With WordPress 2.0 coming out this week, it only seems fitting that I write something about Content Management Systems. Many webmasters find it hard to choose the right CMS or weblog script to run their site. Other than trying out the demos on sites like OpenSourceCMS.com and reading an occasional review, most CMS scripts are not very well reviewed. Just recently though, MacInTouch.com started one of their user contributed reports on the subject of CMS scripts. Although the report is for webmasters currently interested in running a CMS script on Mac OS X, the information and user comments on different scripts is helpful for your basic Linux server setup.
A while back I covered the subject of how to choose the right weblog CMS, but what I forgot to mention is that many people who start their first website do not even think about using a weblog or a content management system to begin with. They usually put together some sort of site using either a basic web site creator tool which usually relies on frames for navigation or use template that they found. The results usually are not very eye pleasing and barely functional. This is why for many first time web sites I recommend WordPress, because it does two things very well, the first being that it is feature loaded with almost everything a beginning site author needs to create content easily, and secondly because it adds structure to help make your site more pleasing to search engines and site visitors. For a long time I thought the Kurbick template which many blog systems use now, was boring, but then I realized that blogs do something which no Dreamweaver template does. It takes care of the layout and structure for you, so you can get on with writing your content. This has allowed the Personal Web Page to flourish with new content almost daily. The personal publishing revolution is in sense only possible because of tools like WordPress and Textpattern. So if you are considering your first web site, consider a blogging or content management system to drive your site.
How To Define Content
When it comes to new websites, less is really more. What that means is that you need to cater to your audience and you need to add content and less features. Many first time web site owners feel the urge to visit sites like HotScripts.com, and install every script and web application they can find for their site. The result is usually a site that has multiple areas, many of these areas go unused and are seldom updated. The gallery, the forum, the chat area, guestbooks which are so 1990-ish, are all examples of additional areas that you see on many personal sites. The more options you add to to your site, the more confusing your site will be to your visitors. The idea is to focus on two or three main areas of your site, typically your blog and one more area is enough. This is especially important if you will be the only person updating the site with content. Eventually you might find a forum to be very popular with visitors, that this area will eventually take care of itself, but this is not always the case. What matters most is content, not content areas. The number of pages, blog entries, forum posts are what matter most, and not how many different directions site visitors can take on your site. So if you are thinking of adding a forum, a gallery, a second blog, think about how often these additional areas can be maintained and if you really need them at all.
Another topic which is hard to understand for first time webmasters is color scheme. Although a good CMS or blog script can give you layout, most of the time you will want to change the color scheme and this is where perhaps not taking art in school really does become a weakness. Color schemes are not exactly easy to come by for many people, and after so many hours of watching Trading Places, you can still not know much about picking the right ones. This when looking at other sites and asking for opinions help. What I mean by color scheme is your overall design colors, graphics, and of course your link colors. For me personally, computer operating systems tend to use shades of gray and blue on purpose, mostly because gray is neutral, and blue is the one color which is pleasing and not harsh on the eyes. Even Apple’s Mac OS X, which started out as white with pinstripes, has started to change back to a more subdued gray white and forget some of its original white and rainbow gel colors. Windows98 is an even better example of gray and blue design. Choosing something besides white or gray is really very hard to do, but some web design actually manages to pull it off, usually its a white and red or a green nowadays. However for me, blue and red are still the defaults for links and it is hard to choose anything else.
The Web Is Not Suppose To Be Boring
One of the more annoying things that I find nowadays with web sites is the growing number of garbage sites, many of which are nothing more than just random collections of RSS feeds or scrapper sites, which copy their content from other sites via scripts. It is not that I have strong feelings on republishing content, it is that these sites are in fact pretty boring and really not useful at all. If you can’t entertain or have a legitimate use, then yes, I would say your site is boring. The harsh reality is that many of these sites are being indexed more and more, and end up coming up on most search engines as being relevant, but in fact are not even close. If you really are going to do a web site, make it either useful (informative in some manner) or at least interesting by making it personal (adding your opinion or views). Scrapper sites really do suck and they really serve no purpose to real web surfers. Perhaps I am being harsh, but after doing so many searches on Google and ending up at so many scrapper sites, its bound to dawn on anyone that scrapper sites are boring.
Today, online publishing can be divided into static html pages and dynamic pages. Most weblogs falls into what is referred to as Content Management Systems. In actuallity, most of these programs really fall short of what actual content management is suppose to be, but for individuals and personal publishing, weblogs are the standard. However deciding on which weblog CMS can be quite difficult, seeing as there are many choices available. To make the process easier, consider the following four points.
Personal publishing usually involves some type of budget, especially if you are starting from scratch. Consider not only will the CMS be free (as in open source packages like WordPress and Textpattern), but how much domain registration, hosting, installation, and initial design are going to factor in. Even if you are doing most of the work yourself, there will be some costs initially. Once you have some type of budget in mind, review your options and grade them on the other three criteria.
Sometimes when choosing a free CMS, you tend to forget about the most important criteria for any software program, which is support. How many times do the programmers update the program? Are security patches released in a timely and efficient manner, are they easy to install? Is free support even adequate? Sometime user communities are not very friendly to non-technical users, so always take a look at what the user community is like and how responsive they are to others. Do not forget to look at documentation, a program may be very good, but if there is not a manual or adequate online documentation, you will have a hard time maintaining it. Usually installation documentation is the most essential, so most programs will at least have this down, but if there is not anything beyond a simple readme document, you should consider another CMS.
A good CMS would have most essential features covered, but plugins and extensions allow room for customized users and also help make a plain CMS appear more personalized to the individual. After all we are talking about personal publishing, so there has to be some personality to it, and the best way to do this is in the form of mods, plugins, and extensions to the main CMS. Some commercial CMS packages might sell such addons, or might have better support for custom changes, so it is important to see just how much addons will cost and how useful they are going to be once your site is up and running. If the CMS programmers have made addons support a goal for their CMS, see just how much third party developers have taken advantage of this.
Lastly how easy is the user experience of your CMS? Is the website that it publishes easy for online vistitors to use, can they navigate, search, and comment easily? For the authoring side, how easy is it to publish new content? For content creation, think about how you can upload images, create drafts, integrate advertisements (if you need to), and how the final html code complies with web standards. But more importantly do you like using the CMS? If you do not like it, chances are you are not going to publish very much.
It’s Your Web Space, Test Drive It:
By now you probably figured that you need to try out a CMS before you can really decide on one, so hopefully, before you buy or make your final decision, make sure you try out any online demos you find. For most open source programs, you can try them out at OpenSourceCMS.com.