CMS Made Simple

I tried out three CMS‘s this weekend, in search of a backend for the new Maru a Pula web site I am building. Unlike the AFMAP site I built last year, this needs to be easy to manage, as I intend to give the keys to the Principal’s assistant there.

I headed to OpenSourceCMS.com to review and try out different CMS software packages. On the one hand, I was impressed with the standardization around PHP/mySQL and the near-universal adoption of trendy features such as extensibility and RSS. However, I found it challenging to browse the list of top-rated tools, as considerably variety exists within this category. I did not want or need a suite of community features such as Drupal offers.

In the end, I downloaded and installed three packages: CMSMadeSimple, Joomla, and phpWebSite, based on ratings, front page design, and features. If you try it soon, you may visit the test sites by clicking on each image below.

CMS

CMSMadeSimple is the only one of the three that made it through the first day. As the name suggests, this package focuses on web site content. The admin interface prioritizes the creation and organization of content pages. It’s easy to use, works, and doesn’t get in the way of the site content. Hopefully, this one will carry me through the entire project.

Joomla is a rising star with potential for a site admin who wants more features. I found that the admin interface got in the way of simple content management.

Joomla

To post the first articles, I had to create a section, then a category, then a page, then a menu item, and I still couldn’t get the content to actually show up in the home page. That’s far more than the MAP users will be able to handle without the help of their computer staff.

phpWebSite was so promising to me at first. It was the only package that included an Edit link at the bottom of each article by default, an intuitive user interface element for novice admin users. Like CMSMadeSimple, it prioritizes content over features but has an active development community that has created a number of potentially useful modules. Unfortunately, installation was a disaster. If I installed only the core, then I could get it running. If I installed even one module, then the install script threw an error and the site broke. Check out the screen shot. Yup, the content doesn’t appear. That won’t do.

PHPWebSite

I thought that this process would allow me to develop content and install a graphic design (pro bono from a local firm) on three installations to really learn how well they ran. At the end of the first day, I am down to just one. Hopefully, CMSMadeSimple will be robust enough to get me through this project. Otherwise, I will be looking for another solution pretty soon! Let me know if you have other CMS suggestions that meet the criteria I have explained above.

Update Sep 10 2008

I realize from the comments posted to this item that this blog post does not tell the end of the story. After trying five different content management packages, I ultimately chose Website Baker and have since operated two web sites on the platform for two years. While not perfect, it has offered the best combination of simplicity and features that I have been able to find. I would still choose website baker if I were to fully hand over site administration to others. If I were to continue to administer the site myself but wanted content editors to have the best possible experience, I would choose Drupal. Check out some sites: Maru-a-Pula (Website Baker), San Diego Hat Co (Website Baker), and Shasta Mountain Guides (Drupal).

Update Oct 8 2010

Like a giant vortex, Drupal has sucked this site in, as it has most of the others that I manage. The Principal wanted to start a blog, which Website Baker did not support. With three years of Drupal experience under my belt, I felt able to migrate them while keeping the user experience as simple (or simpler) than Website Baker.

13 comments

  1. Ben says:

    Ahhhh, OpenSoureCMS, isn’t it a great site? I’m planning on using it during a hands-on workshop in two months for a group of teachers interested in blogging. IT will give us the time and place we need to play around with all the features of WordPress before heading out and getting their own account at Edublogs.org or one of the other WordPress powered blogging sites.

    Enough about me though, Joomla looks a lot like Mambo, or at least the default tempalate does. The dashboard could be completely different. You might want to check out Mambo if CMSMadeSimple doesn’t pan out for you, although it looks as though MadeSimple would be a simple and practical solution for your goals for the site.

  2. rkassissieh says:

    Ben,

    You may know that Joomla is a spin-off from Mambo. Bill Fitzgerald from my area just send me two more recommendations that look like more current versions of CMSMS.

    http://www.etomite.org/
    http://www.websitebaker.org

  3. Ben says:

    Ahhhh, that’s why Joomla looks so familiar. I’ve been sick with a nasty sinus infection so my processing power is considerably diminished πŸ™‚ I actually did know that the two projects were related, but had forgotten until you mentioned it, thanks!

  4. Eva says:

    Do you think ‘CMS made Simple’ will be able to handle e-commerce and file downloads etc? I have used the demo and it looks the best although I worry about limit of features.

  5. rkassissieh says:

    I don’t know whether it handles e-commerce and file downloads. However, this is a site for a school, which will likely have neither to any great extent. Many of these content management systems have plug-ins that people have written to add functionality. Check out their web sites for more information.

  6. Ben Spencer says:

    I too am currently researching various Open Source CMS options for a couple of upcoming projects. Like you, I am after something which will be extremely simple for the eventual end-user of the system. I have tried both Joomla and Drupal so far, but they are far too complicated / bloated for my needs.

    I’ll probably give CMS Made Simple ago next, but I’m actually starting to think that the answer is right in front of me… WordPress! I have used WordPress for a couple of blogging projects in the past, and I currently use it on my own personal site as well. I love it!

  7. rkassissieh says:

    I settled on Website Baker when I did this project and have been happy with it ever since.

  8. Tommy says:

    Richard, I agree with you. Website Baker seems the easiest CMS out there.

    I wish I found the information about Website Baker earlier, because I just finished developing a website that uses Joomla as its engine. While Joomla is a great CMS, I knew that it’s not so user friendly for non-geeks.

  9. Stuart Steel says:

    Hi – I’ve developed a couple of joomla and cmsms sites now – as part of a professional web dev house. I haven’t tried website baker.

    I can tell you this:

    For larger community type sites and if you require complex e-commerce, or a wider range of plugins joomla beats CMSMS – its more mature and more widely supported.

    Joomla can be a bit difficult to format – though most users just download a template, make a few minor tweaks and then launch – it does that well.

    BUT – learning to use it can be a nightmare – particularly if you’re not a geek.

    ——-

    CMSMS is great. You can dump any layout or any content into it and it just works – creating content and laying out sites is much easier. If you know what you are doing you can do amazing things with the modules which are much more customisable than joomla. I think that in time CMSMS will eventually overtake Joomla for for functionality and power.
    CMSMS really rewards people who know a little bit about HTML and CSS.

    We use CMSMS for most of our clients -and have good success in handing it over to most of them, and letting them run their own site. We wouldn’t do this very often with Joomla. Making the website usable for administrators as well as visitors is VERY important.

  10. KJC says:

    I’ve tried a bunch of CMS as well and found products like Joomla to be too difficult to use. Even CMSMadeSimple wasn’t as simple as I hoped. I’ll have to give Website Baker a try — it looks interesting.

    I’ve tried out Open Solution’s Quick.CMS and have been very happy so far with how simple it is to implement (and for non-geeks to update it). Does anyone else have an experience using it?

  11. Chris says:

    i think cmsmadesimple is great! started using it last night and already writing modules for it! it truely is greater and easier to use than joomla and overs out here!

  12. Tom says:

    I’m pretty much in the same boat, need something really simple and Joomla is both overkill and would be too hard to hand over the administration once I’m gone. Here’s hoping CMSMS is indeed just what it says I need πŸ™‚

  13. Richard says:

    I realize from the comments on this item that many people are leaning toward CMS Made Simple. I should inform you that I ultimately built the website described above on Website Baker and have continued to run it on that platform for the two years since then. Be sure to take a look.

    Richard