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Content Management Systems

A Content Management System (CMS) is a system used to organize and facilitate creation and maintenance of documents and other content (in this case for a web site). They are designed to allow many people to directly contribute to the process. Contributers sign on to authenticate and their activities are both assisted and restricted by the system. To manage this, a CMS isolates the actions and effects of content creation and maintenance from other elements (layouts, styles, menus, etc.). Both Wiki's such as this and blogging sites use Content Management Systems.
A more comprehensive description and additional details can be found at Wikipedia.

Advantages of a CMS website:

  • content can be added and maintained without "webmaster" skills
  • many people can contribute or collaborate using just their web browser
  • limits on what contributors can and can't do can be precisely defined
  • site layout, style and menus are unaffected during content editing work
  • content is unaffected during layout, style and menu modifications
  • standards and changes for layout, style and menus are applied universally
  • site mapping, indexing, site search and menu generation is automatic
  • web feed (RSS) syndication of content is usually automatic
  • media (images, audio, video, etc) presentation and management is easier to implement
  • member only features are easier to implement
  • member participation features are easier to implement
  • better for sites with many frequent changes, community and media features

Disadvantages of a CMS website:

  • can be more work to set up for a simple site
  • fine tuning the look of individual pages and elements is difficult and limited
  • CMS systems have their own menus and logic which users must understand
  • one or more people must act to administrator the site and any other users
  • requires specific software to be present or added to the web server
  • your site will depend on the continuing availability and suitability of that specific software
  • CMS software will require occasional security maintenance and updating
  • usually requires some setup and configuration of a database on the web server
  • places greater processing demands on the web server
  • backup and recovery is more complicated when a database is involved
  • customization requires more specialized and less common skills
  • poor for relatively static sites with few changes and a single maintainer

Explore the CMS options at:

  • The website CMS Matrix allows you to compare features on approximately 100 different CMS solutions. The "Search the Matrix" feature allows you to filter the list according to the features that you need for your site.
  • The website Open Source CMS Systems allows you to demo 40-50 LAMP-based Portals(CMS) and review the comments left by other visitors. ("LAMP" is an acronym for 'Linux-Apache-MySql-PHP' software.)


---Listed below are details for some CMS packages that churches use to build and maintain websites.


Plone®

License: FREE: (GNU General Public License)

Notes: Plone is a ready-to-run content management system that is built on the powerful and free Zope® application server. Plone provides a system for managing web content that is suitable for project groups, communities, web sites, extranets and intranets. Zope is a full web application environment using its own transactional object database and programmed in the full featured, object oriented, Python scripting language. The project was started in the year 1999.

Advantages: It is easy to create events, news items, new documents, photos, and other files. It uses both HTML and an easy to use Structured Text for those who are unfamiliar with website design. It has many add-on products that extend features available. It has a very flexible security/permissions structure which allows people and groups with different roles to have control over different aspects and different parts of the site. Plone can manage custom content types. Plone delivers excellent compliance with W3C web (XHTML strict and CSS) and accessibility standards (WCAGand Section 508). It can be set up to run on many different types of web servers (Linux, Windows, Mac, BSD etc.) A large developer community, and commercial support is available.

Disadvantages: Plone will generally require a specialized web host or virtual web server due to its use of Zope rather than Apache, PHP and MySQL. It is resource-hungry on the server. It requires over 75 MB RAM dedicated to your site which tends to cost from $15 to $40/month. It will require much more learning by the webmaster about how to back up the custom database, how to combine with Apache for speed and web access logs, etc. For more insights, see http://plone.org/documentation/faq/is-plone-for-me

Examples:

To try it out, create your own free site at http://www.objectis.org/ or create your own account at a Plone-based community site like http://plone.org/ For more flexible production hosting, you might look at http://interlix.com, or http://quintagroup.com


Drupal

License: FREE (GNU General Public License)

Notes: Similar to Plone® but implemented using more standard PHP and MySQL resources. Originally developed for 'community' participation web sites where everyone in the community is able to contribute content. Today the program is being used for a wider range of uses, including online press (The Progressive, The Onion), academic sites, media libraries, and galleries. It can be used both for sites with very limited access (just a few authors) or by a very expansive community of users and authors with different privileges. The project was started in the year 2000.

