A client emailed last week asking for advice about content management systems. His organization paid considerably for a customized, proprietary solution about two years ago and has been frustrated ever since.
The cost to make basic changes to the current site is considerable and adding features so painful that key stakeholders have gone outside the organization to blog and perform other basic tasks that should be handled by their current Web site.
I met informally with the group over the past few months. This was, I think, mostly because they wanted to bitch, needed to bitch, and were hoping for a neutral arbiter to bitch to. That would be me. I’d nod politely and whole heartedly agree that they’d dug themselves into a nasty little hole. Fortunately, I told them, they could dig their way out, and that while digging they should use open source rather than proprietary solutions.
Late last week they sent me an internal document comparing different open source solutions and asked for my thoughts on their current evaluation.They’ve identified six options to move forward with and I share them below. A few words about the organization though in order to rationalize my thoughts and comments.
The client is a membership organization of thousands and has multiple events throughout the year. Media created for and around these events is either made freely available to the public, made available only to attendees, made available only to members, presented as pay-per-view and/or a combination of all the above.
Equally important is that the client is a research organization that needs to publish its findings and generally demonstrate its thought leadership in the field by having key individuals blog and write articles about its industry.
That said, when I got the comparison document, the following open source content management systems were contenders. I offer my thoughts about each with a particular caveat: picking which is “better” can be a matter of taste along the lines of the great coke-pepsi, mac-pc, dunkin donuts – krispy kreme debates.
Keeping the Current CMS
Kill it. The fact that there is so much conversation, discussion and brainpower being dedicated to it indicates that it’s problematic and slows down what the organization is trying to accomplish.
There’ll be costs associated with this (e.g., choosing a new solution, designing and developing it, etc.) but these will be less than the cost to continue with what you currently have (i.e., missed opportunities, organizational angst, etc.).
No doubt about it, Joomla is a great CMS. It has a large development community and lots of plugins to extend its core functionality.
It’s not quite as powerful as Drupal but this can be interpreted as both a good and bad thing. Good because it limits what you might consider doing. Bad, because it limits what you might consider doing.
One key drawback is that a Joomla install is only good for one site. That is, you can’t create subdomain.site.org and www.site.org from the same code base.
This, I think, might be important as the organization creates content around conferences, or subdomains blogs and such moving forward.
This is a great CMS. As a matter of fact, it’s won Packt Publishing’s best of CMS awards the last few years. Joomla’s come in second place so you see we’re dealing with best of breed.
One of the reasons I like it as a platform is that one install can give you multiple sites (i.e., subdomains) so there’s an impressive extensibility surrounding it.
It also has a robust development community and VC funding behind its founders (Acquia) so it’s definitely here to stay.
In terms of flexibility, here’s a partial list of who’s using the platform. It includes AOL, Yahoo!, MacWorld, NASA, The Onion and the United Nations.
I think this eclectic mix demonstrates its staying power and flexibility.
Again, another great CMS.
This one is backed by a specific company called EllisLab. As a CMS created by, and identified with, a specific company it doesn’t have as large a development community as Drupal and Joomla.
Because of that, it also does not have as many plugins and modules as Drupal and Joomla have. I say that as a value neutral observation though as more and bigger doesn’t always mean better.
But, it does have a specific company behind it that can be approached and engaged for services to expand the CMS’s capabilities. Many others will do it too. Yours truly included.
Like Drupal, EE allows for multiple sites to be developed from a single install and there are numerous firms such as ours and others that work with it and can add to its core.
Simply, WP doesn’t have membership roles and permissions outside of those who are creating content. While it can create and maintain impressive looking brochureware and blogs, it doesn’t organize members and grant specific permissions to certain classes of people (e.g., dues paying members or event attendees).
And though it might be the easiest of the CMS’s listed here to implement, it doesn’t extend to accomplish what I think a typical membership organization needs to accomplish with its web site (subscriber/member access, e-commerce, internal and external publishing, etc.).
That said, WordPress might and can be used as part of a blended solution with another platform. This is a strategy that CNN, Time, Reuters, Le Monde and others are currently using.
A Note About Code
The comparison document sent to me had pros and cons about each of platforms the listed above. One about Drupal made me smirk a bit and shake my head:
“Requires PHP coding skills, so is generally built by developer”
Well, to maximize any of these a bit of PHP daring-do is required (all are PHP-based and install on a LAMP stack). It’s how we hotrod our sites to get them to do exactly what we want them to do.
Put another way, no matter what platform is chosen it will probably only accomplish 70 – 85% of what a given organization needs right out of the box. The remaining 15-30% of the solution requires customization.
This should not be feared. Instead, it should be embraced as it solves and resolves specific pain points and saves money going forward.