Joomla Quietly Crosses 23 Million Downloads, Now Powering Over 2,600 Government Sites

According to BuiltWith, of the top million websites using content management systems (or CMSes), three systems own more than 75 percent of the total market share: WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. (All of which are open source, by the way.)

Many are likely most familiar with WordPress, which TechCrunch has covered quite a bit (and uses to power most its sites, for full disclosure). WordPress is the most popular CMS on the Web, running 62 percent of the top million websites that use a CMS, according to BuiltWith, with Joomla now ranking second at 10 percent and closing.

There are a ton of these content management systems out there, even though the top 3 claim most of the market share. And, as BuiltWith’s roster shows, microblogging and blog publishing services are often grouped in with CMSes — as some are able to be customized into a CMS — even though their scopes tend to be far more specialized. Services like Blogger and Tumblr, to name two, are sometimes lumped in with CMSes and have attracted a lot of coverage in the press, some of which is for good reason.

Because of this, services like Joomla seem to fly a bit under the radar. Or, at least so it seems with Joomla in particular, which has yet to be covered by TechCrunch. (Or has, at least, been covered minimally compared to 63 posts for WordPress.)

So what is this “Joomla”, and why should you care about it? Joomla is a free, open source CMS, written in PHP that uses object-oriented programming, storing data in a MySQL database, and does page caching, RSS feeds, printable versions of pages, news flashes, blogs, polls, search — things that every CMS should do.

And there are these impressive statistics: Joomla has now passed 23 million downloads, and currently stands at just over 23.5 million, to be precise. It owns 10.3 percent of the CMS market share, and BuiltWith shows it’s powering over 1.4 million websites. Joomla, for one, says that it’s impossible to know for sure, but estimates last year by FinishJoomla put that number between 1.5 and 2 million. Which admittedly seems small compared to the 23 million downloads.

Pure statistics are fine and dandy, but what’s led Joomla to become the second largest CMS on the Interwebs? This is an especially interesting question considering that, as an open source system, there is no figurehead or CEO pulling the strings, or making product decisions. Joomla is updated and expanded on, like WordPress(.org) and Drupal, by its community of developers.

But unlike Matt Mullenweg of WordPress (who, incidentally, was named one of the 50 most important people on the Web by PC Magazine) there is no “face” of Joomla; instead, it has been collectively run by the nearly 250K developers that use, the resource in which developers can build open source software projects, tools and extensions, for Joomla users. (And there are currently nearly 8K extensions available for the Joomla platform.)

Unlike, say Mullenweg’s Automattic, Joomla is lead by three leadership teams, including, a non-profit entity that provides organizational, legal, and financial support to the Joomla community. A goal of these leadership teams are to maintain Joomla’s open source nature, assuring that Joomla is a project that acts autonomously, is socially responsible, and remains accountable to its community.

According to Ryan Ozimek, president of Open Source Matters, the Joomla community has evolved significantly over the last 5 years, and in January of this year, Joomla’s Production Leadership Team initiated some changes to the project’s release cycle, that have already begun contributing to Joomla’s growth.

Namely, the project has moved away from a feature-based lifecycle to a time-based lifecycle, which means that Joomla now releases a new version of its platform every 6 months. Instead of having the lead developers writing the code behind each sporadic release of new features, Joomla allows the community of developers to make patches, fix bugs, tinker with the framework or the design for the end-user. Then, at the end of the 6 months, the Production Leadership Team merges everything together into a finished release, which is then distributed to the public.

Version 1.6, which was released in January, has been downloaded over 2.5 million times in the last 3.5 months, according to Ozimek, with 220 users now joining Joomla forums every single day.

Compared to Drupal, Joomla has traditionally been focused on smaller companies, novices, and those who aren’t necessarily experienced developers, whereas the other has gone after enterprises and has a greater array of lumber and plumbing for heavier use cases. Drupal (and for full disclosure, I run a website using Drupal) also comes with a fairly steep learning curve. It’s not so easy to use right out of the box.

Once you’ve created custom fields, content types — in other words, dug into and played around with it for awhile — Drupal begins to shine. So, Joomla’s strength in comparison is really that it’s ready to use; it requires no hardware investments or spending on software, and it works with a wide variety of SQL and noSQL databases.

Again, for a CMS that has nearly 24 million downloads, 10 percent market share, and 500K registered users in its forums, Joomla is relatively unheard of in the U.S. Another reason for this (and another one of its strengths) is that, since its inception, the service has been geared towards an international audience. Joomla is currently being used in over 200 countries, according to Ozimek, with more than 2,500 international government agencies using the service to run those websites. (NASA, the US Air Force and US Army, included.)

What’s more, Joomla has never taken in outside investment. Ozimek said that nearly 100 percent of the revenue for the non-profit has come from Google AdWords, or other advertising services, used across its network of websites — or from sponsorship.

Both in its open source nature, bootstrapped financing, international focus, and use among “the little guys”, Ozimek said, chuckling, Joomla has taken on somewhat of a “hippie vibe”. And, speaking like a true long-hair-type, when asked how he compares Joomla’s progress to that of its nominal competitors, Ozimek said that the goal is not grabbing market share from other platforms, the goal is showcasing the capabilities of open source communities and software. “Our competition is proprietary software”, he said. “We want to work towards a time when we’re all open coding”. What a hippie.