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June 15, 2013

Comparing CMS Platforms.


In web terminology, CMS stands for “Content Management System,” and describes the method of content and workflow management on the backend (administrator’s view) of your site. Content includes - but isn’t limited to - images, video, calendar/special events, products, registration forms, or even a user authentication system. Workflow management refers to the ability to transfer your organization’s existing way of ‘getting things done’ offline to your online presence. Finding a winning combination of ‘ease of use’ and ‘functionality’ fuels most organization’s search for the right platform. A good system should allow you to concentrate on the front-end user experience without having to disrupt your current workflow to fit the CMS.

As would be expected with a technology that is driven by developers, there are literally thousands of systems that have popped up over the last 10+ years. Some are open source, meaning you are free to download and customize their software. There has also been an equally strong push to develop customized CMS platforms – often using the same PHP/MySQL frameworks the open source providers use as a starting point. The brick and mortar analogy that might make the most sense: a suit. You can buy one off the rack, but no matter what, it will still need tailoring (hems, sleeves) in order to fit properly. Or, you can purchase a bespoke suit, more often than not for a comparable price range (barring the desire to go ‘ultra chic’) and have it fit perfectly right out of the gates.

By comparing some of the more popular products, we can hopefully help you to understand the subject with a little more clarity. We’ll focus on WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and our own customized platform, Bandwidth CMS - using the following criteria: About, Features, Best Use Case, Pros and Cons.

WordPress

WordPress was initially developed as an open source blogging platform – a personal publishing system built on PHP and MySQL. Open source means that it is a community run product that literally has 1000s of developers working on plug-ins and Apps designed for the end user.

It is a template-driven application that has 100s of designs to choose from and, literally1000s of plug-ins and add-ons as well. Known for its simple set-up and design capabilities, it provides themes, color combinations and branding options for a variety of business and personal sectors. Driven primarily by a desire to empower users with little technical understanding, it has community driven customer support and help sections available for any trouble-shooting that your site might require.

Best use case:

Ideal for websites that are single service oriented, informational/news focused, or ecommerce with a single product line. Generally speaking, most businesses tend to use WordPress as a ‘first generation’ kick-off, before customer demand requires scaling up to a more robust platform.

Pros:

Has thousands of plug-ins, themes, and offers a self-hosted solution. It’s cheap and easy to set up – most likely because it was originally designed as a do-it-yourself blogging platform.

Cons:

Has thousands of plug-ins, themes, and offers a self-hosted solution – yes, an overwhelming number of choices, that at the end of the day are prohibitive if you are looking for a unique branding identity or have a need to customize the system to your workflow. Additionally, think of having to rely on a community of developers for any new features - bugs, security issues are the most visible issues that also seem to crop up in chat forums.

Drupal

A developer focused, open source platform built on PHP and MySQL. It is community driven and supported, but requires some internal (or outsourced) expertise and experience to set up and operate properly.

Drupal corecontains basic CMS capabilities: user account registration and maintenance, menu management, RSS feeds, page layout customization, and system administration. It is also “Theme – Template” oriented, but allows a certain amount of latitude when deciding to either use existing designs or change color schemes. Lastly, one of the highlights of a website developed with Drupal is its ability to integrate with a variety of third party applications.

Best use case:

For complex, advanced user sites that require complex data organization; and for online stores offering multiple product lines.

Pros:

Although Drupal requires the most technical expertise of the CMS platforms mentioned here, it is also capable of producing the most advanced sites with the most flexible designs. There is a broad community of third party plugin developers.

Cons:

If you’re unable to commit to learning the software or can’t hire someone who knows it, it may not be the best choice. Forms customization is problematic. Customization and updates of plugins are at the whim of third party developers. Ecommerce integration is limited and data display is limited when aggregated either from outside sources or internally. Not recommended for those who are technically challenged. Constant security/maintenance updates are required.

Joomla

Joomla offers a middle ground between the developer-oriented, extensive capabilities of Drupal and the user-friendly options of Wordpress. It is also an open source platform built on PHP and MySQL.

Joomla is also theme based, but various template styles and layout overrides help to make customizing and changing smaller aspects of a page fast and easy. There are 1000’s of extensions available, both from the community or third party vendors. Designed to perform as a robust CMS platform, there are also strong social networking features.

Best use case:

Joomla is flexible enough to be used by sites that range the gamut from non-profit to complex corporate. The only limitations confronted will be the desire or need to customize versus using existing protocols and designs.

Pros:

Relatively uncomplicated installation and setup - depending upon your websites needs, a small investment, and a minor effort into understanding Joomla’s structure and terminology, you will have the ability to create fairly complex sites.

Cons:

Tends to be bulky, slow and very resource consuming. Runs very slow on shared hosting and needs to be on at least virtual or dedicated hosting. Not particularly SEO friendly, without the need to purchase additional plug-ins. Reliance on third party developers for customization and updates. Constant security/maintenance updates are required.

BandwidthCMS

BandwidthCMS offers a balanced middle ground between the developer-oriented, extensive capabilities of Drupal and minimalistic approach of Wordpress. Our CMS has a tested core system built using open source technologies (PHP MySQL), nestled within an open source PHP framework (CodeIgniter). Using your workflow process as our guide, we build the platform to match your needs while always maintaining an emphasis on user functionality.

Our core platform has been road tested for years; and is actually being tested daily with all of our existing clients. It is a fully scalable system that that can be learned by any developer – either internal or outsourced – because it is based on common industry standards. It is great for SEO integration (even better if using RWD standards on the front-end), Social Media aggregation and has the capability to facilitate complex E-commerce processes tailored to individual needs.

An issue that seems to come up more and more these days is security. It must be noted the hackers take great delight in figuring out ways to break into systems being operated within the large CMS platforms. After all the reward is great – if they can find one vulnerability, they can then break into thousands of sites that use the same underlying code. Over the years this has become a major issue for both corporate and government users. It’s good to use software that is secure but even better to stay out of the cross hairs.

Pros:

Tailored to the individual administrator’s workflow and needs and focusing on only the systems that he/she needs. It has been developed on open source technologies using a very popular PHP framework. Full featured, scalable and tested for almost 10 years.

Cons:

It takes a bit more time (cost) to set up and customize than some open source platforms, initially. Upfront costs may be higher,but this is balanced by more efficient productivity and savings on maintenance/security updates.

Authored by: Attila Sary

Attila Sary