Advantages: Easy to create news items, single author and multi author documents, audio & video posts (podcasts), galleries (image collections), etc. The base program is highly compliant with both general W3C web design standards (XHTML strict and CSS) and accessibility standards (WCAGand Section 508 requirements). Many theme templates and lots of additional modules are freely available from the central Drupal community site. Common modules include kits which can be use to create custom content types and views. Content can be edited in WYSIWG mode or HTML using a choice of tunable editors. Regulation of user roles and privileges is very adjustable. Editing experience and viewing experience can be customized for different users. Content categorization and use of categorization is both flexible and pervasive. Technical support is available through an active user community on Drupal's community support site. A dedicated Drupal commercial hosting service option is available (Bryght Community content hosting).

Disadvantages: Some modules are not mature and some others have not been adapted to run under either the current 5.x versions. Administration is done through same interface as is used for general site viewing (rather than a purpose specific back end interface). Strict enforcement of design and coding creates requirements that may pose difficulties for some trying to make customizations. Building a multi featured site requires the selection, installation, and maintenance of many third party modules.

Features:

  • Number of user logins: at least one, but an unlimited number may be created
  • Registration: May be set to "anyone may register", "anyone may register, but must be approved by admin", or "no one may register". Various modules available to extend these options.
  • Separate file/page logins: no, everything is handled via a single login interface
  • Approx setup time: First time user, about 1/2 - 1 day. Experienced user, about 15 - 30 minutes.
  • Custom scripts allowed: Yes; may create "modules" to extend system-wide functionality, or may inject PHP directly into a page
  • Custom templates allowed: Yes; may create a custom "theme"
  • Number of templates available: A very large number. Many are listed on the Drupal themes page, and most of those are free.

Major benefits:

  • Extremely customizable
  • Very large community - if you want to do something with Drupal, someone else has probably already done it
  • Many modules available for extending the core system
  • Extremely lightweight; does not require much server space or bandwidth, and is compatible with a wide variety of browsers

Major drawbacks:

  • Requires some time to learn
  • Too many modules - it can be difficult to find the module you need

Demo: OpenSourceCMS.com Demo site

To login as the admin, add a new page, and edit that page: 1. Go to http://demo.opensourcecms.com/drupal/?q=user 2. Login with the administrative password (username admin, password demo) 3. Go to http://demo.opensourcecms.com/drupal/node/add/page 4. Type in the page title, and some body text 5. If you want, feel free to play with the various options which appear when you click "Comment settings", "Authoring information", and "Publishing options"; you can also change these later, by editing the page. 6. Click Submit 7. You should see the new page, with a button to edit it, if you want. 8. To see the page as it would appear to a non-administrative user, copy the URL for the page somewhere convenient, go to http://demo.opensourcecms.com/drupal/logout , and then go back to the page URL.

Note: OpenSourceCMS.com occasionally wipes its demos clean - do not save precious work there!

Examples:



Mambo/Joomla

License: FREE (both Mambo and Joomla use the GNU General Public License)

Notes: Probably the most popular CMS. Listed together: Mambo and Joomla share a common design heritage. In mid-2005 the Miro corporation set up a "Mambo Foundation" in an attempt to exert more control via their ownership of the trademark. This was strongly resisted by the Mambo developer community, which left en-masse and are continuing their development using the name "Joomla". As these two programs continue development they are likely to become much more distinct and less able to share. Several web hosting services support installation through automated installation scripts or "one-button installs". It uses the same PHP and MySQL components as most other CMS's listed here. The project was started in the year 2000.

Advantages: Administration is done through a separate "back end" interface to avoid limitations of the "front end" interface used during normal site viewing and navigation. Administration interface has an graphic icon driven interface that makes use less intimidating for some. Theme templates and module extensions are easily loaded remotely since the interface accepts compressed modules remotely, transfers them, and unpacks on the server before loading them for use. Content can be edited in WYSIWG mode or HTML using the included editor. The popularity of the system has resulted in good availability of themes, extensions and experienced developers. Supports blogs, web feeds, multimedia, calendars, galleries, and podcasting through options and extensions. Administration interface and loose enforcement of constraints makes modification of theme templates easier than some other CMS.

