SPUG:Content Management software: opinions?

Aaron Salo aaron at activox.com
Thu Jan 23 00:04:51 CST 2003

At 09:01 AM 1/22/2003 -0800, Alan wrote:
>Depending on the size of your project, that seems a bit over the top :)

Indeed. Bricolage is an enterprise level CMS that is aimed at a publishing
metaphor. I mentioned it because I was very impressed with the depth and
maturity of the product, hooray for open source and all that. Specially
when people are dropping a quarter mil for Interwoven or Stellent or
Vignette, it's really almost in that league. But yes, totally overkill for
Aunt Martha's Knitting School.

>For a contract a few months ago I was contracted to solve the problem of
>"we want to update things now and then", and ended up rolling my own
>mod_perl+mysql solution.  It works pretty well IMHO, handles menus,
>image and file uploads, user authentication, etc.  It's a completely
>custom solution though, built for the specs of those users.  Depending
>on who/what you are looking for this for, this might be a solution, and
>fun coding at the same time :)

The custom "one off" thing is the productivity killer in this space. Raise
your hand if you've ever built a proprietary CMS or something that behaves
like one...I have, literally dozens and dozens of "one off to spec" jobs.
Ones that keep data in XML structures. Ones that allow minutae like
specifying the META strings for given pages in a database. Ones you can
point at a web site and will fetch raw page source using LWP and present it
for editing. And on and on. 

The whole CMS thing is really a conundrum. Some people really want an admin
system to manage data in an underlying database to keep their job openings
or press releases current, I'm happy to give em that. Far as editing pages,
the UI thing is a supreme hassle if you get down to the editing pages
level, because no matter how pretty you make the UI, you're still pasting
text into textarea boxes and people bitch about having to know some HTML.
Take out the HTML and people want it back in. Break paragraphs and images
and the like into component objects and allow them to be moved around,
you'd think THAT would be cool, then people bitch because it's too much
work to do all that clicking.

Novice users expect it to work like MS Office, they think they can drag n
drop that word doc onto an icon and have it spring to life in the site,
highlight this and press <CTRL-B> to bold it, yada yada, thus the
ubsequious MS F'edPage and its ilk. There is no one size fits all solution.

For the low end, I think I abandon that space the same way I abandoned
writing custom search engines and threaded message boards and the like. I
usually defer to desktop app stuff like the previously mentioned (and
promising based on my test drive) Macromedia Contribute. For what it costs
a client to buy four seat licenses they couldn't hire me for a day to do
something custom. They can pay me to do the other stuff where I can deliver
more value and use a desktop app to maintain their static content. Client
happy. I'm happy.

In the midrange, I've built a framework that handles auth and granular
access control based on a privilege model (Dave can do THIS but not THAT or
THAT, Bob can do everything except THIS) and some modules that layer atop
it to do common stuff like calendaring, job postings, press releases,
polls, etc. Easy to customize and the code base is maturing. When a client
wants a new widget, I build it to plug in to this framework and then I have
one more widget to offer in the future. I even laid down a CMS on it
recently but the CMS component was, alas, yet another one off custom job.

On the high end, I'm really trying hard to like Bricolage. Mason I wrestled
with a couple times and the teaching/learning curve was too dense to roll
it out, non-ubergeeks would just glaze over and drool would come out of
them. Similar experience with Zope.

Sorry for the narrative, but the whole CMS thing is something that just
begs for a killer app. And IMHO none exists. WebDAV has a lot of promise as
a conduit to handle the transport but most of the stuff I've looked at is
still Wright Brothers rather than Boeing.


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