Sunday, December 10, 2006

Where to start looking for a CMS

A lot of people of around me tend to ask me where they can find a good CMS solution. The most typical question is how they can get started with their own website (where my typical answer is 'Don't. Register a blog instead'). More ambitous entrepeneurs ask where can they buy a total CMS solution solving business requirement X, Y and Z. To these I often end up answering that such a solution does not exist yet, and it will be darn expensive to develop. However, if they still want to see what's out there, I recommend reading the rest of this blog-post and continue the research on their own.


The WCMS market is so large that it is nearly impossible to get a complete overview of solutions. Attempts to explore this market have already been made by some online communities, and in my opinion the best way to experience the market is by following the lead of these communities. There are also a number of annual conferences specifically intended for content management system vendors, consultants and users.

CMProfessionals1 is a membership-based community of practice for content management practitioners. Their members are largely responsible for the CMS Forum2, conferences and the CMS Meta Language, among other resource for CMS evaluation.

The ContentWatch organization has been disbanded, as has the CMS Mailing List3. Attempts have been made to revive these, but they have either failed or been absorbed into other communities.

Neighboring communities are less structured and scattered around the Internet. Some camps focus on the relevant theory and practices of intranets, knowledge management and web technologies, and thus provide occasional input to the web content management field.


Profiling the WCMS as an isolated product has resulted in quite a number of WCMS-products available, some of which are based on an open source business model.

It has been claimed that the birth of the WCMS can be dated back to early summer 1995 [Doyle, 2004]. As stated before, this thesis does not aim to review the available alternatives as far better resources are available elsewhere. One starting point is the CMS Community Wiki 4, a knowledge base for Content Management Professionals. It covers many topics of content management as well as several product directories. Another umbrella site for several CMS resources is CMS Review5.

The consultancy company CMS Works has done a division of WCMS products into seven categories [Byrne, 2006]. These are (1) Major Enterprise Web Content Management Systems, (2) Upper Tier Companies, (3) Mid-Market Mainstream CMS Packages, (4) Mid-Market Challengers, (5) Hosted Services, (6) Low-Priced Products and finally (7) Open Source Alternatives.

A simplified interpretation of the divisions is presented below.


The most known vendors in this class include Vignette, Interwoven and Stellent. These systems are for large sized companies, possibly running web-sites across continents, generating a large need for dealing with globalization and extreme masses of content. Installation, development and maintenance can usually be measured in hundred thousands or perhaps millions of dollars on an annual basis. It is most unlikely that such companies will run their WCMS totally isolated from their other content systems, rather it will be part of an ECM effort. These systems profile on high level of integration, both between their own proprietary services, as well as across open protocols.


Fatwire, Day, Microsoft and IBM's products are members of this class. These vendors supply content management systems to medium sized business. The products suffice to store large masses of content administered by 10-100 content administrators. The software is not shelf-ware, and the WCMS typically requires application servers to contain it. These systems are seldom treated in isolation, and might be incorporated in an ECM solution. The rest of the content process interacts with the online content.


The market for smaller WCM systems is usually dominated by local and regional vendors. Most Norwegian companies turn to local vendors for implementation since WCM is mostly done in one single language. Small companies have no globalization issues and require an administration interface in their local language. Small WCMS can be sold as shelf-ware, deployable on smaller servers or even desktop machines. These small systems are less likely to interconnect with other information systems in the company's infrastructure. Most will rely on manual file transfer when such interaction is necessary, although some systems have support for protocols which can transfer content from the WCMS to other systems, or the other way around.

Hosted services

Users who want to entirely outsource the maintenance of their WCMS have several hosted options to choose from. These systems offer low risk as the WCMS costs will result in a static monthly fee plus support expenses. The downside is that these hosted systems are the hardest to customize, as the host will have total control of the system. Also, this WCMS service results in heavy lock-in to the hosting vendor as content and functionality lies here. There is very little chance that the vendor will make an effort to help migrate away from the system, nor give away source code of the functionality with which the content has been enabled.

Open Source WCM systems

The open source WCMS also come in different shapes, and can in a similar fashion spread over several tiers of company sizes [Gottlieb, 2005].

Technical approaches remain much the same for open source and proprietary systems. Although this is gradually changing, the situation is that there is little use of open source in the uppermost tiers of the market [Chawner, 2005]. The common feel of open source WCMS projects is that there is great potential, but also reluctance among buyers as such systems come without warranty, and therefore represent risk.

Open source software attracts two kinds of users. The first are small companies with small WCM budgets but skilled in-house developers. There is little wish to invest larger sums in trying out shelf-ware, and management is convinced that the developers can handle the configuration of an open source product. The other kind is companies who wish to comply with open standards, typically governmental offices regulated to do so, or non-profit organizations who do so for principal reasons.

There are many sources for exploring the landscape of open source WCM systems. OSCOM6 is the international association for Open Source Content Management. It maintains the CMS Matrix for comparing open source products. The matrix is somewhat outdated and only features the most renowned projects. There is OpenSourceCMS7 that reviews mostly lightweight WCM systems, most of them based on PHP and other scripting languages, and finally Java-Source.net8, a directory of open source content management systems based on Java.


Byrne, T. 2006, "The CMS Report ", CMS Works Inc.

Chawner, B. , "F/OSS in the Library World: An Exploration", conference proceedings from 5-WOSSE, ACM

Doyle, B. 2004, "CMS Genesis: Who Did What When ?" Retrieved 5. April, 2006

Gottlieb, S. 2005, "Content Management Problems and Open Source Solutions " Retrieved 27. April, 2005