-lingual support||1.5|
|Content Administration||Modify Categories, Reporting,Navigation, Themes||4.0|
|Social Media Capabilities||Basics for blogging||3.5|
|Security ||Users and Roles can be added/edited and modified to a certain extent||3.0|
|Content Delivery Architecture||Single database server, IIS, Windows/Vista||2.5|
Overall Graffiti is a solid blogging solution. It contains all the basic capabilities for blogging software with a few extra goodies that make life easier for Content Editors including approval workflows and versioning.
As Telligent indicates, Graffiti can be used for more than blogging websites, it can be used as a simple web content management system and offers capabilities that support that, including versioning and formatted templates for content entry.
In addition, Graffiti supports multiple users for content entry and editing and allows you to extend the out of the box security roles further by content category.
Also nice is the ability to create entries using a third-party text editor which has much more enhanced capabilities than the built in text editor.
What's Coming in Version 2.0
There has already been talk about the next version of Graffiti and although no schedule has yet been set, we do know what some of the new features and functionality will include:
Architecture updates (not on the Roadmap)
- Replace DataBuddy with nHibernate
- Move to ASP.NET MVC (First the public part of the site, then the back office section)
- Add an option which does not require writing files to disk for URL rewriting
- Make Graffiti Marketplace content more discoverable
- Similar navigation is available inside of the Control Panel
- Add more themes, widgets, plugins
Support and Documentation enhancements (not on the Roadmap)
- Update GraffitiCMS.com to CS 2008.5 (Include a "resolved" flag and Enable Mail Gateway)
- Make documentation more discoverable
- All Chalk methods should include documentation to describe what they do, and at least one example to show how to use them
Future enhancements include support for unlimited nesting of categories, localization, remove Prototype in favor of jQuery and move data storage to a repository platform. Vertical based theme support will also be added and Graffiti will configure itself based on theme selected during install. Users will be able to submit themes, plug-ins and widgets to the Graffiti Marketplace.
Graffiti will potentially get Cloud Storage and an additional spam filtering solution.
A Commitment to Content Management
Telligent seems committed to developing Graffiti CMS even further, with plans to offer enhanced capabilities fitting for both a web content management system and a blogging platform.
If you prefer the Microsoft technology stack, then our opinion is that Graffiti is a quality option that will get you up and running in no time, blogging to your hearts content.