Mezzanine: Just Another Django CMS?

June 11, 2010  /  Home

Ask any developer that has put together a Django admin interface and they’ll tell you that it’s an amazing piece of technology that allows you to whip up an admin system for your web application in a number of minutes rather than days. Unfortunately this power can be a double-edged sword as without enough time and thought up front, a developer can easily end up creating an interface that’s almost impossible for its intended audience to work with.

I’ve seen this issue manifest itself in two ways. The first is the bare-bones case where the options available for creating the admin interface are simply left out, resulting in a spartan admin that does little to guide the user on how to use it. The second could be described as the opposite end of the scale where there is actually far too much going on in the admin interface at the cost of simplicity and intuitiveness. This can often be the result of gluing together a range of resuable apps that each have their own approach to providing admin interfaces with the end result looking like a Rube Goldberg machine. These scenarios are bad for customers and bad for Django. When end-users think of Django, they think of the admin interface — that’s what Django is to them so it’s critical to get this component right.

I recently had Wordpress suggested to me as a solution to this problem and it’s easy to see why. The Wordpress install base alone speaks huge volumes while its admin interface is incredibly user- friendly. It also benefits from not requiring technical expertise to get a simple website with pages and a blog up and running. However I felt this idea overlooked the underlying issue of poorly configured Django admin interfaces, while taking a step backwards by investing in PHP — a relatively inelegant technology with a very limited application scope.

My solution to the problem was to tackle the underlying issue more directly by creating a Django application which I’ve called Mezzanine. The approach I’ve taken is to have functionality on par with Wordpress that can be used as a starting point when developing basic websites. This meant putting a lot of thought into the admin options used, as well as including a custom version of the django- grappelli admin skin to come up with a modern looking and intuitive admin interface. The other key approach I’ve taken is to include as much functionality as possible directly in the application itself for the sake of a consistent and lightweight code base that can easily be hacked on. It’s worth noting that this is in total contrast to other Django website applications such as Mingus and Pinax, and that this difference really comes down to a question of scope. Pinax for example is capable of a much wider range of functionality than what I’m aiming for with Mezzanine out of the box which is to cater for basic websites with the following features:

The Mezzanine admin dashboard

I’ve open sourced the initial version of Mezzanine with a BSD license on both github and bitbucket — it still has a long way to go so jump right in and fork away.