Seeking Open Content Management Systems

So after a couple of years of strictly being a CMS user it looks likely that 2011 will be the year I get properly sucked back into the web content management system(s) black hole. There is every chance I’ll be leading a project to implement a new CMS and subsequently take the opportunity to refresh a major public sector website – with a mind to making some more radical changes to the site in a potential phase two.

There are alot of hoops to jump through (plus the fact it would need to be done on a tiny budget) and a number of other directions that the project could take but I have my own, quite public, preferences of the strategy I’d like to see us adopt.

For a while now I have been talking about the idea of working on building a website using ‘open’ technologies from the ground up. It seems to be there are enough mature open source CMS products and communities out there now to make this possible and the fact that Defra (WordPress) and the Cabinet Office (Drupal) – not to mention the increasing list of US .gov sites now on Drupal – have opened the doors for this kind of project in the public sector means now seems the time to try.

I want to look wider than just WordPress or Drupal though. I’m familiar with Plone – particularly as the community is pretty major in Bristol – and I know Joomla has many fans but are there other options I should look into as well if I do get the nod to go in this direction?

Inspired by a post by Daniel Greenfeld on his blog about picking a Django CMS I have come up with a short list of basic requirements that any CMS I looked at would need to offer;

  • Would be (genuinely) open source.
  • Would run in a Linux environment.
  • Would be extensible.
  • Have a user friendly user interface.
  • Renders humanely in FF, Chrome, Safari, and IE 7, and 8.
  • WAI AA compliant or at least pretty close.
  • Have an active community. Which means that commits to the CMS need to have happened within the last two months (from more than one person/company).
  • Would have extensive documentation.
  • Must have an example sites list.

So does anyone have any other CMSs they think are worth looking at? I’m assuming that there must be some Ruby on Rails products by now and I am now aware there are a couple of Django CMSs out there. Let me know!

I’m also hoping to implement a search solution based on Solr as well as do things like make use of Universal Subtitles to handle video captioning. Fingers crossed that the powers that be buy into my ‘vision’.


15 responses to “Seeking Open Content Management Systems”

  1. Squiz are fully open-source and have extensive public sector experience both in the UK and Australia (where we originate). Can certainly match the req’s in your list – feel free to get in touch if you need more info…

  2. Hi Matt,

    I’d also suggest taking a look at Liferay.

    It has a wide range of features including social collaboration which could push it against sharepoint, although it integrates with sharepoint.

    This technology is also a key component in the KHub project which the LGID are leading on…

    We are looking at Liferay as part of our new web infrastructure so would be happy to chat and put you in touch with more technical people as i’m not a technical manager.


  3. Having worked extensively with both Plone and Drupal, they both fill the criteria as comprehensive Content Management Systems, but as a developer, i’ve been very frustrated with both, as they both grow more complex over time, and it always gets to the stage where you spend more time stripping out code and reverse engineering than you do creating anything. Plone has certainly made efforts to address this, concentrating on improving out of the box performance and a completely abstracted themeing system for Plone 4.

    In disagreement with Chris, Django isn’t really a CMS, it’s just a framework with some magic admin forms. It will allow you to edit simple content types, but it’s not a CMS in terms of the workflow, user, group and media management features available in big systems such as Plone and Drupal. At a basic level it doesn’t handle hierarchical content, but also lacks many other features unless you build them, especially all the “Through The Web” configurability (loved by end users, hated by developers!). I’m very interested in what develops in the Django powered CMS space. I’d love to see a Django powered plone clone 🙂

  4. Interesting post, Matt – cheers.

    On a [kinda] tangent – not pitched at you as I know you’re a champion of non-technical end-users – but IMO there are still (after YEARS of what should now be a mature CMS market) these kinds of problems in procurement:

    – CMS systems are for many things, but possibly the most important one is to allow non-technical users to edit. Techs will tell you it’s about multisurfacing, asset management, workflow. In fact the 95% use case is that nice chap in Finance who wants to edit his page, and for it not to hurt his brain.

    – Still (and I’m terribly disturbed to find this is still the case as it was 10 years ago when I started doing this shit) there is no reliable way of getting content from the desktop to the web. People on desktops use Word and Excel: the promise of a RTE which could cope with a copy paste is still an unfulfilled promise. This is nuts, IMO, and about the biggest unsolved problem that there is in the CMS market.

    – CMS technology is almost always 90% redundant. I have never worked on a CMS procurement (and I’ve worked on a few!) where the long list of requirements was ever looked at beyond the procurement process

    In short, there are too many geeks involved, and not enough editors / creators of content. The sooner we all listen to the people who actually have to DO the daily work of editing a content-rich website the better…

  5. The copy and paste issue continues to irk me it has to be said. A decade of giving people the advice “paste your content into Notepad first and reformat it in the CMS” is enough I reckon!

    I was recently looking at a previous spec I helped write for a CMS and I didn’t even know what half the things were referring to 🙂

    I want the impossible dream – a CMS that is genuinely user friendly for publishers and also allows me as an admin to be able to control layout etc and add functionality without having to *always* bring in paid help..

  6. I think I’ll take a stab at creating a local install of Plone 4 and see if it helps me get over the sour taste the early versions left me with!

    I hear alot about the complexity of things like Drupal but from my point of view it is all the

    “Through The Web configurability (loved by end users, hated by developers!)”

    that is useful to me and my projects so as long as the end result works for me I’m happy enough to cause developers the odd headache 🙂

  7. I have to agree with Mike on some of those points – the amount of features that are requested in a CMS and never used. Of all of those workflow is one that nearly always gets switched off after a few days, unless it’s used in a paranoid publishing environment with multiple authors where every bit of contributed content needs to be authorised by a superior before going live. I also look after a number of sites where noone at all uses the CMS – I end up being requested to make content changes for a client because they can’t be bothered to use it/ haven’t been trained/ don’t know it exists!

  8. I’ve tried and failed to (fully) solve the cut and paste from word challenge, and i’m sure i’m not the only one. Most WYSIWYG editors have a “paste from word” function to help strip out word formatting, but then you have to apply formatting again in the same way as you would if you did the cut ans paste via notepad dance.

    The challenge is that what comes in from word isn’t consistent across different word versions, and even different authors if they aren’t trained to use word in a consistent way, so even if you add in lots of code to automatically process into useable web markup, you always miss or misinterpret something*, so the end user still has to do loads of formatting after conversion. I don’t see a bulletproof solution to this in the near future – sorry!

    * e.g. you didn’t realise that the 12 nested spans around a sentence meant it was supposed to be a level 2 heading and other such ridiculous scenarios

  9. Yep every site I’ve ever worked on ends up with all but the most minimal workflow turned off within days of launch!

  10. EE has been recommended by alot of people and it falls into the cheap but not open category at the moment. It is certainly well liked by a number of my designer friends..

  11. There’s always Magnolia it also is heavily steeped in the Java world. But if your customers have any in-house Java skills the templating engines should be familiar enough.

    The search isn’t Solr exactly, suspect it’ll be Lucene which actually underpins both Solr & Elastic Search. Being Java integrating with Solr may well prove easier, if nobodies done it already.

    Nice thing about Magnolia was its based on a spec called JCR, which was meant to be a common, shared base API all CMSes could share. Never really got the traction the idea deserved though.

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