Building an Anti-CMS

At last weekend’s PHP North West Conference I delivered a talk titled Building an Anti-CMS (and how it’s changed our web team).  Feedback has generally been pretty positive so I thought I’d open it up to a bit of constructive criticism from inside the sector (because every web team reads our blog, right?!).

Video from the talk itself is due out within the next month but I re-recorded some audio to turn it into a slidecast to make it a bit more useful:

I’ve given a number of talks before at Edge Hill, at BarCamps and at IWMW but for PHPNW I’ve tried to further develop my style of presentation. Over the last 6 weeks I’ve watched quite a few “Lessig style” talks – making use of lots of short sentences and pictures and not being afraid to have nothing on the screen.

It leads to a massive slidedeck – 86 slides for 13 minutes – and there’s far less room to ad lib but it gets away from some of the things that annoy me about regular death by powerpoint. I’ll let you make up your own mind whether it’s worked!

CMS: Friend of Foe?

For many the Content Management System is the Holy Grail of development. A single system that looks after your users, manages workflow, controls permissions and produces a consistent design across the site would be fantastic. So with this goal in mind many companies and institutions go looking for a CMS. And there are many to choose from – dozens if not hundreds – ranging from free and open source to systems produced by the biggest software companies in the world. The choice is overwhelming and everyone claims that theirs is the best!

UC Davis conducted a survey last month on what CMS universities in the US use and they got a decent response level – enough to provide some interesting and worthwhile statistics. One of the most interesting findings is that there is no clear leader. Unlike for VLEs there has been little consolidation and no clear market leader has emerged – big corporates are still fighting it out for market share with open source projects.

The potential benefits of using a CMS are massive but I have concerns about their inflexibility and inevitable vendor lock-in. What happens when you want a design that doesn’t fit in with the CMS way of doing things or functionality that can’t be put into a WYSIWYG text box? Is developing within the CMS framework going to save time compared to doing it from scratch?

My view for some time has been that we need to manage our content better. Key information needs to be available for use in multiple places both across our own sites and syndicated to other sites and feeds that visitors can subscribe to. We need to be agile in the way that we collect, store and manage data so that it can be quickly repurposed for whatever new trends and technologies come around the corner. Can the current generation of CMS handle this challenge? I don’t know, but I’m going to find out!