I've got money to spend here!
February 22, 2007 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I've looked through most of the AskMe threads on various CMSes, and gotten a lot of good information on free and open source solutions, but I really want to know what I can get if I spend some money!

I'm in the unenviable position of moving my organization (a school district) from an ancient, mostly static site to a modern CMS. I should mention that I've asked a similar question before. That was on a much smaller scale, and I went with WordpressMU then. This is a completely different situation, of course.

The re-built site will serve over 20 departments, thousands of employees, and tens of thousands of students and their parents. I love free and open source (or cheap and open source), and have been seriously considering Drupal or ExpressionEngine, but I am in no way against paying for something if it is going to offer more, better, and faster than these solutions right out of the box. What's surprising, though, is how little good information there seems to be on enterprise-level CMSes on the web -- Much less than there is about open source stuff, it would seem, but maybe I've been looking in the wrong places.

Ideally, I would find something that is easy to configure, easy to extend, and easy for end users to understand. I'm also looking to potentially re-use this same system at the various schools in the district, so flexible licensing and theming is a must. Something built with education in mind (courseware?) would be nice, but is not a requirement. Localization, on the other hand, is, as is a workflow/approval process, edit-in-place capabilities, and a LAMP base.

So, is there anything out there, in your experiences, that will serve my needs better than free/open source, or am I better off starting from a free base and contracting modules as-needed?

Thanks so much for the help!
posted by alas to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in the unenviable position of having to implement an enterprise class CMS that I had no input in choosing.

The product is Interwoven TeamSite, and so far I hate pretty much everything about it. (If it had been my choice I would have gone with Plone: FOSS, easily customizable, tons of add-ons, active development, and lots of consultants out there).
posted by dolface at 1:03 PM on February 22, 2007

I've had experience with both open source and proprietary CMSs. In every case, the proprietary solution was a piece of crap - expensive, limited in use, bad user interface, hard to modify and administer. I have yet to come across a function that couldn't be duplicated with a FOSS CMS (and the documentation tends to be better, as well - quite the opposite of most FOSS, I know).
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:06 PM on February 22, 2007

This doesn't exactly answer your question but I've found comparing various brands at CMS Matrix pretty useful. They also have a form where you can select which features you want and get presented with options.
posted by Famous at 1:20 PM on February 22, 2007

Response by poster: spaceman_spiff: I've had some experience with small-scale, one-trick proprietary stuff that various departments have been evaluating, and I've found the same thing. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who's been thinking along those lines.

dolface: I've looked at Plone, but I just wasn't able to get my head around it as easily as the other two I mentioned. Maybe it was a matter of documentation, but it doesn't help things that I've got no support for evaluating these setups; I'm using my own machine as a test environment. Is there a magic site somewhere that will unlock the mysteries of Plone for me?
posted by alas at 1:22 PM on February 22, 2007

alas: i don't know of one, but the plone email list and the irc channel are both fantastic resources, (in one case one of the major contributors to plone took the time to hack on my personal install to fix something i'd bollixed up).

i learned by installing it, and trying to make it do what i wanted.

i will say that the initial learning curve is a little steep, but if you know python that will help tremendously.

as is http://plone.net/ has a whole bunch of resources like case studies, links to plone companies, and a directory of sites that use plone.
posted by dolface at 1:38 PM on February 22, 2007

Alas: to expand on what I said before ... I had an internship recently working for a large organization that was switching its CMS (I'm not sure if they'd had a CMS per-se before that, or just some in-house PHP) to some proprietary Java-based piece of crap. I wasn't intimately involved with the transition, though my supervisor was, and I actually don't even remember what the system was called. But it was slow to load, overburdened the servers (which had worked fine with the old CMS), could only be updated from Windows XP (not that we used anything else - more the principle of the thing), and was hard to populate with data. For example, each page had to be 'created' in MS Word, then uploaded into the CMS, which parsed it and put it in a database. But it didn't like Word documents with certain types of hyperlinks, and it took something like half a dozen clicks to upload each document - so we couldn't just dump a folder of uniformly formatted press releases into it all at once.

The consensus in our group was that it would probably be easier to get rid of the contractors responsible for the system and homebrew our own based on Plone or whatnot ... but the money had been spent, and the usual internal politics were involved (and they had already missed two launch dates).

One last thing about a really cool CMS setup I saw once. A company I worked for built their site in PHP to keep things uniform from place to place, but the site itself was static. Anytime a major change was made, they ran it through a squid proxy somehow and extracted the raw HTML. The HTML was what got served; it reduced their server requirements quite a bit, from what I understand.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 2:23 PM on February 22, 2007

Plone is horrocious if you don't know Python. Despite the millions of billions of add ons, if you don't have a passable knowledge of Python or an endless budget for custom development, you're going to end up stuck and frustrated. The simplest of things you could do in any other CMS is a confusing mess of filling in a million fields, each on a different page via a horrid horrid horrid management interface that i personally believe is deliberately meant to drive you insane.

