Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Open Source Content Management Systems - or "Your New Website"

In a nutshell: there are tools out there, developed by an open-source community dispersed around the world, that are designed specifically to do the things many community-building nonprofits are trying to do through their websites. (There are actually a ton of tools out there, but I'll get to that soon....)

What I'm referring particulalry is "website-in-a-box" solutions (commonly called "Content Management Systems" or CMS) that are:
* relatively easy to install and configure (given all the functionality)
* "easy" to use (i.e. closer to Amazon.com than the back end of a classic CMS...)
* designed with community use and community-building in mind
* come with built-in functionality like calendars; updated events / news pages; email list management, blogs (which can be used for the "notes from the field") and other tools
* are "free" - i.e. do not cost anything to purchase because they are open source packages

(More on "What is a CMS?" )

I want to clarify that CMS software has been available - commerically - for years; what I'm talking about is the development of open-source CMS software that has now become stable, powerful, and beginning to become user-friendly. And it's free. (Although don't expect to be able to put up a website for free, just because the software is free....) In any case, whether these tools are commercial or open-source, they are designed so that the web administrator's time is spent managing the information, not programming the website.

Some great examples of CMS-based websites are here:
http://www.musicforamerica.org/
http://www.theOnion.com

In fact, both of these sites run on open-source CMS's (Civic Space Labs for the first, Drupal for the latter). All the functionality - the consistent templates for new pages, the polls, the blogs, the gallery - are a built-in functions of the CMS. The organizations themselves provide the specifics of the design (the colors, the layout shapes, etc.) and the content (the text, actual images, etc).

The distiction is key: none of these tools are designed to _do_ the work; they faciliate the work of community building. Again, time can be focused on content and relationships, and not on programming and troubleshooting.

I want to spend some more time here talking about these tools, people who used them (including my own experience running a Drupal site) and what projects we've got coming up that might be of interest to folks. In the meantime, here's an aggregated list of arts sites that are using the open-source CMS called Drupal.

http://www.drupalart.org/

5 Comments:

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