CMS for science!
May 17, 2012 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a good content management system for a science research lab website. Any suggestions?

I'm part of a collaborative research lab group, one with many PIs across several institutions. We want to establish some sort of web presence, as we can't rely on one specific institution to cover all of us (not all are affiliated with each institution, and content updates from some institutes are so slow that many of us are practically professionally invisible online). Hosting I can figure out, but I need recommendations for a content management system.

We need the following:
-Main landing page with overview of the group

-Ability to have a set of static pages for each researcher, with a bio and link for CV (ideally each researcher would have their own subdomain, so ability to drop these pages into subdirectories would be great)

-Static pages for specific research topics (my plan is to start putting QR codes on conference materials so that interested people have direct links to more info on what is being presented)

-Ideally a closed (private) section of the site where we can host lab protocols and the like for internal sharing (wiki-type CMS for this might be good)

-Entire thing must be dead simple, because I am not going to lock myself into being the only person who knows how to add or edit content

Wordpress was the first thing I thought of but it's geared more towards blogs and less towards static pages. A bloggy part of the site may be useful down the road but that's not the main purpose.

I'm thinking there may not be one CMS that works well for all of the above, but if there are specific CMS tools that can each do part of the job well I'm happy to cobble them all together.

Kicker is that I'd like it to not LOOK like I just cobbled it all together. I'd really prefer that the entire site have a relatively unified style, so CMS systems that make it hard to do so are not preferred (pipe dream: one CSS file for the whole shebang would be my preference). Systems that use modern, valid code are strongly preferred as well.
posted by caution live frogs to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check that the universities you're working with doesn't already have a program like this -- the university I worked out had 2 different systems that each could have worked for this, depending on exactly what sort of features you wanted (one was geared more towards everyone and was a little more public, one was geared specifically towards inter-school research projects and was less pretty but more secure for private documents and whatnot), and allowed any collaborators, whether affiliated with the school or not, to join as long as they were invited by someone affiliated. The faculty did not necessarily know about these programs, because they don't pay any attention.
posted by brainmouse at 10:54 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

What you want is a LIMS: Laboratory Information Management System. Take a look at something like OpenLIMS, perhaps. Here are some more.

You could DIY with Drupal, but it's fussy and not easy to maintain, IMO.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:59 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would do this using Django. The default admin interface has a lot of features that allow non-technical people to add content (And the Grappelini version is even prettier), and there are a number of good Django-based CMS's, though it is pretty easy to roll your own.

The template language of Django is quite powerful, and can make it a snap to keep fairly unified styles.

Django, of course, requires knowledge of python and a decent idea of how databases work, which you may or may not have. It is not nearly the plug-and-play of Wordpress or Drupal CMS's- but it gives you a ton of flexibility to do what you actually want as well.

Also, I like and use Django, so I am certain there are other good tools out there for this- Django is just my particular choice.
posted by rockindata at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2012

Wordpress may actually fit the bill here. They have come a long way in terms of being a CMS for static content pages - I use it for several small business websites that don't even use the blog function.

You can also set specific pages that are only accessible to logged-in members, which is where you would put your lab protocols and such. For those pages, you can even use a plugin if you want it to be wiki-style for collaboration.
posted by trivia genius at 11:03 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just use jekyll and generate static pages from Markdown source. Or use HTML. The internal wiki should be a different app - all of the wikis in CMSes like Wordpress, Drupal, etc., are substandard, and 'access controls' are weak.

Presentation is a different issue; if you don't have design skills, use bootstrap to make things look decent.
posted by tmcw at 11:21 AM on May 17, 2012

Seconding trivia genius: Wordpress does do static pages with real urls. It's also very fast and easy to set up and edit content.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:44 PM on May 17, 2012

I can't really recommend anything, but I'm pretty sure that a LIMS is not the answer you want. LIMS are for managing data and methods, to do tasks like results storage, automatic report generation, track sample custody, prepare billing to clients, and manage lab QC. A LIMS replaces lab books, calculation spreadsheets and reporting tools. Most don't do the tasks you list in the question, and I've never seen a simple one. Even the free ones are going to require someone at each institution to run them full time. I wouldn't bother unless you have heavy data needs. (If you do, they can be invaluable.)
posted by bonehead at 1:59 PM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: brainmouse - the U is part of the issue. Any U-hosted sites need to meet a bunch of requirements (including use of a specific CMS, which I tried and hated, and a non-negotiable legal warning at the bottom of every single page) and are limited in that we can't use anything other than a few pre-screened themes. That, plus the fact that not all researchers in the group have U affiliations, and add in that we wouldn't be allowed to do many of the things we'd like to do in the future (such as set up some sort of database for maintaining track of data)...

Believe me, if we could do this without paying for hosting, we would. But in addition to the above we are also relying on Google Groups for a mailing list, so the idea of hosting with someone like Dreamhost and rolling our own MailMan list is attractive.

I agree that a LIMS seems like overkill. I played around with a few of the versions available and and I think Django would be a better option for that (a guy outside our group has been using it for a database of lab data for some time now, so he would be useful in helping us get off the ground).

Markdown - same issue with that as I have with TeX. Great in theory, but realistically no one besides me and maybe a few grad students will ever learn how to do it. We have people who build publication figures in PowerPoint for cripe's sake, they'll never be re-trained to stop doing that let alone learn some arcane fiddly text thing. Basic updates to page content needs to be simple - think as close as possible typing a status update on Facebook - for it to work for everyone.

Wordpress may be the thing after all? I'll bring some of the suggestions to the group and see what people think.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:28 PM on May 17, 2012

>Wordpress was the first thing I thought of but it's geared more towards blogs and less towards static pages.

That's a misconception. I have a few WP sites that are all pages and use no blogging functionality at all. WP is actually a pretty robust and dumbed down CMS. You really don't want to do this in Drupal. Try WP out.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:33 PM on May 17, 2012

Let me try to make another pitch for Markdown. I maintain several sites, including a site for my team's research project, and I have switched our sites to using Markdown for a simple reason: without knowing anything about the Markdown, pages still end up readable (just by separating content into line spaced paragraphs, Markdown automatically places them in paragraph blocks.) Maybe they aren't fancy, but they don't get screwed up the way my users (i.e. my advisor) would misuse the WYSIWYG editors (despite all my attempts to change their behavior--particularly, copy and pasting from Word).

I will periodically look at recent content posted on our sites and sometimes I'll edit it a little to give a little better formatting with Markdown, but generally it isn't the mess that I used to have to deal with.

I can't suggest much on the platform. I have heard strong recommendations for WP, but my specialty is Drupal and it has a steep learning curve so it definitely isn't suitable for what you want.
posted by at 10:44 PM on May 17, 2012

Maybe openwetware?
posted by lalochezia at 9:30 AM on May 18, 2012

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