I Am The CMS!
Observations from CMS Expo 2013
It's an intriguing thought. Website owners and developers alike spend a great deal of time considering what CMS to use, but that's not the most important part, as I came to realize at this year's CMS Expo.
CMS (Content Management System) Expo was held during the week of May 13, 2013 at the Hotel Orrington in Evanston, Illinois. Several hundred were in attendance and enjoyed the great hospitality of founders and facilitators John and Linda Coonen, who put on another thought provoking conference. It's to that end I'll spend my time here; you can get all the details of the conference (sessions, speakers, sponsors) at the official site, cmsexpo.net.
I spent my time in two classes of, er, classes. The first group related to running a website development business, which is certainly important to me. Many thanks to numerous talented people who shared "how they did it" with the attendees, especially Michael Reynolds of SpinWeb in Indianapolis with a helpful explanation of the separation of account management and content management. The rest of the insights are more internal to me and our company, and hey, this article's not about me!
The second group was CMS-related. I'd already discounted Joomla and Drupal so I didn't take any of those classes. The "CMS" of interest was WordPress, a newcomer to CMSexpo. Aaron Holbrook of A7 Web Design in Chicago wasted no time tossing down the gauntlet on the first day of the conference with his talk, "WordPress IS a CMS, Dammit!" A perfect title, since it describes both the industry's perception and the WP developers' frustration at the same time.
He presented a good argument, but we have very different definitions of "management system." To a content provider or website administrator, it means a series of point and click dashboards and configuration pages used to make your website do pretty much anything you want without the need of a programmer. To a programmer, it can mean rules, schema, application program interfaces and programming paradigms. He showed a lot of the latter.
Jake Goldman of 10Up in Boston, summed it up for me best. On a spectrum that starts at the bottom with the "anyone can use it" website and extends upward to the uber cool state of the art website, he claimed WP is great at the bottom and great at the top but mediocre in the middle, while, he contended, CMSs like DNN, Joomla and Drupal were great in the middle and mediocre at either end.
At the low end, WP couldn't be easier to get started and have a basic web site. After all, a blog with entries called My Service, About Me, and Contact Me is scarcely different from any other 3-page website. And anyone can do it, hence WP makes up 17% of the web. Just try getting DNN to work first time. It's come a long way but its not there yet.
WordPress can be used at the top end of the spectrum too, but it appears to be a kind of "Stone Soup" to the PHP programmer. Remember the story? A man enters an Inn and asks for a room. He says he has no money but can make the best tasting soup from a very special stone he has. So the Innkeeper agrees. The man puts the stone in some boiling water, and then says, "it would be so much tastier with a few carrots" and then asks for turnips, potatoes and some beef.
It's not a completely fair analogy I know. Lisa Sabin-Wilson of WebDevStudios in Madison gave a talk on running multiple sites with WordPress and she never once showed any PHP code. But what you do need is the right Theme which takes into account the right plug-ins and then you can accomplish nice things without coding. But you're really just shifting the responsibility for a nice site from the website owner to the Theme and plug-in developers.
DNN in a sense is no different - the coding is in the skin and in the modules - but they are independent so the website owner can mix and match more to get both the look and the functionality s/he wants.
So it comes down to this. As a website owner, I am the CMS. I need to manage the content. I either research and choose a CMS that I can use, or I choose a website developer that takes care of the technical bits while I feed him/her with my content, or I choose a partner that gets me started, helps me with the heavy lifting, and shows me how I can add the content myself. Regardless of which CMS, it's about the people.
This is my new favorite phrase. All credit should go to John Eckman of ISITE Design in Boston, who's lead contributor to the CMSmyth blog. The CMSmyth gang even made a T-shirt with the slogan on it, and I liked it so much I jumped through the "be the first few to tweet a message" hoop and won it!
Thanks John and Linda for bringing some very talented people together last week. I enjoyed being the DNN guy, was happy to answer questions about DNN, and certainly learned a great deal in return.