Content Management Systems: Overview and Lessons for Beginners

May 20


Rodrigo Gante

Rodrigo Gante

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CMS are systems used to build and manage a Web site that do not require a user to have expertise in Web development. As the nature and concept, CMS are user-friendly and intuitive, bounded by simplicity and ease of use. Features include creation, modification, storing, retrieval, and removal of content. Anyone can use CMS. However, for beginners, choosing the right CMS can be an arduous and lengthy task. Hence, in order to find a CMS that suits your gustoes and needs, it is imperative to determine the purpose of your CMS and the available features it offers.


Have you heard about WordPress? How about Joomla!,Content Management Systems: Overview and Lessons for Beginners Articles Pligg, Drupal, or Concrete5? Do these words ring a bell to you? Perhaps you already know, have bumped into, or have even used them, particularly when you read the blogs of your friends, when you visited their Web sites, or when you browsed their portfolios, pictures, or documents in the Internet. Aren't you amazed on how your friends got their own structured sites? Haven't you wondered on how they easily control and maintain them? Maybe you thought on creating and having your own site too. But because you have no or little knowledge or experience with web development, you backed off. Well, perhaps, this could help.

To start with, the terms I just previously mentioned above (i.e., WordPress, Drupal, etc.) are Web content management systems, just to name a few. A Web content management system is a kind of content management systems, but commonly, it is called content management system. Hitherto, we will use content management systems (CMS).

What is a CMS?

A CMS is a system that provides Web site authoring, collaboration, and administration tools designed to allow users with no or little knowledge of Web programming languages or markup languages (e.g., HTML) to create and manage Web site content with relative ease. Take note of the words "create", "manage", and "ease". As the nature and concept, CMS are user-friendly and intuitive, bounded by simplicity and ease of use.

Furthermore, it allows non-technical users (no knowledge or not skilled) to make changes to a Web site easily. In other words, CMS is a system used to build a Web site and a maintenance tool used to manage its content. These content could be electronic files, images, video-based media, audio files, electronic documents, Web text, etc. Its features include creation, modification, storing, retrieval, and removal of content. It enables the user to create and organize the whole structure (templates could be available); update files; and modify the settings, layout, or the entire content.

Some CMS are open source or free, and others may be affordable so-so based on size subscriptions. Although the cost for subscriptions can be expensive, nonetheless, the subscription cost overall is much less compared with the total cost for hiring full-time Web developers, let alone the privacy of the content as well as security issues. But the bottom line is: Why pay when there are available for free?

Who can use a CMS?

Anyone can use CMS. CMS are created to make it easy for people to be able to create and publish their own Web sites, blogs, forums, etc., and display them to the public. These systems are often used to archive documents as well. In the corporate world, because some CMS provide the ability to control business flows and processes (e.g., email alerts, automated business document flows, etc.) as well as access and restrictions, they are perfect for businesses. Many companies use CMS to organize and store files, and for marketing and advertising. Moreover, companies using a CMS can share content with others easily, as most systems are server-based.

Advantages of CMS

1. Low cost

Some CMS are free like Drupal, Joomla!, and WordPress and yet fully functional. Others require subscriptions but are affordable.

2. Easy customization

CMS provide templates by which a user is guided as to what parts or sections are to be included or filled, or in which a user can select a pattern, style, or layout. Normally, a universal layout is created, making pages have a similar theme and design without much code. Many CMS tools use a drag-and-drop AJAX system for their design modes, making it easier for beginners to create custom front-ends.

3. Easy to use

CMS are designed with non-technical people in mind. The simplicity in design of the admin user interface allows Web site content managers and other users to update content without much training in coding or technical aspects of system maintenance.

4. Workflow management

CMS provide the facility to control how the content is published, when it is published, and who publishes it. Some CMS allow administrators to set up rules for workflow management, guiding content managers through a series of steps required for each of their tasks.

