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Content Management Systems

When it comes to managing a content site like DevArticles, one should consider a Content Management System. Using a Content Management System, you be able to maintain your site with ease.

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By: Rutger Engelhard AND Sebastiaan van de Vliet
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May 21, 2003

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When it comes to managing a content site like DevArticles, one should consider a Content Management System. Using a Content Management System, you be able to maintain your site with ease.

The task of updating a website is a common problem for many organizations. Webmasters can not cope with the ever-increasing workload, and the budgets for their websites are too restricted to allow the work to be outsourced. In such a situation, a content management system may provide a solution.

Content management systems are not new. They come in many shapes and sizes, but due to their very high costs, so far only big companies have been able to afford them. However, a new generation of content management systems have brought these powerful tools within the reach of small and medium-sized organizations. In this newsletter, the idea behind content management systems is explained in plain language.

Content management systems: managing your website on your own terms

A content management system is a tool that enables any staff member in an organization – with or without an IT background – to manage and update web content without the help of a webmaster. Users only see and work with two elements of a content management system – the ‘front-end’ and the ‘back-end’.

The front-end represents the website as it appears when accessed by visitors, with its web pages, documents, images, forms, multimedia clips and other types of content that come with today’s websites.

The back-end can be regarded as a control panel, or the interface with the system’s databases that hold the content and the templates that define the ‘look and feel’ of the site. 

The back-end can be reached through the website, but access to it is restricted and controlled by passwords – no organization wants unauthorized individuals to tamper with parts of their site. Access with different levels of authority can be provided. For example, regular visitors to the website may be given passwords that provide authority to upload their documents to the server.

Staff members may be given passwords that enable them to post or remove content from a predetermined section of the site. Webmasters have access to the entire system and are able to change the templates (to create additional web pages with a different design and appearance), to include new features, to change the structure of the site, and to manage the user access to the back-end.

From the organization’s point of view, the strength of a content management system is that its back-end section is an easy-to-use interface that allows non-technical people – such as subject matter specialists or staff of the human resources department – to enter or change content. The server then takes that content, inserts it into the correct template and presents it on the front-end – on the appropriate webpage where it can be accessed by visitors to the website. For this, they do not need to learn difficult software or HTML.

All they have to do is hook up to the Internet, anywhere in the office or even the world, call up the webpage with the back-end interface on their screen, type in a password and insert their content. The content management system will take care of the rest and make the inserted content available to visitors to the website instantly or, if desired, after review by an editor. Thus, the burden of web management can be shared among staff members throughout an organization.

Does your organization need a content management system?

Your organization can probably do without a content management system if your website is small and its content or structure do not need to be frequently updated. In all other cases, a content management system has many benefits:

  1. If your organization relies heavily on external web developers, a content management system will save money because in-house staff can take care of daily maintenance themselves.
  2. If your organization relies on the efforts of just a few highly trained staff members, a content management system will help to reduce their workload because other staff members can become involved, and the updating of web content can be integrated into their daily routines.
  3. If many staff members in your organization are already actively involved in web publishing, the use of a content management system will help resolve a number of common problems, such as inconsistent navigation or poorly presented information.

What do I ask my technical team?

Before you decide whether to introduce a specific content management system, you will need to check a number of things with your technical staff, such as:

  1. does the system support a variety of content types, such as documents, images, links and multimedia? and
  2. does it provide access management and some form of editorial control?

You may also wish to make sure that you know in advance whether

  1. any additional hardware and/or software is required;
  2. your organization’s yearly recurrent costs for the website will increase;
  3. the system is sufficiently ‘future-proof’ to allow the integration of new technologies and functionality without it having to be rebuilt from scratch;
  4. external support is available, with a sufficient number of developers who know the system;
  5. content and presentation templates are adequately separated to allow designers to work relatively independently from the developers; and
  6. content from the old website can be transferred to the new system without too much trouble.

What options are available?
Content management systems come in many shapes and sizes, from the small and simple to the huge and complex. At one end of the range are very expensive and commercially licensed systems, such as
Vignette V7 and Interwoven TeamSite (costing EUR 200,000 or more). At the other end are systems that are inexpensive or free, most of which are released under open source licences. The latter, such as Zope, Midgard and eZ publish, are often just as effective for the purposes of managing a website as the more expensive systems. In contrast with commercially licensed systems, open source software is developed and controlled by communities of programmers to be freely shared, improved upon, and redistributed.

The choice of content management systems can be overwhelming, since one has to take into account not only the functional requirements, but also factors such as cost, the availability of support and developers, server and database platforms, and various institutional considerations. Therefore, you may need independent professional advice to help you to select the system that will be most appropriate for your organization.

eZ publish, released under an open source licence, has recently become very popular. Oneworld.net has adopted eZ publish as their new worldwide content management solution. The system includes all the features of most commercially licensed systems and offers many optional extras, such as forums, mailing lists, syndication and e-commerce facilities.

It can be installed and customized in about two weeks and will cost between EUR 10,000–25,000, depending on the required functionalities. Non-technical staff members can learn how to use the system in less than a day. eZ publish is very flexible and can easily be customized or extended to fit the specific functional requirements of an organization.

The Contactivity website provides a number of
links to sites with further information on content management systems .

Copyright © 17 January 2003, Contactivity bv, Leiden, the Netherlands

DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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