Making Sense of CMS
CMS options abound. Hereâs how to narrow the list.
Most publishers are scrambling to update their online content management system (and may even be on their third or fourth upgrade). The choices are staggering and smaller publishers can often be at a loss.
Choose wisely. Once a CMS is installed, it can be expensive and both time and labor-intensive to switch to a new systemâyou canât just cut and paste content.
What Do You Really (Really) Need?
If you go the hosted or enterprise route, understand what youâre locking yourself into. âMany publishers went with a âfast modelâ over the last year and some now feel like theyâre locked in,â says Joe Bachana, president of Web firm DPCI. âWith hosted solutions, what happens is lots of publishers have outgrown the CMS but there is no way they can buy a proprietary system because itâs too expensive. If youâre a certain size, itâs perfectly fine to look at outsource.â
Just like a magazine redesign, put together a graphic representation of your site first. âPeople pick a CMS and start implementing before they have the visuals,â says Bachana. âYou can design your Web site completely in Photoshop or Illustrator. Get site maps and wireframes done and write a synopsis about whatâs going with each age, and youâll be ahead of the game.â
When it needed a new CMS, Hanley Wood started by identifying the major business and technical stakeholders and talked to them about functional needs and opportunities to improve content production. The group created a high-level Requirements Specification document and âCMS Roadmapâ based on requirements such as reducing time to market, SEO tools and reducing technical dependency.
Using the Roadmap, Hanley Wood narrowed the field to eight, then four, then invited two finalists in for a side-by-side comparison. The publisher ultimately chose SDL-Tridion, which is used by sites such as Builderonline.com and Remodelingmagazine.com. âThe key was taking a good hard look at the traditional and online editorial process integration and improvement before moving to a new CMS system,â says CIO Jeff Craig. âItâs key to get those aspects of the overall production environment ready to adapt to a new and integrated way of creating content.â
Open Source Options
Open source CMS platforms are becoming increasingly popular because they can be implemented at little cost âbut they arenât just for smaller publishers. Fast Company uses Drupal, Discover uses Plone; Las Vegas Sports uses Joomla.
If youâre doing a fair bit of video or social media, you may need to augment your open source CMS with a dedicated provider such as Brightcove or Altuna for video and KickApps or Ning for social media.
Drupal and Joomla are starting to emerge as being among the dominant open source platforms with a large base of developers behind them (Drupal, Joomla and Plone each earned an âAâ ranking in value in a 2008 survey from the Nonprofit Technology Network.) But each has its own drawbacks. âDrupal tends to be harder to implement but once you get through that itâs a brilliant product for feature richness,â says Bachana. âThe opposite is true for Joomla. Itâs easy to implement but not as robust a product to implement on an ongoing basis.â
Some open source platforms offer a low cost, easy-to-use option. Menswear site Marketplace.com works with Web firm GCN Publishing, which uses Type03 as the CMS for its clients.
âItâs very simple to use and we can change edit on the fly,â says publisher Stu Nifoussi. âWeâre not spending a lot of time or money going back to GCN asking them to do things because we can do it ourselves. Weâve been playing with the idea of video, which doesnât seem to fit the version we have but we havenât upgraded yet. Itâs a difficult economic environment and there are a lot of Web things weâd like to do that we canât fit on our plate right now.â
One Expertâs Picks for Small Publishers
A quality CMS doesnât have to cost thousands. An expert offers his top three choices for smaller publishers on a tight budget.
The most popular content management systems have their passionate advocates, reminiscent of the Quark versus InDesign battles between art directors. Below, DPCI president and founder Joe Bachana offers his three top choices in Web CMS for publishers who donât want to go the enterprise route. âI did not include proprietary Web CMS software in my top-3 pick since I donât think that small publishers can afford these solutions, certainly not in this economy,â says Bachana. [Note: Bachana is a partner in the Drupal community.]
1. Drupal. âOne of the best open-source initiatives for WCMS in historyâthe core codebase was built lean and the intent was to encourage enhancement by 3rd parties. What Dries Buytaert started 10 years ago is perhaps one of the most successful movements with thousands of developers worldwide contributing modules free of charge.
2. WordPress. âFor rapid deployment of a blog-like site with some CMS capabilities, WordPress is the way to go. I also like that Matt Mullenweg is to WordPress as Dries Buytaert is to Drupal.â
3. Clickability. âNot so much for its functionality/feature set as the fact that small publishers that canât afford to implement their own WCMS platform will need to go to a hosted solution. Weâve seen a number of small publishers get stuck with smaller SaaS providers that didnât have a robust infrastructure or a rich enough feature set to assist the publisher with its business. I think Clickability is right in there for hosted WCMS.