Python programmers LOVE it. And the community is very very helpful -- if you are a Python developer. If you are not, or do not work under developers sensibilities, you will feel as if you were being held hostage. If you want to do anything different than what comes out of the box, you will need a developer.

don't use Plone unless you intend on becoming proficient in Python. Or, have an unlimited budget for development.

deep breath.... count to 10.



right now i'm using MODx and it's okay. I like it a lot. If you are fairly handy around a website you will be fine. It's LAMP like you want. It's super simple to install, there's a fair bit of snippets and plug-ins. It's easy to drop new templates and apply them to page and you have 100% flexibility in design. The community is helpful.

there was one cms, written in perl that i was absolutely mad for, but the user interface wasn't 'modern' and i couldn't roll it out to clients anymore. it's still around; it's called Coranto. it's a CMS similar to what spaceman_spiff describes. you'd input the content, write bits of code that would format the data and save it as formatted .txt files. I built PHP pages for layout, etc. and then included the formatted txt files. You would build your site and it would spit out static html pages using your php templates for the pages or dates or categories, etc. - whatever you'd specify.
posted by elle.jeezy at 3:48 PM on February 22, 2007

Plone is fun. But so is Python. It all sits (or sat) on top of Zope. Zope is a weird cloud of Python, a webserver, and an OO database named ZODB, and plugin hell. Although it isn't so bad to program, it will be unlike any other CMS you encounter, and support will be a nightmare.

Actually, they all pretty much are crap. And by crap I mean you have to have a geek around that can hack the language the CMS is written in, the database it connects to, the operating system is sits on, and the mail system it utilizes.

Search local job boards for the most prominent CMS you find listed repeatedly. It might suck, but you theoretically have a larger talent pool to work with. And down the line there is a higher chance of finding someone that has encountered that platform if it is really popular.

That is why PHP can be a good thing. Tons of people "know" PHP. And there will still be people that know PHP ten years from now when there is another technology turnover and legacy web/RDBMS systems need to be upgraded to the next great thing.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 4:53 PM on February 22, 2007

I think your difficulty in finding commercial CMSes might be due to a terminology problem. CMS is more open source. Portal is more enterprise buzzword compatible.

From wikipedia - the following companies offer portals (which have a content management/workflow): ATG, BEA Systems, BroadVision, C2B2/iPoint, eXo Platform SAS, IBM, Liferay, Microsoft (Sharepoint), Oracle, Plone, SAP, Sun, Vignette...

FWIW – I am wrapping up a project in Drupal and it was an absolute nightmare. Drupal is so generic and "versatile" that it doesn't really do anything well. It basically is just a complicated way of jamming everything into a database. Yes, there are modules galore for customizing it, but plan on spending a week evaluating all modules. Then once you get 80% of what you want working, you'll spend 2-3 hours trying to figure out a trivial thing like how to set the length of your 'phone number' field in your user profile to not be 50 characters long. (and then just end up hacking the source.) Or find out that the breadcrumbs don't work in a useful way, or the menu code has weird caching bugs, etc. I found it rudimentary, crude and not particularly powerful.
posted by kamelhoecker at 8:10 PM on February 22, 2007

You might also look into rolling your own with Django. It's a python web development framework that has a lot of things that make it easy for building custom CMS-like apps (like a Administrative/Data Entry UI that can be automatically generated from your data models.
posted by Good Brain at 10:46 PM on February 22, 2007

I've investigated open-source CMS systems but in the time it would take me to figure it out, I can roll my own, which I do for small-scale applications. When you talk about spending money, could it be enough for you to have an in-house guy whose job it is to write/admin a system exactly tailored to your needs?
posted by maxwelton at 2:11 AM on February 23, 2007

It kind of fits right in between the two extremes you're describing (most of the code is open source, but it's not "an open source CMS" and it's got "enterprise" in the name, but isn't super expensive and confusing) but Movable Type Enterprise is being used a *lot* in exactly the situations you're describing.

I work with the MT team, and there are hundreds of thousands of students and faculty members using MT as a CMS in their schools. LAMP, Localization, Theming, all that good stuff is built in, and there are other .edus you can talk to (NYU, UMinn, UMich) that have sizable deployments, in addition to school districts, if you want to compare notes.

I'm happy to help out, if you need or want more info, my email's anil at sixapart dot com.
posted by anildash at 1:51 AM on February 24, 2007

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