The Best CMS
May 21, 2010 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about the latest and greatest in content management systems.

I know. Exciting, right? I'm a web writer and editor who's made the move to content strategy, and my knowledge of CMSs is a bit behind. I have experience with Vignette and Lotus, but that was on smaller or far less dynamic sites than what I'm working on now. What are the most popular CMSs for big sites with lots of personalization and logic and how do I learn more about them? What should I be looking for when it comes to workflows, metadata, and taxonomy? I'm not interested in back-end development; I just need to know enough to provide insightful recommendations to my clients and understand what's needed on the front end to deal with content from creation to production.
posted by lunalaguna to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress are the players. For CMS (as opposed to blogging), my money is on Drupal. It's robust, scalable, has a great community.
posted by bricoleur at 7:04 PM on May 21, 2010

Agreed. Drupal 7 looks like a big step up from previous versions. It's still in alpha (which kind of surprises me—they've been working on it forever).

Open Source CMS is a good place to try out different CMSs, although I think they only do PHP-based ones.
posted by adamrice at 7:23 PM on May 21, 2010

AFAIK, Bricoleur has it right - Drupal, Joomla, and Wordpress are the biggies.

I've only used Drupal, so I can't speak to Joomla or Wordpress - but has a good introduction to Drupal, Understanding Drupal. Dries Buytaert links to a number of live sites using Drupal, including an increasing number of government sites.
posted by Madame Psychosis at 7:27 PM on May 21, 2010

Alfresco overall is a great, solid choice.
posted by theKik at 7:29 PM on May 21, 2010

I need bigger than Drupal and Wordpress. I'm talking huge sites with tens of thousands of pages, major brands, extensive e-commerce stuff.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:02 PM on May 21, 2010

Also, why is Alfresco a great, solid choice?
posted by lunalaguna at 8:10 PM on May 21, 2010

You're going to have to be a lot more specific if you're talking about a theoretical "tens of thousands of pages."* Although really, no matter what it is, WP and Drupal should handle them just fine.

Also, I've used both Drupal and Wordpress for plenty of major brands.

What kind of site has tens of thousands of pages anyway? Forums are all I can really think of.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:21 PM on May 21, 2010

There are hundreds of good niche content management systems out there for now (there's even one specifically for higher ed). Without knowing more about the project it is impossibly hard to make a good recommendation.
I don't care what other people say, speaking from experience, Wordpress gets very iffy once you're dealing with more than a few thousands pages (the way it deals with pages is terribly inefficient compared to how it deals with posts), even if you've got resources. Drupal scales up a bit better (if you don't believe me, the new tech guys at the White House moved to Drupal several months ago),
Other (enterprise level) CMSs include: If you're dealing with highly customized, large scale, dynamic sites, you really want to think in terms of development frameworks (likely using Perl, Python, Ruby, or maybe even erlang) and not an out of the box CMS, else you'll be stuck with several types of Swiss-Army knives when what you really need is a size 8 scalpel.
posted by thebestsophist at 9:11 PM on May 21, 2010

posted by purephase at 9:42 PM on May 21, 2010 runs on Drupal.
posted by k8t at 10:26 PM on May 21, 2010

I think you need to provide more context to get a real answer. The answers above are great from a technology standpoint but this isn't necessarily a technology issue. I am not an engineer but have 13+ years in this space and my answer is that any CMS can do anything, depending on how much time, money and resources you want to throw at it. Don't get distracted by the technology and ignore the real questions:
- What is the business objective? Personalization, logic, workflow, metadata, taxonomy don't mean anything without a business context.
- Are you talking about a business that is just starting from zero (e.g., no content assets) or one that is looking to change from their existing system?
- Is the organization willing or able to shoulder the content costs of heavy personalization? For example, if they want to serve content in 10 languages, can they manage the localization costs? If they want to add regions, can they absorb that?
- Is there standard content creation and review processes in place?

Honestly, I could go on and on.... but I think you get the idea. Don't worry about the technology; it's the least of your worries. You can have a horrible system with the best CMS in the world. Also, no CMA "out of the box" will solve your business problem (especially if you can't articulate exactly what it is), no matter what a vendor says. (Sure, CMS's can do "personalization", but what do you mean by that?)

