A Fast Guide to Content Management Systems

When you have a new website built, one of the big questions is whether or not you need a content management system (CMS). If you decide that you do need one, the next question should be, “Which one?”

Often, that question doesn’t arise. You’ve chosen your design firm, they have a favorite or a house brand, and that’s what you’re getting.

But suppose you actually need to make that decision. Talking with IT specialists about this isn’t always helpful. They’re telling you about the level of customization and the developer community, sharing their views on ColdFusion, throwing around words like “module” and “plug-in,” and you’re probably regretting asking them.

Chances are, your question is simple: which CMS is easiest, fastest, and least frustrating? You’re going to have to update your site with this thing, or pay someone (whether it’s your secretary or someone like me) to do so, and you want a tool that works well.

There is a simple answer to that simple question. The CMS that is fastest and easiest to use is the one you’ve used before.

The CMS screen at the top of this post is a proprietary system used by a company in Australia. Here’s Microsoft’s DotNukeNet:

DotNetNuke

Here’s Mango:

Mango cms

Here’s WordPress:

WordPress

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? A content management system is a text box into which you can type things, festooned with buttons which allow you to do other things. I’ve worked with dozens of different content management systems, and I’ve never seen one that wouldn’t let me put in a picture, do a reasonable amount of styling of the text, and add multimedia.

The workflow is different from one to another, though. The number of buttons and where they live varies. The navigation and where you work from is different.

David McGraw, a CMS expert at Oyova, doesn’t like DNN because, he says, “I don’t like to have to browse the site to edit it.” But DNN, being a Microsoft product, is much more amenable to cut and paste from MSWord documents than any other CMS I’ve worked with. Joomla, on the other hand, usually doesn’t let you edit well from the page, so you have to go to a central editing area even if you just have a typo to fix.

That’s the level of variation we’re looking at: what and where to click. Just as some buildings have doors that open outward and some have doors that open inward, some have doorknobs that turn and some have bars to push, there are small variations that will irritate you when you first try to switch from one to another. There aren’t any enormous differences, from the point of view of the user. They are, for someone like me who uses a lot of them, much of a muchness.

Building in them is different. Insist that your WordPress guy build you something in FarCry CMS, and you will regret it. So I’d recommend the following strategy:

  • If you have a CMS that you’ve used for years and want to keep using, hire a firm that can work with your preferred CMS.
  • If you don’t have a favorite, accept your web firm’s recommendation, and plan on some training time.

In a month or two, you won’t remember what you found so difficult about that new CMS.


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