I was recently having a beer and a chat with a fellow Nelson web developer and discovered that we shared the same favourite content management system. That got us on to talking about what CMSs the other local web design companies here in Nelson build their websites on. My mate told me of a job he turned down because it was an existing website that was built on a content management developed in-house by the original developer of the website and quick look at the structure of the code showed that it was a complicated mess that he didn’t want to get involved with. This reminded me of how important the choice of CMS platform is. Yet very few of my clients have ever asked me about what type of CMS I would use to build their website on. I guess most people are not aware that there is a choice to be made.
For the uninitiated, a content management system is the administration side of a website that facilitates the management, updating and expansion of the website. There are a vast amount of different systems out there, a handful of widely used ones and there are some web companies that custom build their own systems. Broadly speaking they can be categorised as:
- Open source CMS
- Proprietary commercial CMS
- In-house custom developed CMS
While there may be some excellent proprietary and custom developed systems in use, open source content management systems are the most widely used and as a result generally lead the way in terms of ‘state-of-the-art’ in features, usability and security. There are a few top open source CMS platforms in particular that are highly active projects in terms of the pace of continual development, improvement and enhancement. Such systems run millions of web sites and on such a scale that any problems are quickly discovered and fixed. Whereas if you compare a custom developed system, it is unlikely to find a pace of development and improvement that comes anywhere close and it is also unlikely for find the same level of available features and capabilities as you would in a top open source platform.
Advantages of Open Source CMS over proprietary or custom built:
- more likely to be an evolved stable platform
- often more refined usability – i.e. easier to use
- usually will have a much wider range of features/capabilities
- easy to find another developer who can work on your website (so you are not locked in to the original developer for future work on your website)
- typically well optimised for search engines
- portable to a wide range of web hosting environments
- generally will cost less because many specific features that you need are already built in or available as plugins/modules and the wide range of options for choosing a developer
- no additional fee for the CMS software itself
Of course within open source there are many different systems available but three of the most widely used are WordPress, Joomal and Drupal. Each of these three are well refined systems with a large community of developers and are continuously improving and evolving at a rapid pace. They each have their own particular strengths and are all great solutions for different situations. There are also a number of other widely used and respected CMSs out there. The bottom line, if you are someone looking to get a website built, is to ask your prospective web developer what CMS they would use for your web site and why. If they propose a custom built or proprietary system, ask why they consider it to be a better fit for your situation than an open source system and compare the advantages they provide with the advantages of open source systems outlined here.