Content Management Systems

What's a CMS?

Discover the pros and cons of using a CMS depending on your personal or organisational needs.

When I was asked to implement Anchor's shipyard website using a CMS, my intial reaction was, "What's a CMS?" Contrary to what you may think, it does not stand for "Crazy Man Smells", it is actually is an acronym for 'Content Management System' and is a peice of software that manages and simplifies website development.

The basic features provided by a CMS include giving you the ability to create a master template. This then serves as the template for your articles which you can also write using the CMS. Pages are usually saved to a text database and a generated index is used to keep track of changes made to files.

Any organisation that regularly has people updating their website with articles will find the indexing feature very handy since it gives you some degree of control in knowing who changed what and when. Once a series of articles have been written and checked by the editor, the CMS allows you to upload the pages so that they can be read by everyone.

Considering all this, every CMS is different in its rigidities and capability. My first task was to play around with Citydesk and work what it had to offer and whether this could simplify the task of developing Anchor's shipyard site.

Citydesk

Citydesk is a Windows CMS, released by Fog Creek Software. As mentioned, it runs on Microsoft Windows computers and requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01.

The first thing you notice when using Citydesk is its simple and un-cluttered GUI interface. There is a straightforward tutorial to get you started in the right direction. Another convenient feature is the sturctured folder hierachy listing which gives an idea of the content of your website in one glance.

Creating an basic template is simple enough, however, making it look the way your boss said is another story.

In Citydesk, you can either import html files which serve as your template, or create a new template and write/copy your html code into that, however, there are certain difficulties you will face when importing or copying html code into Citydesk. For starters, original references to images and files need to be changed to reflect their new location in the Citydesk directory structure.

Alternatively, you can use the "magic name" feature which allows you to completely forget file pathnames, provided you refer to them using their magic name. What I loved about this feature was how easy it made it to move images and files around in citydesk without breaking anything since their magic name was always the same.

Of course, Citydesk was not all happy-days. The first major obstacle i encountered was being able to maintain some sort of navigational state for the website. Basically, I wanted to be able to be show exactly which pages I had visited to get to my current page.

  • Seems easy enough right?

This seemingly simple task, was virtually impossible to implement using Citydesk and after a day and a half of playing around with Citydesk, I was ready to start looking at another tool, Postnuke.

Postnuke

Although I spent no more than half a day playing around with Postnuke, I can confidently say, that anyone wanting to customise their website's look and feel should avoid using Postnuke.

On first impression, Postnuke looks like an already complete and running cluttered website with A LOT of links and options.

On closer inspection, Postnuke gives you the choice of removing the options. To clarify this I will use the analogy of removing peices of an over-featurised and complex puzzle. Doing this, doesnt really change the look of the site, it just empties it of what it previously had.

So you are probably wondering how to add features in Postnuke to make it look to way you want. To customise the look and format of the provided postnuke template, is to play around with alot of intense perl code or alternatively, hope that a patch exists somewhere on the world wide web that implements what you want.

I had to do exactly that in order to have a multi-folder feature on my Postnuke website. However, the time it took to fiddle around with Postnuke configurations to make the patch do what I intended proved to be an ineffecient use of time.

Some other CMS systems that I stumbled across include Bicrolage and Article Manager for a low cost solution. However, if you are happy to spend a more time, money and effort on running a department of CMS specialists, then Vignette($500000 plus) and the free Zope or Red Hat CCM are super-powerful tools. Zope and CCM are used by huge organizations like NATO, the World Bank, and the US Navy. In such organizations there are hundreds of people who need to upload information to a website or intranet, and they will have a huge range of varying needs - hence the complexity and expense of this class of CMS.

Conclusion

All is not lost when using a CMS. I do beleive that organisations wanting to concentrate on the content of their site and make the process of updating pages as simple and non-technical as possible will benefit from using a CMS.

These tools are especially useful in their ability to manage multiple users and keep track of file changes; convenient for large organisations with multiple users updating articles regularly.

After the initial technical difficulties, the process of writing and updating articles is greatly simplified by using a CMS. However, if you want to have a customised website without investing excess time and effort mastering a CMS then i suggest coding the whole thing yourself.

Keywords : CMS, cms, content management system, content management, citydesk, postnuke,bicrolage,Vignette,Zope,Red Hat CCM

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