IT intelligence: Content management systems

Sue Fidler offers some tips on finding the right content management system.

Before you start creating a website there are various questions to consider so you can write a specification of requirements. The only technical decision at this stage is what platform your site will use.

Using a content management system makes it easier to update your site without needing to understand any code. It also offers publication rights management on templates and CSS files - which define the look of web pages - to standardise your site. But there are many types and levels of CMS.

At the bottom end of the spectrum is Dreamweaver. This isn't really a CMS at all, but a coding tool. Unless you have the skills to use it properly, you will not end up with a good site.

Next are the many new tools that have appeared to facilitate blogs and Web 2.0 sites, such as WordPress. They are easy to use and, with the right developer, can produce good, simple sites. They do have limitations, though.

Then there are the free open source CMSs, such as Joomla and Drupal. The licence for these is free, and they are extremely good at integrating Web 2.0 tools, but some non-techies find them hard to use. They are capable of everything, if you have a good developer.

Finally, there are the traditional proprietary CMSs, written and managed by web development agencies - either open source or Microsoft language-based. These systems are very user -friendly and easy for non-techies to understand.

With whatever you choose, the usability is key. Can you manage everything on the page, or do you need to pay the developer even for small changes?

Most important of all is the developer. Can you work with them, trust them and sustain a long-term relationship with them? If not, you are storing up trouble.

- Sue Fidler is an independent charity ICT and internet consultant.

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