Disadvantages: Most new work seems to be taking the Joomla fork. User reviews of the fall 2006 update to Mambo show comparatively high levels of user dissatisfaction. The current Joomla 1.0 release seems stable, but is in need of revision to achieve compliance with W3C web design standards (XHTML strict and CSS) and accessibility standards (WCAGand Section 508 requirements). The 1.0 version still uses tables extensively for formatting non-table content. Improvements in these areas is a major objective of the 1.5 release of Joomla. The version 1.5 update will provide a major redesign and is progressing. (Release candidates 1, 2 and 3 became available on 7-24, 9-1 and 10-6 of 2007. The developers are anticipating a final release later this year.) Due to the large amount of base design and extensions built outside of standards, it is not clear how readily or thoroughly the design improvements will be achieved. In Joomla 1.0, the administration interface has been extended such that structure isn't always clear and some functions lack the clarity typical of the other sections.

Examples:
Mambo:

Joomla:



Contentor

License: FREE (GNU General Public License)

Advantages: Contentor was designed for small to medium-sized web sites, typical of sites for/by small non-profit corporations or individuals. It was developed by a fellow UU, Earl Daniels.

Disadvantages: Unclear how much usage or support there is.

Examples:



Soholaunch

License: Proprietary. Basic version is free of cost. "For 15 days, all of the full-version features will be turned on for you. After your full-version trial expires you can keep using all of the ProBase features forever for free, or you can purchase a full-version license and pick up where you left off with the advanced features."

""Installing:"" - Linux servers often offer one of these features that will install it with the click of a link or icon: Fantastico (cPanel), Installatron (cPanel, Plesk), 4psa (Plesk), CP Skins (cPanel), Helm

Advantages: Relatively easy to use and to set up. A non-tech person can learn how to add information to the site using a web browser and username and password. There are limited templates with the program, but there are forums that give information about creating customized designs.

Disadvantages: Requires several steps for the editor to create a page - is not a wysiwyg tool. Does not allow for separate password protected folders for different editors of different areas of the site as might be needed for a large site. Might have limits that I'm not aware of as I've only used it for small sites. Experienced problems updating the software without having the content removed, but server had backup to restore it and forum gives instructions on how to correct the problem.

Examples: Joseph Priestley District Women and Religion - this site was set up by someone with moderate tech skills and instructions were created for volunteer site managers - uses a template that was provided plus their logo designed by a member artist 4 Steps Creative Learning Child Care Services - this is not a UU site, but it demonstrates how a template can be edited for a new design - a real estate template was used, header photos were replaced, and colors were changed. The counter at the bottom is a free sitemeter - not a part of the Soholaunch program, but it shows that code can be added for other services.


SiteXpress Website Builder

License: Proprietary. Free if you use a host service that offer the software (see link above).

Advantages: Offers more flexible design options than some other CMSs - many design elements available, not just full templates. User-friendly instructions for people with good web experience. Customizing options available (uploading your own header images).

Disadvantages: Limited to servers that offer it. More steps needed to edit than some other CMSs.

Examples: Dr. Chris Bell - code for Sitemeter added as free service (not available with software)


phpWebSite

License: Free (GPL)

Advantages: Allows separate password protected areas for different site editors. Has a lot of forum features built in.

Disadvantages: Set up does not contain user-friendly instructions; instructions are found elsewhere. Design flexibility is limited.

Examples: Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice


Revoluution Media CMS

License: Proprietary - by arrangement with "Revoluution Media"

Notes: "Revoluution Media" builds web sites and provides CMS site software for a number of Unitarian Universalist entities. The vendor website claims its own CMS is "fully integrated and easy-to-use" and that it "will allow anyone to update the page content of your site- without resorting to a slow or expensive webmaster". The coding technologies visible on example websites include XHTML, CSS, PHP, and Javascript.

Advantages: Vendor assistance and support. Vendor offers an integrated service package. The vendor has experience serving a number of other Unitarian Universalist communities. System can be optimized for a small user base.

Disadvantages: Costs associated with vendor service. Dependencies associated with a single vendor solutions. System has a small user base to test system operation and to support addition and refinement of features.

Examples:



Thetaworld MakeSite

License: a custom open source license.

Notes: From the Project Page on SourceForge: Thetaworld MakeSite is an offline Content Management System for static pages based on PostgreSQL, Perl, Gedafe and web GUI. It supports Links Catalog similar to Yahoo, multi categories, pages, different publishing targets and online e-commerce shop..

