I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I am a geek.
I am a geek and I like to play with code, so it’s natural for me to write about something that has occupied a lot of my spare time over the past four months… website Content Management Systems. CMS’s are an easy way for you to setup, manage, and publish sophisticated-looking web sites chock full of content. With the proliferation of “the Blog” as a popular website format, CMS’s are in high demand. A good CMS can be the key to making yourself known on-line, but choosing a CMS can be difficult and installing the right CMS is often the hardest part of the process. What follows are my views and opinions on four well-known CMS options available to the general public: B2, Nucleus, Blogger, and Movable Type.
B2 is a PHP-based CMS that utilizes the MySQL database to store author and post data. I currently use B2 at thesuspects.com, so I can admit right off the bat it’s a good system and worthy of your time. The value of a CMS can often be judged by it’s user community, and B2 really shines in this regard. Their site posts info about updates on a regular basis, they have a well-traveled discussion forum, and B2 is a registered SourceForge project.
B2 behaves like a good CMS should; it offers multiple post categories, multiple authors (for that big blog team you’ve built up), user management for the blog owner, a comments feature, web-based template editing, and an attractive web interface to ride herd over all these elements. The main issues that drove me away from B2 as the CMS for billgrady.com was the lack of organization within the directory structure and code base. When it came time for me to edit my templates and adjust the look and feel of the web site, I just didn’t feel like I was working with a thought-out and mature stack of code. Blame it on the geek in me, I guess.
Nucleus is the CMS I tested after deciding that B2 wasn’t meeting my needs, and my initial thoughts were very positive. After you’ve worked as a developer long enough and you’ve hung out with other developers, you start to realize that, much like any other author, a person’s personality actually manifests itself in the lines of code that they write everyday. Nucleus has a discernible difference from B2 in its look and feel, and it was a difference that made me comfortable. Three months after I initially installed it I can go to the Nucleus site, look at their screen shots, and see that somebody applied a level of logic and reason to the project.
Unfortunately, Nucleus only found a home on my server for a short time. It did everything I told it to do, but it did it in a very logical and unsexy way. That’s right, I said unsexy. I do what I do because it’s fun, and if something isn’t fun enough (and there are other options that are way more fun) I may be inclined to opt for mo’ fun.
Blogger.com is the ubiquitous starting point for thousands of web loggers, and even though it provide only the barest CMS features it should never be discounted as a valid resource in the realm of web publishing. The fact that you can hit Blogger.com and create AND host a fully-functional blog for free should not be taken lightly. In the CMS dance I’ve been party to over the past three months, I’ve gone from Blogger.com to B2 to Nucleus and back to Blogger.com… surely that’s evidence of it’s value to me (at least). But sadly, I have parted ways from Blogger.com once again; the aforementioned lack of features raised it’s ugly head and my geek-minded curiosity got me wondering about a CMS that I attempted to use a long time ago…
Movable Type first tempted me early in it’s release cycle, but I don’t remember anything about my first taste of it except for two things:
1. it looked sexy (see above)
2. i couldn’t get it to run for anything
Combined, these two points made me very frustrated… I’m glad I made it back to MT, however AND I’m glad I avoided the installation mistakes I fell into in the past (hint: don’t install it in your cgi directory).
MT has all the features you could want in a CMS, and then delivers them in spades. The snappiest administration interface, a flexible template system, and cool bells and whistles like XML feeds, track-backs, and blo.gs pings (that work immediately and without bugs) are all element that grab and hold your attention. On a more nuts-and-bolts level, even though MT is installed on your host and utilizes a MySQL database (just like B2 and Nucleus) it does not render your content dynamically (that is to say, it doesn’t hold all the data that makes up your blog entries in the database and construct your pages on the fly as people browse from page to page on your site); after editing a template or making a new post, the MT interface prompts you to “rebuild” your page/site so that the most current version resides statically on your web site. Pundits will debate endlessly the pros and cons of this technique vs. a totally dynamic site design, but everyone can agree that there’s a certain amount of security on not being dependent on an $8.95/month overloaded shared hosting server to dish out your content when your blog gets /.‘ed.
Movable Type currently holds a high place in my mind, but that’s not to say I feel like I’ve been to the top of the mountain… I’m always looking for that next big cool thing to come down the pipe and I’m not afraid to jump ship even if it means I’m going to get soaking wet. Blogging is an important part of thousands of peoples lives, and eventually companies like AOL and Microsoft will start building CMS-style capabilities into their entry-level consumer products. Having a blog will be like having an answering machine; your friends will get mad when they can’t leave you comments and your kids will be embarrassed if your blog isn’t “cool enough”. Don’t be afraid to be an early adopter of these CMS options, or any of the other many CMS’s available right now.