Current CMS Technology

As the WWW became more and more a mechanism for commerce and achieved greater and greater levels of complexity and global reach software to speed up the publishing process has taken centre stage. This technological need has manifested itself in the form of content management systems (CMS). A content management system is a software tool capable of creating web pages that can manage the content of a data storage system. The CMS can also generate web pages that present this data in a form accessible to WWW users. There is a wide variety of CMS type software available from web log systems such as word press to wiki systems such as Media Wiki. These systems cover a variety of features, such as page content, ecommerce and automated distribution mechanisms such as really simple syndication (RSS). By combining several popular technologies together into one easy to use package CMS technology can bring web publishing capability to those without the technical ability to implement it themselves. This has allowed the range of content on the web to broaden from its mostly technical, scientific and commercial roots to include such varied subjects as the cataloguing of people family tree’s in the cooperative environment of http://www.genesreunited.co.uk/ to the International Federation of Bee Keeping at http://www.beekeeping.com/.    

 

Of the current CMS systems available there is one common and major flaw. This flaw is the lack of simple to implement yet powerful customisation. A sample of the currently available CMS systems has been documented below:

 

PHP Nuke – PHP Nuke is a PHP/MySQL based content management system. It is designed to have a highly customizable interface and content. This is accomplished by a range of plug-in modules that facilitate features as varied as mail clients, glossaries, online auctions or instant messaging systems. The primary advantage of this system is that it requires no coding experience to setup and administer. PHP Nuke can be configured in under an hour on a variety of web servers and database systems. It is however extremely difficult to customise. It has been developed over many years by many developers leading to a tapestry of different coding styles and design methodologies.

 

OS-Commerce - This is by far the most commonly used ecommerce CMS available. It is a fully featured open source online shopping cart system that allows the developer to deploy a functional online shop in a very short space of time. This shop can then be customised using a combination of the administration pages that come with the software and alterations to the software code itself to match the unique requirements of the shop it is being used to create. This is however an arduously slow process. The process is easier than with PHP Nuke. There are hundreds of plug-in modules which expand the systems capabilities with new payment gateways, shipping calculation algorithms and user behaviour reporting tools to name a handful. 

 

DocuWiki – This is a wiki system built in PHP that does not use a database. Instead, pages that are added to the wiki are stored in text files. It features a simple syntax for page creation, the ability to embed images in pages, the ability to organise pages into namespaces and a username and password based authentication system. The purpose of this software is to provide a collaborative environment for project documentation. The fact that a database is not required allows for content created within the system to be easily moved between servers. This system is also not easily customizable but its intended application doesn’t require it to be.

 

Joomla – Joomla is another PHP/MySQL based content management system. Although it does not have as many plug-ins as PHP nuke it incorporates a HTML template system and a ‘what you see is what you get’ editor. Unlike PHP Nuke, Joomla requires coding experience to use effectively, but it also offers a much greater degree of customisability. The price the Joomla platform pays for its customisability is in its performance and usability. In a shared server environment Joomla can have very sluggish page loading time due to its excessive use of database queries. Its administrative interface is poorly organised and unintuitive.  

 

MediaWiki - MediaWiki is the wiki CMS tool developed by the WikiMedia foundation and released under the general public license. It features a WYSIWYG editor, a range of multimedia extensions, a multilevel user control system and the ability to maintain a full version history of every element stored within wiki. On top of this the system contains features that enable democratic processes to affect the editing of content such as voting to allow or disallow a particular edit. This feature was essential for the system to achieve its initial goal of being a self correcting encyclopaedia covering every subject in the world using the global population of people as authors. Given the global popularity of WikiMedia’s various faces it also became necessary for MediaWiki to be as efficient as it possible. MediaWiki features query caching and page caching. Query caching is the process storing the result delivered by the SQL server for certain SQL queries whose output is not likely to change often. Page caching is the act of storing a local copy of the page generated for a specific http request so the process of calculating the page, accessing the database and so on doesn’t have to be unnecessarily repeated. The one downside of this method of application optimisation is that users will frequently be delivered pages that are not quite up to date. Whether or not these methods should be employed depends on how important it is that a site’s content is completely up to date. For WikiMedia’s various sites these methods are ideal as it is not critical for a site user to be guaranteed the most up to date copy of the biography of Winston Churchill for example. These methods would not be ideal for sites dealing in more time critical data such as stock prices or sports results. 

 

It is clear that current CMS technology lacks customisability. The ability to create a CMS that allows the developer to create a completely bespoke has proven very difficult. All current CMS software leaves its own distinct fingerprint on the content it generates. Sites generated in OS-Commerce for example all end up looking very similar to each other. It is clear that what is needed is a system that allows the rapid development of web content in the manner facilitated by current CMS software while also allowing the full range of expression available to bespoke developers.

 

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