logo-plone-2009.pngMartin Aspeli of the Plone (news, site) project recently sat down and evaluated a "whole slew" of web content management systems. From there, he's digested his observations and shared them in the form of a fairly extensive writeup. While it's obviously Plone-centric, there's a lot that applies to anyone who's trying to choose what Web CMS they want to work with.

Wading Through the Content Management Market

Master of the understatement, Aspeli opens with the fact that the CMS market is huge. Even just looking at the list of open source web CMS's is intimidating, as you can see below.

VSM.jpg CMSWatch's Vendor Subway Map shows CMS vendors and projects in terms of feature set type, which is one way to focus your attention in a particular direction.

The smart method of choosing a solution is to do your homework so you can make an educated decision. Unfortunately, he finds web searching, vendor sites and reports from general technology analysts to be lacking in their ability to provide the necessary information.

Defining Your Needs

If you're in a hurry, Aspeli recommends purchasing reports from an entity that focuses on the CMS market such as:

While Aspeli warns to "take these types of reports with a grain of salt ... rather than take every word as gospel," he considers the broad themes they discuss valuable. Especially given the time savings when you're possibly paying someone per day to come up with a technology recommendation.

He also feels that too many people start by becoming obsessed with features. Instead of falling into that trap, Aspeli suggests starting by building a list of requirements for the solution you're trying to create, prioritizing those requirements and only then starting to build a list of needed features.

Also, don't forget to focus on the following broader issues:

  • Licensing and implementation costs
  • Fit with your existing IT architecture
  • Usability and end-user experience

Another area to consider is what type of content you're dealing with. The CMS umbrella includes a wide range of product types, each of which specializes in different approaches. There are Enterprise CMS's for keeping track of everything a large business produces, there's blogging platforms like WordPress  and there's automated news systems like PHP-Nuke.

Just within the Web CMS market you have systems that focus on content production, those that focus on content presentation and those who manage a blend of the two in various ways.

Don't Get Locked Into Language

One thing Aspeli recommends against is strictly sticking with solutions written in a particular language or on certain platforms. "In recent years, we've seen a shift away from this one-platform-to-rule-them-all mentality," he says." There is often better value for money to be had by shopping around, support and development is often outsourced to specialist vendors, and systems are more standards compliant and integration-friendly than they once were."

He feels that in general a good developer can pick up new languages and frameworks fairly easily. Though he does add that there are caveats, he feels you shouldn't "shut the doors" on an otherwise perfect solution just because it's not running on Java or .NET. The same goes for support, where he points out that your support team has to be trained whether they know the language or not since today's solutions are fairly complex.

Plone in Particular

There's much more to his recommendations, check out the full writeup if you're interested. When asked about Plone in particular, he feels that people often compare it against Joomla (news, site) and Drupal (news, site) incorrectly.

"I think Plone aims at a different market and offers different trade-offs," says Aspeli, "and is probably better compared with, say, Ektron CMS400 (news, site) or SharePoint (news, site). People who are choosing between Plone and Drupal are probably further up the evaluation curve, trying to understand their requirements and the market, rather than doing an A/B comparison."

In particular, he feels that, Plone's use cases are "more focused on the enterprise, on collaborative content development, workflow, and portal use cases." When planning for a public website, he looks at Plone if there's "a distributed author base and complex workflow requirements," or if he needs more of "a portal with content-centric applications."

On the topic of Plone versus Joomla versus Drupal, he says that Plone is overkill if you're making a small brochure ware or personal website with just a few pages. "Joomla is good," he says, "if you have a single (or small group) webmaster, who is a bit more technical than the average business user. Drupal is too, though Drupal probably has a stronger focus on building community sites with forums and the like."

He adds that both Joomla and Drupal allow PHP-savvy technical people get to market very quickly, especially since the PHP+MySQL "deployment story" is so simple. "You can run Drupal on a $10/mo web hosting site," he says. "For a Plone project, you need a dedicated (virtual) server."

Ultimately Aspeli draws the line here:

"If you are thinking of buying hardware for your project, and you are thinking of it as a *project* rather than just an ad-hoc thing, it may make sense to include Plone in your evaluation. If you want a site tomorrow and you're not familiar with the technology and have no infrastructure, one of the PHP CMS' is possibly a better starting point, but you should also be aware of the limitations in case your requirements grow in the future. Of course, there's a whole sea of grey either side of that line."