Evaluating Content Management

Content Management is becoming a more common feature of many web sites.  The term content management generally refers simply to the ability to affect the content of the web site without the need for knowledge of the technologies such as programming languages and database administration that underpin the site.  It is a very broad term however and to assume that one content management system (CMS) is as good as another would be a mistake.

The fact is that what makes a particular CMS the right choice for a given site has a number of factors:

  • Functionality:  Does it do what you need?
  • Extensibility: Will it grow with your future needs?
  • Total Cost of Ownership: What is it going to cost to setup and maintain?
  • Portability: Does it tie you to a particular vendor?
  • Continuity: Will the CMS still be in active development in the future?

The Open Source Philosophy

That is a lot to consider.  We believe that you can simply the equation by choosing a mainstream Open Source CMS.  These systems do not have to be licensed, and are developed by large teams of volunteers who work together for the mutual benefit they derive from the software that they develop.  Their products are released to the world free of charge, soliciting others to join in the development effort.  The net effect is that established projects have huge teams of developers, considerable documentation, and an inertia that can’t be stopped by a bad year for sales, or other corporate misfortune.  Rather, the projects continue to develop and grow overtime.  With a solid Open Source choice you can take your site to thousands of other developers easily, and you can be assured of the continuity of the platform into the future.

Choosing the right Open Source CMS

We now need to look at the individual project and make a determination about which CMS is appropriate.  This a pretty straightforward decision actually.  It comes down to a Cost Benefit Analysis.  The greater the functionality and extensibility, the higher the cost of ownership.  To be more specific, there are 3 features that differentiate between the SME (Small to Medium Enterprise) and Enterprise Class CMS:

CMS Differentiation Points:

  • Access Control:  What users and administrators can see and do.
  • Workflow: The processes that must be adhered to in creating content and managing the site.
  • Versioning: Retaining historical copies of content as it changes and being able revert back to these previous states.

SME CMS

An excellent entry level CMS is Joomla!. It is the most widely used CMS in the world, and is very feature rich and very extensible.  It is relatively easy to setup and to work within and as a result lowers your total cost of ownership for your project.  With respect to our Decision Points above, its capabilities are limited, but often adequate.

  • Access Control:  Classify users as front-end users, or as back-end users within the following groups:
  • Author: can create content and edit own content
  • Editor: can create content and edit other user’s content
  • Publisher: can create content, edit other user’s content and publish content to the site.
  • Managers, Admins and Super Admins: all of the above, plus further administrative functions
  • Workflow:  A single workflow is available; Author->Editor->Publisher.  Once content is created and published it can be edited by the creator, an Editor or a Publisher and changes reflected on the site without any further approvals.
  • Versioning:  None available.

There are Plug-ins and Core Hacks for Joomla! that expand these capabilities, but they are either limited or not part of the core platform, so they are not the best solution if the project requires this functionality.

Enterprise Class CMS

If a project requires functionality in the CMS Differentiators above that Joomla! can’t accommodate then we utilize our Enterprise Class CMS of choice - Drupal.

The answer to all of the CMS Differentiation Points above is “Yes, Drupal can do that”.  At the risk of seeming overly brief, Drupal can be made to accommodate any access control, workflow and versioning requirements you can think up without having to hack the system. It was designed with this in mind from the outset.

Content Management Conclusion

Choosing the right CMS comes down to understanding the needs of the project, and to weighing those needs against the cost of their realization.  The difference in development costs for these 2 platforms can be significant.  Because Joomla! is a simpler environment, development is more rapid.  Drupal on the other hand, being more complex, requires more technical skills in addition to the soft-skills of visual design, information architecture an the like.  The net effect is a $5k - $10k premium to develop a site based on an Enterprise Class CMS.