Finally, if you don't mind the question, are you trying to reinvent yourself as a content strategist/CMS expert? Feel free to memail me: I've been involved in a lot of efforts that have been successful and unsuccessful (the latter are somewhat more valuable, experience-wise).
posted by sfkiddo at 10:28 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to say that content management is exciting!
posted by sfkiddo at 10:29 PM on May 21, 2010

Don't forget Melody (Movable Type derivative).
posted by brainwane at 10:46 PM on May 21, 2010

I need bigger than Drupal and Wordpress. I'm talking huge sites with tens of thousands of pages, major brands, extensive e-commerce stuff.
Drupal can and does do that. You need to tread the right path. If it's uber-high performance, Pressflow. If it's even higher performance, Pressflow with varnish. If you need to deploy lots of sites, Aegir. If the sites need to handle tons of data, the Data module (or segmenting by site). Recent deployments...,, human rights watch, etc. You get the picture.
posted by tmcw at 11:28 PM on May 21, 2010

Most of the free and open source CMS are usually not considered in the same league as enterprise content management (ECM) systems. Naturally this can be discussed, but the likes of Opentext, Vignette, or Day sure are different (at least in cost) from FOSS systems. Magnolia might be in between. Gartner has an overview of ECMs.

Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress are certainly not the "biggies". Don't get me wrong, they're perfectly fine, but calling them biggies can only be done from a very limited perspective.
posted by oxit at 12:59 AM on May 22, 2010

I've been working with various CMSs for 10 years and I totally second sfkiddo. In any set-up implementation is key - you absolutely need to understand your requirements, and the development resource you'll need to successfully install and maintain the system so that it does what you expect it to do - they often don't. This isn't because the system is objectively bad, but because the implementation was poorly specified at the outset.

If you're talking 'big' there are many players, all with 'out-of-the-box' solutions that, in reality, need a lot of development to implement well. I went through a massive CMS procurement project last year - the choice we made was Ektron, but it wasn't easy and the decision had as much to do with resourcing as functionality. Other close runners were RedDot and SiteCore. I've also worked with MediaSurface, Teamsite, Rhythmyx (and Drupal!). Memail me if you'd like specific info - I have comparison documentation for some 20 of the main players, but beyond the marketing info the best thing to do is find organisations in your clients' line of work and ask (as a neutral 3rd party of course!) what they're using and how it's working for them.
posted by freya_lamb at 5:45 AM on May 22, 2010

A great site to check out for all things CMS is CMS Watch. Independent, detailed research on web content management.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 6:25 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, a little more context. I'm not a contractor; I'm a web writer who recently joined a large interactive agency, and I'm transitioning to a content strategy role. I'm not the one making recommendations on which CMS to use. By the time I'm involved with a client, they've already made that decision or are working with developers who decide. I just need to know who the big CMS players are and what they're best at (so I'm not surprised, for example, when a client decides to migrate to Red Dot, which I had never heard of). Sfkiddo's point about business requirements is good because that's the point in the process I'm involved. We often need to define for the business and for developers what the system needs to be able to do, what the variables are, how everything should be tagged and organized based on the content they have or what needs to be created, and how workflows should be set up.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:31 AM on May 22, 2010

Most of the free and open source CMS are usually not considered in the same league as enterprise content management (ECM) systems.

I'd be interested in any statistics that might be out there to back this up. Last I heard, Drupal was powering about 1% of the Web and WP about 8%. Are there 'enterprise' (sorry, but I detest that usage) CMSes that verifiably match that?
posted by bricoleur at 12:09 PM on May 22, 2010

bricoleur, as you can tell from the wording of my sentence ("most", "usually", "same league", ...) there's no statistic for that. It's just what I can reproduce from working in the industry on two continents for many years. I had also indicated that this could be discussed.

Additionally, even when Drupal and Wordpress are powering 90% of the web, it doesn't mean that they're powering the "big sites" as has been asked for. As for enterprise usage, is probably a small site. Enterprise usage in my understanding is e.g. multi-nationals with tens of thousands of employees, hundreds of local branches and tens of thousands of pages, microsites, shops, intranets ... Can you imagine those running on Wordpress? And just to make sure: I'm not saying this isn't possible, it's just not considered the usual in the industry.
posted by oxit at 3:58 AM on May 23, 2010

nthing above. I've been doing CMSes for 10+ years, incl open source and proprietary. Yes, Drupal and Typo3 are great, but in the arena that wants to spend money to feel comfortable, you run into Ektron, Sitecore, Day, et al very often.

Functionaliy across all is essentially the same. Why someone picks one over the other is random and capricious. Just know that they all are essentially toolkits with which you build your site.

That said, a Halvorson cites a book about cmses a lot in her book. If you're an aspiring content strategist, you've read, or will read soon, her book.
posted by jdfan at 8:05 PM on May 24, 2010

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