What is a Content Management System?

Wikipedia defines a Content Management System (CMS) as follows:

A content management system is a computer software system for organizing and facilitating collaborative creation of documents and other content. A content management system is sometimes a web application used for managing websites and web content, though in many cases, content management systems require special client software for editing and constructing articles. They can also be used for storage and single sourcing of documentation for a firm including but not limited to operators’ manuals, technical manuals, sales guides, etc. The market for content management systems remains fragmented, with many open-source and proprietary solutions available. The term was originally used for website publishing and management systems. Early content management systems were developed internally at organizations which were doing a lot of content publishing. In 1995, CNET spun out its internal development offerings into a separate company called Vignette, which opened up the market for commercial systems. As the market evolved, the scope of content management systems broadened, and the term is now used to refer to a range of technologies and techniques, including portal systems, wiki systems, and web-based groupware.

For purposes of most individual and business needs, a Content Management System is a web application that allows for the easy organization and creation of web pages. Many websites are designed using HTML editors and pages are loaded to the web server using an FTP client. This is fine for most small sites but even with these smaller sites there is a basic knowledge of HTML, FTP, and file management that needs to be understood. Assuming the person can gain a basic knowledge of these apps to build a functioning site, there is still a pretty steep learning curve if the person is going to design an asthetically pleasing site that has bells and whistles.

In large organizations or communities of interest there is a desire to allow the common user to create their own pages. Web sites restricted to a business are commonly referred to as Intranet (vice Internet) web sites. These sites are used to share information between offices or individuals. It is an effective means of Information Management as organizations will place information on the Intranet website vice e-mailing several versions of documents to users who may not need the document and the risk that those who do need the document never get the e-mail or the e-mail is lost with all the other spam that each user gets. E-mail is just a bad method to share information. Giving offices or individuals write privileges to portions of a website allows information to be shared without worrying who did or didn’t get e-mails and, because it’s on the intranet page, folks know it’s the most current information.

The issue with an Intranet, if one uses a traditional HTML editor and FTP client to upload HTML files is that it would be a design disaster to allow hundreds to be making basic layout changes to link their new files. It also requires a good deal of training for everybody in an organization to get up to speed in basic web design.

So the “traditional” method of building html files for a web site with corresponding images and other resources is difficult for some novices and nigh impossible for large organizations. Surely the traditional method is best for some case in between. Perhaps but not necessarily. I used to have this entire site built on several dozen html documents that were all built around a Dreamweaver template. That worked fine for a while but it really was a good deal of work everytime I made a template change for I had to re-upload every html document whenever the common elements changed. Add to that, I had to sometimes go back and edit several files that referred to one another. Even sites with only a few trained webmasters, if they get too large, may benefit from a Content Management System (CMS). That’s why I moved this site to the Drupal Content Management System script.

Now I realize that there are design snobs who despise CMS because it’s not all designed pretty and managed by an expert. I don’t much care about their opinion on the matter. I’ll leave it to you to determine whether or not you believe this site design is functional if not a bit elegant. It not only makes the job of adding new pages as easy as an entry on a web forum but it also allows communities of interest to participate in a website like this while maintaining a constant theme.

The CMS works by setting the theme in place and adding any extensions that the administrator may desire. You may notice that I’ve added some Google Map functionality and I have syndication and news feed blocks. The background and title bar image were all designed by me as was the 3 column layout. More precisely, on the 3 column layout, I modified an existing theme and made it my own. Once the theme was set then the site is ready for users to register for accounts and begin contributing articles and comments. Sophisticated users can still integrate full HTML into articles while users with less HTML knowledge can just type and Submit.

While the name, Content Management System, seems a bit intimidating, there is nothing significantly different in terms of your web hosting needs. All the major CMS’s run PHP scripts and use database backends (mySQL or PostgreSQL) which are available on any quality shared hosting plan. Issues of quality really come into play here. Hosts who oversell and place too many clients on a server usually count on infrequent use of databases. Databases are processor intensive and tax system resources. Hence, if you choose price over quality and speed then your performance will suffer dramatically if you install a CMS to use as your main website. Thus, I would recommend a Premium Web Host such as ICANNWholesale if you intend to run a CMS.

Thus, I’ve become a huge fan of CMS applications as one who has a day job in the Marine Corps and can’t spend all my time managing a traditional web site. In fact, I’ve built a number of Church web sites using traditional html and have recently just deployed my first CMS based Church web site. I believe a CMS is ideally suited for a Church web site as it allows Church members access to parts of the site and even allows them to contribute content without relying on the one smart guy that understands all the internet stuff. My preferred CMS for this task is WordPress.

So if you haven’t considered a CMS for your personal, small or large business, or Church website then I highly recommend you give the idea some consideration. You may well save yourself a lot of time and get much more functionality and expandability than sticking with a traditional site design.

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