TL; DR: Surreal CMS, as the name suggests, offers a surreal editing experience for websites. If you are a designer or developer who wants to allow clients to easily manage their own content without a complex CMS in the background, you owe it to yourself to check out this amazing platform.
One problem with many CMS, or Content Management Systems, these days is the extra complexity on top of the design and content of a website that isn’t always necessary. There are a lot of designers or developers who have clients who request a custom look and feel for their site, and sometimes it can be a pain trying to integrate that into an existing CMS platform.
What if there was a way you could just focus on making high-quality HTML websites, and then give your clients access to go in and update the content but not mess with the design or layout? In this ever-increasingly complex world, it sounds like for someone creating websites for a living that would be a surreal experience.
Enter Surreal CMS, an amazingly easy to use service that allows you to give users different levels of permissions based on their knowledge. If they know what they’re doing, they can go right into an intuitive interface and edit the full source code of a page, or if they’re a little lost, just give them access to edit the text in a few paragraphs that you predetermine with a simple CSS class.
I got to talk with Cory LaViska, a web developer and founder of A Beautiful Site, LLC, and the creator of Surreal CMS to get the full story behind this amazing platform.
The Idea Behind Surreal CMS
Cory had a full-time job working for a university, and one project was developing a CMS. That’s when he got his first insight into what was needed to fill a void in the CMS space.
He also dabbled in freelance work and kept noticing that clients didn’t want a lot of complexity.
“No matter the level of complexity you build it at, people just need it simple at the end of the day,” Cory said.
Everyone wants something custom to have their website stand out, but they also don’t want to learn how to go in and edit content in a back-end. This leads to a designer’s worse nightmare, being contacted again and again by a client to simply update some text on a page.
So Cory had a vision for what Surreal CMS could be while freelancing. What if we could just make it so that a client can just click on a page and then edit it very easily? The university wasn’t too interested in the idea, so Cory set off about six years ago to make Surreal CMS his own project.
Software-as-a-Service and Simplicity is Key
Around 2008, while Cory was using Surreal CMS for his own clients and was a few months away from considering it a finished product, he noticed competitors using very similar concepts started to pop up.
He wanted to focus on making his product better and easier to use, and now that he knew there was a market for people who needed this type of service he decided to release it out to the public instead of just using it himself.
Instead of following the traditional CMS model of downloading the software to your website and running it from there, Surreal CMS instead allows you to easily manage all of your websites from one centralized dashboard. It simply stores your FTP, SFTP, or even Amazon S3 credentials, so you just host your website and they handle hosting the CMS.
From your centralized Surreal CMS dashboard, you can easily manage users and their permissions to websites they can edit, as well as what content they’re allowed to touch. You can simply email your client and give them access to this dashboard, which you can even white-label brand so it looks like you built a CMS just for them!
I talked with Cory about how most website owners typically end up using one-click installs from their web-hosts to use a CMS like WordPress and then end up getting lost trying to figure out the widgets, what plugins they need and more.
“Our customers’ clients typically don’t know the difference between a page and a post, and you’d be surprised how many designers I’ve met who don’t know that themselves,” he said.
Cory decided to stick with simplicity and integrate directly with HTML pages rather than bootstrapping onto an existing established CMS. For the average designer or developer, this made it simple to use what they already knew to create great sites while still allowing the flexibility of making the content easy to edit.
He did keep developers in mind while creating Surreal CMS and made sure to spend time incorporating things like PHP include files to work with the platform. Where some simple CMS platforms require you to go through each page on your site to update a header or footer, for example, with Surreal CMS, you can use a PHP include file in these cases and only have to update these elements in one place.
Easily Separate Design and Content
The main concept behind Surreal CMS is allowing designers to focus solely on the design aspects while creating a website, so they can create a website just like they would for themselves.
The content side of Surreal CMS is amazing. There is easy inline editing, powerful user management, a full-featured file manager and an incredible revision system built right in.
After a client accidentally wipes out a whole section of important text on their page, they can simply revert to the previous save of that page.
Or a user who has been designated with admin privileges can easily take a peek of what all of the users have been busy updating and review, revert or approve their changes with intuitive ease.
Awesome Surreal CMS Features
To really get the scoop on all the cool stuff Surreal CMS implements, you should check out the Surreal CMS features page. Just to quickly overview them, here are what it boasts:
- Easily manage multiple websites from one dashboard
- Select what clients can edit on each individual page
- Extremely easy to use inline editing. If you can use a text editor, you can edit a site.
- Powerful user management to allow users access based on their skill level
- White-label ready so clients think you built a CMS just for them
- Buit-in Google Analytics dashboard to provide clients with easy access to stats
- Revision tracking system to see what edits are being made on a site at a glance
- Full-featured file manager to allow clients to upload and manage files with ease
- Make changes on a site, from desktop, tablet or phone, without an app.
- Developer API to allow applications to hook into the Surreal CMS system
- Awesome support from a devoted team focused on helping keep things simple
- Repeatable regions, page templates, SEO editing, lockdown mode, image editor and more
As you can see, if you’re a designer and want to stay busy creating awesome websites, Surreal CMS can help simplify and speed up that process all while wowing your clients, too!
The Move From Free to Premium Service
More than two years ago, Surreal CMS switched from a free model to a 30-day trial and premium only model.
While this did cut down a bit on the growth of new customers, it also helped Surreal CMS focus on those customers who were really engaged with the service. It helped weed out some abuse of the free model, as well as cut down on support times.
Another great benefit of going premium is Surreal CMS was able to invest more money into their server infrastructure to always keep things fast and secure.
As any successful service company grows, it can become difficult to maintain that more personable context with your users, and by going the premium route, Surreal CMS was able to stick to its roots. When I initially reached out to support, I was impressed that it was Cory himself who responded to my email, and it wasn’t farmed out to some outside support department.
It was also really cool to find out that Surreal CMS offers a 50 percent discount for accounts that exclusively manage websites for non-profit organizations. They’ve found a great niche of users in that space who are looking to keep costs to a minimum but still provide an amazing service.
Plans for 2015 and Beyond
There is always some work in queue for improving Surreal CMS, but Cory will also be busy this year working on a new side project called Particle CMS.
His main focus will remain on Surreal CMS, but, “I like to give the analogy of a band member breaking off and releasing their own album,” he said.
Basically with all of his experience in the CMS world, he wants to help out another niche of users who do still want to install software on their server and use a database-driven CMS. He will be using new things he learns with starting Particle CMS from scratch to roll back into Surreal CMS and continue to also improve that software.
One feature that is already planned for Surreal CMS is better integration with static file hosting systems like Amazon S3. For instance, right now there isn’t really an easy way to update a header file across 50 files on most static hosts. Surreal CMS would like to provide that bridge for making static content as easy as possible to work with in large environments like this.
An amazing mix of simplicity and power in a CMS.
I have to say I was extremely impressed by the simplicity and functionality of Surreal CMS. I’m so glad I ran across Surreal CMS and got to talk with Cory. The product he’s created is a breath of fresh air from the typical clunky and complex systems I see people using to manage their content.
If you’re a designer, developer or just want an easy and pleasant way to stay on top of your website changes, you owe it to yourself to check out Surreal CMS!