Advantages: Relatively simple and efficient in operation.

Disadvantages: Unclear how much usage or support there is. Limited in features with little apparent prospect for evolution. No apparent maintenance since December 2005. Uses/Requires some less common (but publicly licensed) web components.

Examples:



UU Web Template project

License: FREE - at least for UU organizations (the license says it is Creative Commons by-nc-sa but also "Any [non-UU] use requires permission." so that isn't clear....)

Notes: The term template may be a bit misleading. These file sets create a scripted (PHP) interface, a choice of two visual themes and a standard set of church web pages. It provides a user interface allowing authorized users to login to the site from any web browser. Once logged in, the authorized user can create content, perform basic maintenance, and extend the page and menu content without any web editing tools. New as of May 2006; the specs for future versions are being considered to improve it.

Advantages: The UU Web Templates are designed and prepared specifically for use by UU congregations needing to create a first web site and should allow a quick and low cost launch. The UU Web Templates can also be used as an add-on or for use in re-design of a site. The project is supported by fellow UUs so the community is limited, but shares a lot of common knowledge. There is an email list to communicate with the other users. The simplicity of the design allows the templates to function on both Linux/Unix and Windows web servers. The templates do not require the complexity of a database setup and maintenance.

Disadvantages: A limited selection of styles and color schemes are built into the design. Limitations on the degree to which a site can be extended. There is currently no support for "Web 2.0" features such as media, community/social networking and blogs. The constraints of a small community of users may create some difficulties in maintaining and growing the application. Unspecified problems have been reported.

Examples:



WordPress

License: FREE (distributed under GNU General Public License)

Notes: Designed principally for blogs, the basic package also supports standard web pages and a multi-level menu structure. It is easily extended through a "plug-in" interface to add support for podcasting and image galleries. Recent updates allow for a site that does not contain a blog on the opening page. Because of its popularity and flexibility, it is being used for multi-purpose and some general purpose websites. It uses the same PHP and MySQL components as most other CMS's listed here. The WordPress product name is relatively new, but the product evolved directly from the b2 product which originated in 2001.

Advantages: WordPress is relatively easy to setup and understand. It is also a relatively mature and well maintained program. This has resulted in it being both very stable and web and accessibility standard compliant. The WordPress site provides extensive guidelines on how to improve and maintain accessibility. An extremely large collection of theme templates and plug-ins is available in the public domain and from custom developers. Themes are easily and quickly switched and customized from within the administrative interface. Non-blog pages and menus are relatively easy to create. The tabbed administrative interface opens on a dashboard which displays the system status and provides notices of upgrades from WordPress. Content is created and edited using an interactive WYSIWYG editor that allows tabbing between a formated presentation and direct HTML editing. The editor provides both auto-save backups during editing and spell checking. Edits can be saved to draft, or private, or published for public viewing. Its podcasting feed support exceeds those of other CMS offerings. It is common for web hosting services to supply their customers with a "one-button" installation for the WordPress application. A dedicated commercial hosting service option is available from WordPress.com.

Disadvantages: The program is designed and maintained to support the specific purpose of blogging. Congregations attempting to use it for broader purposes may encounter limitations (either immediately or in the future).

Examples:



CMS Made Simple

License: FREE (distributed under GNU General Public License)

Notes: To get a simple CMS site up and start managing it is relatively simple. The product is described on its website as "simple enough to run family websites...." The standard installation provides a very friendly interface, a lot of guidance, explanations of CMS concepts, and such. This makes the product easier for the inexperienced to start working with. The CMS allows creation of web sites having good compliance with web and accessibility standards, but it does not enforce such standards. This CMS makes use of the preexisting SMARTY theme/template engine and the PHP and MySQL components. Work on this project began as a small in-house project in 2004. This is a relatively new product, with its first stable release being made available in 2006.

Advantages:

  • very easy to make a hierarchical website
  • very nice administration interface, ordered by role and tasks
  • standard news module, RSS feeds, file and image managers, and WYSIWYG editor
  • module manager, allowing to download and install modules from the browser
  • many modules available

Disadvantages:

  • inconsistent add-on modules (different ways of doing things)
  • lack of CMSMS functionality, a lot is borrowed from other OS software

Examples:

  • no UU users known of ...
  • other denominations have congregations using it, but this Wiki is in need of a showcase quality example.



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