Why We Decided to Go All in on Wagtail CMS

Tony Yates

The NHS recently selected Wagtail as their CMS to give the flexibility and stability that one would expect the NHS to need. I was a key influencer in this decision and was supported by some exceptionally talented people from the NHS.UK team.

The reason? Wagtail isn’t all things to all people, which means to make it work for your users you are going to have think about how they need it to work. Let's call these user needs; and meeting them should be the primary focus on everything you are working on. Alternatives simply tried to solve too many problems and didn’t align with the needs of our users.

From that day forward I was convinced and still am, that Wagtail would become an intrinsic part of the VIX Digital core offer. We decided to go all in.

Firstly let me share with you the characteristics of VIX Digital at the time. We had never used Wagtail before in the company, our developers weren’t necessarily Python gods and there definitely were more established alternatives we could have adopted, Wordpress and Drupal being the biggest two open source offers. So why the decision?

First a Little History

Wagtail was built by Torchbox who have significant development expertise and success with Drupal, but they decided to build something new. Reading https://wagtail.io/about-wagtail/ will go into more detail why, but effectively they were scratching their own itch. They cared about content editors as much as the consumers of content and that is where I believe Wagtail is better than it’s competition, it really does make you think about what is needed for your users of the content and those that create and manage that content.


The Things We Like

Features that we believe make Wagtail one of the best CMS for large scale websites, particularly government:

  • The project is very well documented.
  • Is is written really well, diving into the core is a pleasure to read.
  • It’s fast and has been built with elastic search being an integral part of the design.
  • StreamFields - you are going to love them!
  • It has a very powerful API which is easy to tailor to your user needs and organisation needs.
  • The head can be detached with ease, within in a few minutes the rendering engine can be disabled.
  • Surfacing API’s and building front ends focussed on the users need will ensure others can consume your content in new and interesting ways.
  • It has a decent but not saturated ecosystem of apps keeping the quality high.
  • The app based structure inherited from Django is extremely powerful, and the ability to utilise Django components alongside Wagtail is a master stroke.
  • Developing plugins/apps is a little harder than some CMS’s, which means it needs more skilled developers and therefore the code quality tends to be higher.
  • There is lots of opportunity to contribute to the core product and the eco system, it doesn’t claim to be finished and the team at Torchbox are a delight to work with.
  • Python is everywhere in the machine learning space, VIX Digital has also embraced machine learning (hasn’t everyone?), the skills are transferable both ways, data manipulation for machine learning equally make us proficient when doing ETL for content which is often a requirement.

I hope this piques your interest enough to give it a try, there isn’t a better CMS out there for sending you down the right path to meet the needs of your users, and to be honest we believe that is all you should be working on. We have a few of our team members working with Torchbox and many other great companies at their Bristol Sprint focusing on improving editor experience. We, are all in.

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