Earlier this month, I gave a presentation about the importance of making open source more international.
At one point I claimed that “no country needs open source more than China”.
Well, it turns out that a Chinese guy was in the audience and he was keen to talk.
He explained that most big, western open source projects are unknown in China. It turns out that the most popular open source CMS in China is entirely home-grown. Its name is Dede CMS, which translates as “chasing a dream”.
Out of curiosity, I decided to take Dede CMS for a test drive. What I found has interesting implications for people interested in internationalization, usability, interfaces and of course, China.
The first really interesting thing about Dede was that there is literally no information about this CMS in English. Despite being so popular, I couldn’t find anyone else who’d heard of Dede CMS, let alone used it. None of the web stats sites such as BuiltWith or W3Techs track the number of sites using Dede. It’s almost as if China is running a separate internet from us. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first English-language article ever written on Dede.
From the Chinese guy at the conference, I knew that Dede is open source and is developed by a company called DesDev Inc.
From the official website at http://dedecms.com I learned that Dede runs on PHP and MySQL. I could also see that the latest version is 5.7, which was released in September.
Downloading and Installing Dede
I should note that this point that I know absolutely no Chinese, so please forgive any bad translations.
The Dede website is at http://dedecms.com.
There’s a huge download button on the right-hand side of the site.
I downloaded Dede and got a set of files that look similar to most common CMSs. Everything in the file structure is in English.
The installation process also wasn’t that hard to navigate. It was very similar to a manual WordPress / Joomla / Drupal install. There were about 5 steps. Mostly I clicked the large green button and towards the end I entered my basic site information and the database details.
The process was actually fairly smooth and within 10 minutes I had Dede installed.
It looked like slightly old-fashioned CMS / portal site. It reminded me a little of Mambo.
There wasn’t much content on the initial installation but there was a poll feature in the bottom-right corner. I translated it with Google Translate:
I was able to access the administration area of the site by adding /dede/ to the URL.
Here’s what the admin panel looks like. Oddly, all the admin screens are loaded using iframes.
The main administration links were down the left-hand side of the screen. Here’s the best that Google Translate could do for the links:
- 核心 Core
- 模块 Module
- 生成 Generate
- 采集 Collection
- 会员 Members
- 模板 Template
- 系统 System
It seems as if the main features are in #1, the “Core” area. Here are the (badly-translated) links in the “Core” area:
- 常用操作 Common Actions
- 内容管理 Content Management
- 附件管理 Attachment Management
- 频道模型 Channel Management
- 批量维护 Maintenance
- 系统帮助 Help
I clicked on the 普通文章 link under Area #2. That seemed to take me to the content creation screen.
Here’s the content creation area in Dede.
Here are first choices you see when creating content:
- 文章标题: Title
- 自定义属性: Type of post (Headline, Recommended etc)
- TAG标签: Tag
- 缩 略 图: Thumbnail
- 文章来源: Author or Source
- 文章主栏目: Category
There’s then a normal WYSIWYG content creation area:
To be honest, I did get stumped at this point. No matter what I did, the following pop-up kept appearing.
The message was “Please select the file’s main class!” but I couldn’t figure out what that meant and how to work around it.
Other areas of the site
The Dede admin area has many, many screens so I’ll just show you some samples.
They have a media upload area in 附件管理 > 上传新文件.
There’s a media library in 附件管理 > 附件数据管理:
Beyond the admin area, I was also interested in the design of Dede. I went into the /templets/ folder and found that the templates were built entirely of HTML files.
Here’s a sample of the code:
There’s quite a lot of hard-coding in here. Both styles and Chinese characters and written directly into the template.
There is also a separate folder for CSS files.
What did I learn from doing this?
Of course, it was educational to learn what’s popular in other countries
- The boot was on the other foot. I imagine how many people have been in a similar situation: lacking a good grasp of English and struggling to download and use WordPress/Joomla/Drupal. Now I can directly understand their frustration. I’d certainly recommend this an exercise for people interested in internationalization.
- Icons matter. The one thing that would have really helped me in using Dede was icons. Even if there were just some very generic icons for key links, it would have helped me navigate the interface. As it is, I couldn’t guess at the purpose of anything and had to resort to translating everything,
- China needs *better* open source. Dede just isn’t very good. It reminded me of Mambo (the pre-2006 predecessor to Joomla). There is an opportunity for larger open source projects to make inroads in China with better offerings.