Author: Dale Dahlgren
When I started designing web sites, years ago, everything required extensive HTML knowledge. A year or two later, ASP and PHP came along. Development tools like Dreamweaver replaced text editors. Most designers had to make alliances with programmers to get real power into a web site. Every new web site design was a custom project that needed to be created from the ground up. Each page had to be “programmed” by an experienced coder. Today, that’s no longer necessary. With an open source content management platform you can get a powerful system to deliver content at little or no expense.
Folks don’t keep coming back to a static, unchanging web site. If your content doesn’t change, the search engines won’t come back either. While preparing an HTML page is easy, It is a time consuming process to maintain and update a large HTML based web site. The open source community has created systems that make it easy to keep your web site current. The popularity of script based languages like PHP, along with open source database platforms like MySQL, give you both power and ease of use. Chances are that your web host has many of them ready to install from your control panel.
While the list open source content management systems is very long, here are a few that you should consider. I am listing PHP/MySQL systems because they are all open source. Most ASP based systems require Microsoft SQL or Access for the databases. Most of these systems have active support groups creating addons that deliver even more powerful features and templates. And they run fast even on shared hosting.
Mambo and Joomla – These are two branches of the same powerful content management tool. They both use PHP and MySQL to make it easy to build any size web site. Their basic installation includes a WISYWIG editor, image handling, a menu system, RSS feeds, user registration and much more all manageable from an easy to use administration panel. Their modular design make them both easy to add features right from the administration panel. They each have huge user groups with hundreds of addon functions and tons of templates.
Drupal – A strong system with built-in functions like forums, blogging, article comments, multilevel user management, tagging, RSS feeds and automatic pinging. While installation is a little less automatic, the raw power makes it worth it. One of my favorite features is the built in multisite capability. I have clients running several sites sharing the same code base, one even shares the same database between the sites. This makes it easy to apply upgrades to all the sites at the same time. Drupal boasts some big traffic sites like www.theonion.com. I even use Drupal for my own sites like www.head-bone.com and www.linesanddezigns.com.
PHPnuke and PostNuke – Again, two forks of the same programming philosophy. Originally categorized as Portals, they are feature rich content management systems. Lots of built-in functions like blogging, article commenting, uploads and downloads, all easily managed from an administration panel. They have large user groups, and tons of modular addons.
Each of these tools provide features to cover the most popular site options, such as content workflow management to keep your site’s content fresh, news feeds, user registration and management, and security features. If you make the right settings in your control panel the are all search engine friendly. Other options may include feedback, library/archive, downloads and uploads. Site administration is maintained through a separate interface, so making changes to site content or structure is a simple process.
Each of these content management systems use templates for the visual presentation. There are large collections of free templates available for most of the systems. With a text editor, a little knowledge of CSS, and a small dose of common sense, you can make any of these look great in a couple of hours. With their modular design, it’s easy to add functions like banner ads, adsense blocks, chat and messaging, surveys, video and audio, and even ecommerce.
All of these systems have large bases of users and support forums. When you need help, just log on and you’ll find answers. Chances are that someone has already asked for help with the same question. I find that these forums can be a little intimidating in the beginning. After a little browsing I start to pick up the language and it becomes very instructive. You really don’t have to be a PHP programmer or SQL guru to use the power of any of these content management systems.
Because they are all open source, these systems can be downloaded free. You can install them on any Apache/PHP/MySQL server and try them out. I like to install them on my desktop, get them working the way I want, and then transfer them over to a live web server. For me, that’s faster and easier.
If you were to develop a web site with the power of any of these content management systems starting from scratch, you would need very deep pockets. I’ve worked with custom built systems that didn’t have near the power but cost a years salary and more. Of course there is a learning curve with any new application. If you would rather have someone else develop a template and handle installation, there are plenty of willing candidates in each of the user groups.
About the Author:
Dale Dahlgren creates marketing communications for businesses. He is both a graphic designer and writer. He has 3 web sites developed with open source web plarforms: http://www.Head-Bone.com, http://www.LinesandDezigns.com and his newest project at http://www.iMarketingReports.com