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How to Choose The Right Web Content Management System for You.

by on September 1st, 2010

Not to date myself but I used to hand code websites way back in the olden days of the internet (15 years ago) and I’ve seen plenty of changes come down the line when it comes to website construction tools. Many of the everyday WYSIWYG web design programs in use now would have seemed miraculous to me when I was sweating bullets over HTML 1.0. Now a whole new paradigm of website design and development tools has come over the horizon, changing the way websites will be constructed in the future. Content Management Systems, or CMS appears to be the wave of the future when it comes to developing your next website, but as it is with all new technologies, it’s hard to choose which of the new and sparsely tested technologies out there are best suited to your individual needs. Sure, they each claim to be able to provide almost everything for almost anyone, though you have to wonder if most of that talk is just marketing hype.

First off, for the uninitiated; what is a Content Management System and do I even need one? The Content Management Systems we will be discussing are Web Content Management Systems, or WCMS. A WCMS is a web publishing system that allows even users with little or no technical skill update, manage and modify a website. Depending on the type of WCMS you choose to use even unskilled web managers can theoretically add interactive functions and employ complex scripting functions that were previously only possible through computer code programming. Simply put, with a well-implemented and robust WCMS even your grandmother could run your website. But how do you know which WCMS is best for you and Granny?

The good thing is that all the top three contenders for the WCMS crown are not only free but open source as well. This means that developers around the world are able to use, test and modify each WCMS individually to see how it suits their own needs and tastes. Of course not everyone has the time to put each of these complex tools through all the paces so we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each for you here. Hopefully we can help you make up your mind and save you some time.

* WordPress

The most widely used and most well-known WCMS WordPress was originally released in 2003 and is now used in 2% of the top 10,000 websites. Using a template based architecture WordPress has found vast popularity as a blogging platform which requires minimal set-up and maintenance. The popularity of the WordPress WCMS has encouraged developers worldwide to create thousands of plugins which can easily be installed to help expand the capabilities of your website.

While it is so extensive and has the greatest number of users WordPress does have technical limitations which make it possibly not the best choice for websites with heavy reliance on highly technical functions, such as shopping carts. The open source nature of the WordPress architecture can occasionally be a liability, with plugin conflicts or version compatibility issues being a frequent complaint of users. What WordPress excels at is a quick learning curve, a very easy control system, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of templates. It is also the simplest WCMS to install and configure. In a nutshell, WordPress is for you if all you’re looking to do is blog and it’s something Grandma should be able to master in just a few quick lessons.

* Drupal

A variation of the Dutch word for ‘drop’ (druppel) this robust and widely-used system is considered the most technically advanced and correspondingly complicated WCMS. While it might not have the ease of implementation found with WordPress it makes up for it’s challenging nature with renowned reliability and respected security strength. Estimates claim that at least 1% of the worlds websites use some aspect of the Drupal WCMS, including such notable sites as whitehouse.gov , data.gov.uk and fastcompany.com.

Drupal has a very active community of open-source developers despite it’s relatively steep learning curve and level of complexity. Web Designers favor the flexibility the Drupal architecture gives them and developers find Drupal’s SEO capabilities highly favorable.

Drupal does seem to hold all the cards when it comes to performance and scalability but many amateur web developers find the level of technical skill required to get the most out of this WCMS consumes more time than it ultimately saves, particularly on less sophisticated web projects.

* Joomla

The relative new-comer to the WCMS field is the fast expanding and infinitely flexible Joomla, which adherents claim to be as complex and functional as Drupal, but with the ease of use of WordPress. Undoubtedly, Joomla has attracted a following of dedicated open-source developers, and in a relatively short time has amassed an impressive number of plug-ins and a staggering number of templates.

On the downside however some of Joomla’s most attractive features are not available for free, requiring the purchase of ‘modules’ to expand the funtionality of the core system. Though Joomla users contend the small cost of modules is much less than the cost of hiring experienced programmers to set up a Drupal architecture.

Joomla is therefore the ‘middle-road’ chosen by web designers and developers who are looking to make easy to manage sites that have only a above-average need for technical sophistication.

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