CMS Roundup

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 panel Content Management System Roundup, with:

George DeMet Owner,
Jeff Eaton Lullabot
Tiffany Farriss Pres,
Mike Essl Owner Operator,
Matthew McDermott Principal Consultant, Catapult Systems

The perennial question on every web dev mailing list: What CMS should I choose? Expression Engine made a huge splash at this year’s SXSW, but the Drupalites were out in force as well. This panel basically boiled down to MS Sharepoint (missed this, but not interested), EE, Drupal, and observations on a smattering of other systems. In a software category that offers around 600 choices, it’s impossible ever to represent the whole picture with anything approaching accuracy, but the conversation was still useful.


Built by the people who USE it (which has upsides and downsides). Dmitri – 12-year-old who does amazing and scary things with Javascript. Sony BMG, Lifetime, etc. contributing code back in. Oh, and Belgians (we got a lot of them).

Major sites/launches: Fast Company had to roll in around 100,000 person social network, and to port in all their existing content. Lifetime Television. Lots of artists sites. MTV UK with lots of social networking. Inc. Mag. Us Mag. DC Comics + IBM recently launched a site. The Onion – The guy who built their Drupal site got hired by The Times.

3000 plugin modules.

Under the hood – six layers

Theme layer
Views of content
Drupal core

Content layer: news, blogs, wikis, images, etc.

Building a drupal site is a process of identifying: 1) Who’s going to be using, 2) What kind of content will they be using

User roles, new content types. Start layering in capabilities and it all comes together nicely.

Drupal Sucks if “I just want to make a page” or “I want to make the next Twitter” “I just need another static site” or “Just another blog”

Drupal rocks if Lots of user-generated content, communities, many kinds of content, many views of content, Open APIs, web standards

Sony artist sites: Massive traffic boost, rolling out new artists fast, supporting open source, playing “It’s Britney, Bitch” on page load.


Mr. T site in 2004 – built with not a spec of custom PHP – everything needed was built in.

You can define all kinds of custom fields for every content type. You can move custom fields around, define different sets for different content types.

Paid support staff in the forums. That’s huge. You know you’re going to get help when you need it.

See my EE notes for more.

Art Institute of Chicago Case Study – they’ll use whatever CMS makes sense for any give project.

Round 1: Dreamweaver + custom CMS

Round 2: Serena Collage – Requires you to set up “contribution layouts” (content entry views). Collage is very metadata-driven. Spits out static HTML like Movable Type. Allows custom workflows. Includes version control, breadcrumbs, links as assets. Downsides: Expensive licensing, excruciatingly slow interface, not Mac-friendly, navigation, training developers, interferred with PHP code, no support for dynamic frameworks, end of life product.

Round 3: Drupal – They needed to ramp up to handle many thousands of images with smooth back-end. Lots of meta-data for each image. Fell in love with Drupal – solved all problems. Needed ability to create lots of individualized artist sites with completely different themes (themed sub-sites)

Drupal pros: Powerful templating, remote data handling, great usre management, JQuery integration, solid, flexible framework, ability to write own modules. Drupal cons: Reverse proxy difficult in D5. Not great at handling edge cases (one-off exceptions).

Drupal is like getting a garbage truck full of legos – to really master it you need to learn what all the pieces are.

Every time someone would ask how to do something fancy in Drupal, they’d get a long answer, then the EE guy would say “EE has that built in.”

Is there a trend toward abstracting away the developer role.

Chirp – like Tumblr on your own server.

Sharepoint: License is $25,000 !!! (but they’re working on cheaper licenses)

8 Replies to “CMS Roundup”

  1. Great analogy on Drupal! Having worked with all the cms’s you mentioned, Drupal gets my vote. That being said, Ellis Labs announced EE 2 will run atop CodeIgniter which is also way cool.

  2. NGM – Out of curiosity, have you ever used EE, or are you just watching it out of the corner of your eye? (I’m trying to find people who have built custom tools in it, rather than just plain content management).

  3. I’ve set it up as a simple CMS but have not done anything fancy with it. Now that it has been re-coded in CI it makes it far more extensible and will give the ability for developers to just “drop in” a cms into their CI app. One of my hesitations on using it as a custom cms platform before was due to the fact it was not using any kind of framework. CodeIgniter is an excellent framework and well worth checking out.

  4. That’s pretty much my angle. We’re getting excited about Django around here, but like Rails, it’s all framework, no CMS (you build everything yourself). I’m curious to try something that’s both at once.

  5. Peter – I haven’t heard more about Chirp since the conference, but a similar option is to use the Prologue theme with WordPress to get Twitter-like functionality on your own site. You could easily tweak it to break the 140-character limit.

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