Finding the right CMS for my project

Content Management
Photo by ravennce

Sorry about the lack of proper blogging over the last few days. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing: I’m looking for the right content management software for a website project I’m working on.

So I’m spending the evenings either trawling through web pages of documentation, trawling through pages of books about specific content management systems, or trying them out for myself either at or on the vendor’s own website.

What I’m looking for

Ease of use
The clients that I’m working with are not technically-minded — they are ordinary human, sentient, non-geek beings like you and … well, like you (probably) — so the CMS that I pick has to be easy to use.

So that rules out about half the opensource CMS applications out there just now.

I need to be able to completely customize the site, as though it was a traditional, static site. I don’t want it to look like a portal with limited blocks of content. Also, it would be great if it could be fairly easily customizable using a combination of mostly XHTML and CSS. I don’t want anything that I have to use an unnecessary amount of PHP just to generate an XHTML document, or translate swathes of code into XLST or YYZ or whatever before it works.

So that rules out about another 25% of systems!

Site structure
I need to easily build the information architecture in it, and (preferably) have the CMS manage and automatically build the sub-navigation lists. It would also be great to be able to see the site structure in some visual form.

There go the rest!

Ideally, I’d like to build it in TERMINALFOUR SiteManager — I could have it built and finished in a couple of days with SiteManager. But unfortunately my clients don’t have a spare £50k lying around to spend on web software!

My current short-list

At the moment my short-list comprises of (in alphabetical order):


To be honest, Drupal is currently on my list simply because I haven’t yet ruled it out! But I’m attracted to Drupal and have heard good things about it.

I also own a book about Drupal: Building Online Communities with Drupal, phpBB, and WordPress and Drupal is the only one of the three that I’ve not properly delved into yet.


This came as quite a surprise to me, because ExpressionEngine (or EE) is a commercial product, with a very reasonable pricing plan: free for the blog edition or US$99 for the full version if you’re building a non-commercial, or non-profit, site.

I also really like the documentation (there’s lots of it, and some of it is video). But most importantly the back-end looks simple enough to use, and it appears to have the customization features that I’m looking for.
I look forward to checking this out some more …


And of course: my beloved WordPress. WordPress fits almost all of my criteria … and with the creation of some cunning templates I think I could get my customized navigation to work. It may need some cunning PHP tweakery but I know that it would almost immediately fit the bill.


But that’s the thing … I know that I could most easily build the site that I want, with the features that I want with WordPress — it just gets better and better — but I didn’t want to simply take the easy road: I wanted to take a step back and evaluate the opensource CMS scene once again to see what else is out there, and have their back-end interfaces got any better.

Sadly, I think on the whole the answer is a resounding no. WordPress absolutely rocks … I’ve yet to fully understand the CMS model that Drupal uses, and if I end up not going with WordPress then it looks (at the moment) that ExpressionEngine is the way to go … and that’s a commercial product.

Drupal, phpBB and WordPress

Here’s an interesting find. I did a search on Amazon for Drupal and found this yet-to-be-published book, from APress:

Building Online Communities with Drupal, phpBB, and WordPress, by Robert T. Douglass, Mike Little and Jared W. Smith (APress, November 2005, ISBN 1-59059-562-9).

(The hyperlinks point to the Apress website, not Amazon UK.)

Two technologies that I already use (phpBB and WordPress) and one that I’d like to learn more about (Drupal).

Learning PostNuke

PostNuke by Kevin Hatch
I’ve begun reading PostNuke Content Management by Kevin Hatch

(Buy at / Publisher’s website)

Having struggled to learn any Content Management System (CMS) from online tutorials and half-written documentation I was pleased to read that Kevin Hatch also regards much of the available documentation confusing. (He’s not the only one, Jeffrey Veen vents his spleen in this article on his blog.)

I’m hopeful. The book is very readable, and includes a number of real-life practical examples of how to set up PostNuke sites — something that is sorely missing from the online manuals. My hope is that this book will help me get my head around the theory behind how CMSs work, and that it will aid me to get to grips with not only PostNuke, but Drupal and even WordPress, from which this blog is powered. I’ll let you know how I get on.