Making Sense of CMS
CMS options abound. Here’s 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 system—you can’t just cut and paste content.
What Do You Really (Really) Need?
If you go the hosted or enterprise route, understand what you’re locking yourself into. “Many publishers went with a ‘fast model’ over the last year and some now feel like they’re locked in,” says Joe Bachana, president of Web firm DPCI. “With hosted solutions, what happens is lots of publishers have outgrown the CMS but there is no way they can buy a proprietary system because it’s too expensive. If you’re a certain size, it’s perfectly fine to look at outsource.”
Just like a magazine redesign, put together a graphic representation of your site first. “People pick a CMS and start implementing before they have the visuals,” says Bachana. “You can design your Web site completely in Photoshop or Illustrator. Get site maps and wireframes done and write a synopsis about what’s going with each age, and you’ll be ahead of the game.”
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 “CMS Roadmap” 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. “The key was taking a good hard look at the traditional and online editorial process integration and improvement before moving to a new CMS system,” says CIO Jeff Craig. “It’s key to get those aspects of the overall production environment ready to adapt to a new and integrated way of creating content.”
Open Source Options
Open source CMS platforms are becoming increasingly popular because they can be implemented at little cost —but they aren’t just for smaller publishers. Fast Company uses Drupal, Discover uses Plone; Las Vegas Sports uses Joomla.
If you’re 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 “A” ranking in value in a 2008 survey from the Nonprofit Technology Network.) But each has its own drawbacks. “Drupal tends to be harder to implement but once you get through that it’s a brilliant product for feature richness,” says Bachana. “The opposite is true for Joomla. It’s easy to implement but not as robust a product to implement on an ongoing basis.”
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.
“It’s very simple to use and we can change edit on the fly,” says publisher Stu Nifoussi. “We’re not spending a lot of time or money going back to GCN asking them to do things because we can do it ourselves. We’ve been playing with the idea of video, which doesn’t seem to fit the version we have but we haven’t upgraded yet. It’s a difficult economic environment and there are a lot of Web things we’d like to do that we can’t fit on our plate right now.”
One Expert’s Picks for Small Publishers
A quality CMS doesn’t 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 don’t want to go the enterprise route. “I did not include proprietary Web CMS software in my top-3 pick since I don’t think that small publishers can afford these solutions, certainly not in this economy,” says Bachana. [Note: Bachana is a partner in the Drupal community.]
1. Drupal. “One of the best open-source initiatives for WCMS in history—the 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. “For 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.”
3. Clickability. “Not so much for its functionality/feature set as the fact that small publishers that can’t afford to implement their own WCMS platform will need to go to a hosted solution. We’ve seen a number of small publishers get stuck with smaller SaaS providers that didn’t 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.