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Content Management Systems Demystified

A content management system can be puzzling to non-web savvy users. It can even be complicated for web designers and programmers. This is not a guide for the latter, rather it is a quick overview for the former. If you have heard of a content management system (or CMS) and are wondering what one is, this is the place to start.

A CMS can basically fall into one of two categories. It can be a catch-all that is intended to do a million things. Alternatively, it can be very specialized.

To add to the complication, some specialized CMS's can be integrated into a catch-all CMS. We won't really get into that specific situation much here, but I will mention when it's possible.

Also, there are tons and tons of CMS programs out there. I'm only going to be mentioning some that are available for free and are open source. That way, if you read about something here that interests you, you search Google and get it immediately with no monetary risk to you.

Catch-All

PHPNuke

PHP-Nuke is an excellent CMS for a news site. It is divided into modules, each of which performs a specific functions. In addition to modules made by the PHP-Nuke team, there are tons of other modules available from 3rd-party programmers.

The primary module for most sites using PHP-Nuke is the News module. The Reviews module is for reviewing books, movies, or pretty much anything you would want to review. The Advertising module helps you set up banner ads on your web site for revenue. A Downloads module is available for web site visitors to download PDF files, movie files, or any type of file. A Recommend Us module allows users to (you guessed it) recommend your web site to someone else.

The possibilities are really endless for someone who decides to use PHP-Nuke. However, because it is a catch-all content management system, it isn't for everyone. It may have way more features that you need.

Drupal

Drupal is a CMS that also uses modules. There are lots of modules available. A Story module provides a similar functionality to PHP-Nuke's News module. A Profile module supports configurable user profiles. The Blog module enables keeping an easily updatable weblog . An Upload module allows users to attach files to news stories or weblog entries.

Again, you end up with the same issues as other catch-all CMS's where this may be more CMS that you really need. But Drupal does have about the same amount of modules out there as PHP-Nuke does. Drupal even does a better job than PHP-Nuke of listing the best modules at their own web site.

RSS art

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Image Galleries

Gallery

Gallery is the definitive gallery software. You can upload images, sort into albums, resize, delete, restrict access, etc. You can even plug it into most catch-all CMS's, including both PHP-Nuke and Drupal.

Coppermine

Coppermine is another popular gallery. It has most of the same features as Gallery, but cannot plug into catch-all CMS's as easily as Gallery. Also, if you are wanting visitors to your site to be able create albums, Coppermine currently doesn't support that.

Blogging

bBlog

bBlog is reportedly used by thousands of bloggers world-wide. It allows for text formatting, visitor comments, syndicated RSS feeds (If you don't know what that is, don't worry about it. You don't have to for your visitors to be able to use it.) and categories.

The downside is that bBlog is not quite as powerful as some of its competitors. However, if you have a site that's a pretty straightforward weblog , bBlog can be a simple, effective solution.

WordPress

WordPress is one of the most popular free blogging software packages. It's very easy to use, and unlike bBlog, it has a toolbar for text formatting. Of course, it has visitor commenting, searching, categories and other features.

Being much more popular than other blogging systems like bBlog, there are a lot more plugins available from third parties.

Forums

phpBB

phpBB is probably the single most popular feature-rich free forum software out there. It's so popular that it comes pre-installed in some catch-all CMS's, including PHP-Nuke.

The downside is that it can be extremely complicated. You may not need 10 different forums for 500+ users. If not, this software package may be a bit of overkill for you.

WWWBoard

WWWBoard is a simple forum package. It shows all the message subjects on one screen. Once you click on a message subject, you are shown the message itself. From there you can reply, or view another message in the same thread.

Remember that for the majority of the software I've mentioned here, you have to have mySQL database capabilities on your server, in addition to PHP capabilities. If you are using free hosting, you probably don't have that. If you're not sure, contact your web hosting company and ask them.

Related: Content Management Systems - Realtor Blogs

RSS Underground Featured Article Author Box

Tim is the owner and senior web designer at T&S Web Design. His company has developed and maintained web site for dozens of small businesses and organizations. Tim also maintains a weblog with free web site advice for small business owners, GetASiteOnline.com.

Generating Timeless Content

Let's face it. Although there are sections of your site that you will hopefully update continuously (see previous entry on Generating fresh content), there are others that will likely remain untouched for years at a time. If you have a page with the history of your company, that's not the type of thing that will change from day to day. Or if you're an award winning artist, although you will hopefully continue to win awards, it's not going to be happening on a daily basis.

So when you are writing the content of pages that will likely not be updated on a regular basis, there are a few things you will want to avoid so that the content can be more timeless.

1. Always mention dates, not ages.

Don't say that your company is five years old. If you do, you'll have to go in every anniversary of your company and update that figure. Instead, say the year or date that your company started.

The same thing applies to biographies of individuals. If you really want people to know how old that person or those people are, give their birthday, not their age. If worst comes to worst, say things like "over 15 years of experience," or "our company has been in operation for over 50 years."

Of course, if your site is written wholly or in part by a programmer, it is possible for them to calculate those ages automatically with a program. But for the typical web site creator, the date will be sufficient.

2. Don't double up on content.

Let's say that your email address is mentioned throughout your web site, as well as on your Contact page. Over the course of a couple of years, your site could very well grow to be a couple hundred pages. If you now decide to change your email address, you are stuck changing it on every page it appears on. Dozens, to say the least.

Instead, in every place that you instruct someone to contact you, simply place a link to your contact page.

3. Simply don't mention facts that are likely to change.

Let's say your business has a high turnover rate in regards to employment. Maybe you hire college students. Whatever the case may be, you don't want to have to update your staff page every two weeks.

Instead, simply mention the more permanent employees, like yourself. If you want to mention the other employees at all, talk about them generically. If they are college students, you could mention that. But only be as specific as absolutely necessary.

4. Don't talk about specific technologies that are likely to change.

We live in a world with constantly changing technology. Where were all the blogs in 2000? They really didn't exist. So when working on pages that will likely not be updated often, don't mention specific technologies.

Instead of mentioning an email newsletter or a weblog , simply talk about how open your company's communication policy is, and that you use technology standards. Then on the page that actually houses your weblog or the sign-up form for your email newsletter, you can go into more specifics.

As you design your site, make sure you decide early on which pages are going to warrant constant updates and which are not. Then these guidelines can be used to help you write for those pages.

Related: Rss Resources - Content Writers

RSS Underground Featured Article Author Box

Tim is the owner and senior web designer at T&S Web Design. His company has developed and maintained web site for dozens of small businesses and organizations. Tim also maintains a weblog with free web site advice for small business owners, GetASiteOnline.com.

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