John Gordon Ross

A Man for All Reasons

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Bare-bones HTML or CMS?

March 18th, 2009 · No Comments

On a Google Group for owners of websites of a particular kind, someone asked whether he should convert his site from HTML to a CMS. He was given a lot of good advice, of which the following is more or less my contribution:

“Actually, I’m inclined to agree with D***** and T** – don’t go down the CMS road. Not immediately, at least, and especially not with [The Site in Question]. Because, essentially, IF IT AIN’T BROKE… Register another domain name instead, set it up and get it off the ground, then think about migrating (yes, that is a transitive verb, nowadays) [The Site in Question] when you have a better idea about what is involved.

“That said…
“You ask>>What are the pluses and minuses of evolving (or is it devolving) to a CMS? John says ‘you’ll find it very rewarding and it opens up a whole heap of new opportunities’ – but what are the rewards and opportunities?<<

“Um, you aren’t confusing CMS and CSS, are you? I’m sure you aren’t, it’s just that your original post started off talking about CSS then drifted towards CMS. Just in case, you very definitely should adopt CSS for heaps of reasons including easier integration of your advertising, and it would not be a bad idea at all to drop the use of tables, sooner or later you’ll probably have to.

“That out of the way, the essential purposes of a CMS are these:

“i) Obviously, though people get distracted by the possibilities, the main point of a CMS is content management. If you have a lot of pages, things start getting mixed up. If you are a terribly together sort of person, you may be able to cope with it all in your head. D***** can, T** can, I’m not and I can’t, I simply couldn’t manage without a CMS. In this sense, not having a CMS is like not having a mobile phone – sure, you can live without it, but do you choose to? Because once you have got used to it, it will seem like insanity to forego it. And as T**** points out, the mentioned sites have been around successfully for eons on the Internet time scale, I really can’t see anyone being able to start from scratch on that basis today (though however you do it, content management is necessarily subsidiary to actual content).

“ii) Work-flow management. Obviously, most essential when you have contributions from other people, but it makes things easier even if you don’t. Yes, you can do everything off-line and upload, but it’s clumsy and time-wasting. For example, you can make site-wide changes using Dreamweaver or FrontPage, but it takes forever. And the way we non-pro’s (and even pro’s) do things tends to be change one-thing-at-a-time, step-by-step, because otherwise you can’t tell where things go wrong. So when you do this site-wide, you have to do it over and over again, and you can take hours to do something off-line that you could sort out in twenty minutes on-line.

“iii) User management. If you don’t have a "community," you may not need this, but the Web 3.0 is here (and even T** has his forums and needs to manage his users). Users need to have different levels of privileges, rights, whatever. One of the most effective examples of user management I know is on, a classical guitar forum, where the more users participate, the more they are given access to site resources (which are first-rate),
in other words, there are incentives to participate.

“As I say, those are the basic functions of a CMS, but you get more, such as:

“iv) Feeds, to and from the site. Feeds from a site give it Internet presence, feeds to it give it content. For example, I don’t particularly want my personal blog to be a tremendous Internet success, but it does have to have some content for anyone who is interested in me and/or my professional services. So I keep a number of feed-powered pages like this one: – they give me reliably relevant, free content, but won’t attract the kind of casual surfer I really don’t need. It’s just a bonus that it makes it easy for me to find something to post about if the mood takes me. There is a heck of a lot more you can do with feeds, and there are entire sites built of practically nothing else – is an example. And as I say, outgoing feeds create a presence – makes very efficient use of them.

“v) Media management. Images, photos, for example, are better handled by a GID library – the bare jpg or gif is never revealed, so it’s harder to filch. This is one of my areas of profound ignorance, though, so I’ll say no more.

“vi) Mashups. The possibilities here are close to infinite. You can, for example, do Google map-based things in HTML alone, but you have to set up each page separately, it’s far easier to do this (not that this really merits being called a "mashup"): .

“vii) Web services. These let you tap into someone else’s database and use it for your own. Most hotel reservation setups offer some kind of web services, for example, so you could display hotels on a map, and what is important, do it in context. Bear in mind that php is not the most web-service-suited language if this is the way you want to go, though – Java seems to be the favourite, so (at a guess) OpenCMS might be the best CMS to go with, but don’t take my word for it because I don’t really know.

“viii) i18n (cutesy but accepted way of writing quot;internationalization"). This is essentially like content management but with the problems multiplied exponentially. If you have two languages, it isn’t twice as complicated, it’s
four times, and so on, and if you are mixing human and machine translations, it gets unreal, a nightmare imagined by Terry Pratchett.

“ix) Automatic banner / content rotation, automated messages, automated link checking, automated newsletters, and too many other automated things to list.

“x) Much easier SEO.

“Finally, this shouldn’t be your primary consideration if you are deciding what to do with a single website, but:

“x) Personal development. Many of us do some business setting up sites for other people, and if Dreamweaver or FrontPage is where your web skills stop, you’re just not in the game. ”

Your comments are welcome.

Tags: Web Development

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