Still no viable Content Management solutions?
I previously wrote a blog over at Work Connexions* titled "Why Content Management is a con" (make sure you go to .com not .co.uk - Bizzarre splitting of branding, I know) that broke down, for me, the benefits of a Content Management System and highlighted the true costs associated with it's implementation. For example, while a CMS seems a "Plug-in" solution for a web site, it rarely is for the majority of web sites, particularly corporate sites that require specific functionality such as shopping baskets, support portals and true control over branding.
Over the past few months, in my free time, I have been looking at a variety of Content Management Systems, which vary from the free to the tens of thousands of pounds mark. Mainly as a basis for research, but also with a view to revamping my own site. My site has suffered over the last few years due to too much work of others! It's like they always say, the successful, quality painter/decorators tend to have the scruffiest houses - and the same is obviously true for web design and development! Putting some work back a little bit, I thought I would check out some for [hopefully] a quick installation on my own site.
I looked at 5 individual systems in my research, mainly .NET-based. First, though, let me outline my requirements, with a view to the objections I raised in my previous post on the subject.
I want a system that is modular - and I mean modular. I do not have the time to maintain my own site, but do have a need to upgrade it's functionality at will without affecting the whole. Therefore, I want the ability to drop DLL's, controls and pages into the site and not have to worry about affecting other elements of the site. .NET is great for this, if the application is written well enough. This allows me to maintain the guts of the site in a piece-meal fashion, thereby avoiding a "big bang" publish and minimising costs to me (which in my case, is time).
I want a system that is cheap. I am not averse to paying for software, indeed, in many cases I prefer it (see How to solve a Problem like Open Source
), but this is a small site and I have a limited budget - both in terms of hosting costs and purchase of software. I certainly want to avoid the expense outlined previously!
I want a system that is accessible and semantic. The quality of markup generated by automated systems such as Content Management Systems, Blogs, rich text editors, etc. is appalling. (Semantic Web 2.0 content is hard to achieve
) While I believe Web 2.0 is muddying the waters a bit with regards to quality and meaningful content, I do want Web 2.0 features such as user feedback, and an AJAX-y feel. I hate the Web 2.0 term, I've been craving Web 3.0 for a long while, now - that is when XML becomes sexy to everyone!
Finally, I want a system that is flexible. I want to be able to have absolute control over mark-up, and I want to have control over how the site is structured when detail is important. If it comes down to writing in XSL, so be it - I have yet to think of a better way.
All these requirements are based around quality of content and reduction of cost.
So what packages did I look at?
- a low cost solution that initially seemed quite impressive. Having downloaded a trial and organised an online walk through from the US, I was quite impressed about how it was structured and how I was being 'chaparoned' to making the purchase. Unfortunately, when the software failed to perform a simple task (I forget what it was, it literally was something like publishing an article) during the demonstration, I'd had enough.
- a free, open source solution that - while completely functional - lacked the "pazaz" that I would have hoped for, the admin interface being very muted monochromatic colours making it difficult to differentiate the various sections of the screen and the purposes of controls. I played with it for a while, but was not pleased with the output of XHTML and open-source worries me.
- a fellow member of the Isle of Man BCS is well involved (U-G-H GreyMatter
) with WordPress and has helped in the installation of a number of sites (most recently, and impressively, Strive PR's Strive Notes
) so I was quite intrigued about this software. While it looks quite a strong package, it feels too blog-ish, which is not the look I want. Additionally, it requires PHP and while I have PHP capability, I don't have the skill and prefer the [superior] .NET platform (PHP fans - remember you are on a .NET blog site!).
- a Content Management System from the makers of radControls, which I have used at Work Connexions (and are still being used - hopefully not on my $999 license!) Obviously, this system is based around their radControls, which I am familiar with, but unfortunately, is also a weakness for me. The quality of XHTML output from rich text editors is poor when they rely on the rich text editors built in to the browsers (particularly Microsofts), and this shows in this package in the editor component and the surrounding navigation components. A beautiful drag-and-drop metaphor, however, which makes content management a breeze. Full marks for interface, shame about the output.
- finally, there is Sitecore Xpress. Sitecore is an enterprise level CMS that I have a lot of experience with, so when this was released, it was a dead cert I would be pleased about it! And I was. Despite the very limiting license agreement, I thought I would give this a shot. Bearing in mind, it is the same
enterprise class software in most respects as the core Sitecore
product, this was fast to install on my development environment and I had full blogging services and a design written in TWO DAYS - from scratch. This is largely because of my experience on the platform, but also because the guts of Sitecore is all XML, so those who have a modicum of XSL can make the entire site run like a dream on snippets of XSL with excellent levels of flexibility. Unfortunately, while it is called "Xpress" and is a "personal license", it breaks down at that point. By "personal license", I expect to be able to install it on my personal hosting, which is not insignificant. WIth five databases, my preferred MS SQL database was out of the question as I only pay for one. Any further databases would cost me a lot of money. MySQL would have been slightly cheaper, but still not cost effective. So I had to settle with the SQL Lite, and despite all attempts at my excellent hosting provider, the system is just not viable on a shared platform. This, to me, is rather a trial for the "real" version.
So, after all this looking, I have come out with nothing. Although, I have learnt a lot about various Content Management Systems, what is important to users, developers and partners/resellers. Over the past couple of years I have been playing around with some techniques for generating dynamic content - such as HttpHandlers, etc. So I'm going to write my own. How hard can it be? With the WinFX technologies such as Communications Foundation and Workflow Foundation, it becomes even easier to create rich .NET applications that are truly enterprise level but cheap to develop.
Maybe if I have these requirements, other people will too, and that would drive down the "true" cost of Content Management. I intend to try. Work is well under way and I hope to have something to show for it soon.
If you're interested in following my work, please do comment and let me know. Any ideas, suggestions, reality checks, welcome.
* For those of you who read regularly, I am no longer involved with this site, a shame after all my hard work!