Disadvantages of CMS

1. Cost of implementation and maintenance

Larger-scale implementations may require training, planning, and certifications. Some CMS also may require hardware installations to optimize functionality. Another thing is that maintaining CMS may require license updates, upgrades, and hardware maintenance.

2. Storage volume

Because the nature of CMS is to provide and store informative content, storage should be large enough. In HTML-based systems, volume of files may be large. A Web site that contains many files leaves itself open to errors. For example, a client updating the site may create errors; large amounts of files can cause issues with updating. Plus, trying to find the right file may take time and may be hard to find.

3. Latency issues

Larger CMS can experience latency if hardware infrastructure is not up-to-date, if databases are not being utilized correctly, and if cache files that have to be reloaded every time data are updated grow large. Load balancing issues may also impair caching files.

4. Tool mixing

The URLs of many CMS are dynamically generated with internal parameters and reference information; thus, they are often not stable enough for static pages and other Web tools, particularly search engines, to rely on them.

Recommended CMS for Beginners

Generally, CMS are easy to create and manage (of course, it is the theme and the main concept anyway). But among the many available CMS, the following are ARGUABLY the recommended CMS for beginners based on reviews:

1. WordPress

You cannot write a list like this and exclude WordPress. WordPress is an award-winning CMS. It has many features including a plug-in architecture and a template system (tons of template I should say), and it is one of the easiest to use. Popular for blogging, WordPress is used by over 13% of the 1,000,000 biggest Web sites. Users can re-arrange widgets without editing PHP or HTML code; they can also install and switch between themes. It is very powerful and well supported, let alone the very big user community. Thus, if you want a CMS that is dead simple to set up and administer, WordPress is definitely the number one choice.

2. Concrete5

This is an incredible system. Concrete5 is simple and easy to use yet powerful. It enables users to edit site content directly from the page, making the platform easy to use with a minimum of technical skills. Plus, it allows users to edit images through an embedded editor on the page. What we liked the most was the ability to get straight to the "meat" of editing without ever having to look at a line of code.

3. Pixie

Pixie is so simple that even your grandma could use it. Many people regard it as a CMS (because it really is), but its developers prefer to call Pixie as "a small, simple, Web site maker". Features include intuitive interface, easy installation, clean URLs, WYSIWYG editor, CSS themes, etc. Not only is it user-friendly and fun to use, but also the interface is attractive. Plus, it is free and will always be.

4. WebsiteBaker

If you want a CMS that is easy to use but with some horsepower under the hood, then WebsiteBaker is just right for you. Using modules to expand the functionality of Web sites, WebsiteBaker is the best choice for designers, developers, and users--whether you are a beginner, advanced person, or geek. This is the most easily used CMS in the world that will allow you to create a Web site within minutes. Available to be used are hundreds of modules, snippets, and droplets.

5. Jaws

No, it is not the film about sharks feasting on humans. Jaws is just a little CMS (for building dynamic Web sites), but thanks to its easy-to-use and user-friendly features, it has become widely used. Jaws is a very interesting "Ajaxified" CMS that offers an immensely simple user interface with easy-to-use gadgets that quite simply rock. Typically for building dynamic Web sites, it aims to be user-friendly--giving ease of use and lots of ways to customize Web sites--but at the same time is developer-friendly. Plus, it offers a simple and powerful framework to hack your own modules.

Which CMS is right for you?

In conclusion, for beginners, choosing the right CMS can be an arduous and lengthy task. That is a given, since there are available hundreds of CMS and it is difficult to judge or assert one CMS by just reading reviews and not literally trying it out--the preference of one person to use Joomla! may not be your cup of tea. Hence, in order for you to find a CMS that suits your gustoes and needs, you should do the following:

1. determine the objectives or purpose of your CMS and what you expect to gain from it;
2. determine what features and functionalities you require from the CMS;
3. research how customizable or "themable" the CMS as well as the availability of themes;
4. make sure whether the CMS is compatible with your host; and
5. assess the number of users, how active the community, and how good the support.

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