Eric Wolfram's Writing, Free Web Site Content Management Software

Free Web Site Content Management Software

A content management system for a web site enables non-geeky editors, writers or administrators to add, edit, and delete content on the web site without knowing HTML -- the programming language that is used to make web sites. The basic idea is: A template for the web site is created and then some administration tool is used to make words and images appear in that template. Does a free, easy to use, shareware, content management system exist? We found some and put our candid thoughts about free and low cost content management software below (Ctrl-D adds this page to "your favorites" -- apple D on mac)

Even a hosted application like blogger is a simple form of a content managment system. A full featured content management system, on the other hand, is a complicated system by nature. It's probably easier to learn HTML then it is to install some free "easy to use" content management system. However, the true beauty of one of these systems is NOT that you can edit your pages. With a full system, like some of the software mentioned below, you will have the ability to grant other's the access to edit web pages from a web browser. And they don't have to know HTML. You, your colleagues or your employees will be empowered to maintain their web sites -- specifically:

  • maintain and edit membership database & display on line
  • maintain and edit links / resources page
  • maintain and edit articles / white papers / archives

Content management systems and comments from people who use them -- updated 07/14/2008

Wordpress, a blogging tool, has actually become a pretty good content management system. They have a concept of "pages" which enables developers to make it into a standard web site. With all the plugins and themes, it's a very good out of the box sort of tool. For example, I'm using it on my new site GreenCalculation.

If you & yours are willing to put in a little time figuring things out, you might want to check out Bricolage. uses Bricolage and if it has enough features for their needs then it probably has enough features for yours.

Macromedia Contribute
Not free ($99 for single-user license) and might not do all that is listed above. Currently only for PCs, although a Mac version beta is rumored.

Once you get the geeky side of it -- the setup and configuration -- then publishing content is simple for users. They login, post their stuff, upload files if needed (resize images on the fly too) and hit post to make the content live. Moveabletype has a lot of great features, a huge developer community, and comes out with new releases pretty regularly. You can hack the code yourself, if you want. Here are some site that uses MoveableType.

Using pMachine, users can post content and files with little trouble. Users with no more than the usual office/email/web surfing skills and were able to learn how to post with ease. Once you familiarize the users with the system it is cake. It allows for user registrations. Furthermore, you can track popularity of pages and a number of other interesting features. Here is a site that uses pMachine.

The open source cms project, where you can test drive various cms software:

I use OpenACS -- a free, easy to use (once it's set up) and highly configurable toolbox for building web sites. OpenACS is FAR more then a content management system. It is not easy to set up and maintain, and it would generally require a programmer to do so. On the other hand, it is a complete tried and tested OpenSource solution. Among other things [1], it has member login and a directory of members. It also has two different content management systems. I'm using the "basic" OpenACS Content Management Systems called "edit this page". The way I set up my web site, when I login, I have access to edit the content of any page on the web site from a web browser. I can change the page and then view the changes before they go live. Once the page is perfect, I can then "publish" the changes. Later, I can revert to any previous version of the page (in case I get cold feet about some of the changes that I've made.) I can create different templates. I can also create and edit sub pages as needed. I can even specify which templates are used by default on sub pages for the different sub-section of the web site. It took me about 40 hours to get a basic install of OpenACS running, and another 40 hours to configure the different templates and packages that I wanted running. So even though the code is free, it does cost at least 80 hours of someone's time to get a site going with OpenACS. [2]
Look at the "packages" -- those are basically different types of software (or free code) that can be set up on an OpenACS system.
That's a proposal that I made for another gig, which specifies the details of continued service.

Once you get it configured on your server (easy enough even for a front-end hack) it offers up quite an impressive web based content management system. One person didn't end up using it because it was too difficult to adapt to use as a multi-template CMS system.

Plone is an intranet and extranet server, as a document publishing system and a groupware tool for collaboration between separately located entities. Plone can be used many ways. Look through the sites that use Plone section to see a variety of ways people have implemented Plone and Zope solutions.

tiki-wiki (not to be confused with Wiki and Twiki below, which is a different product)
Used it extensively and it is more than you would ever need. It's php with a database abstraction layer which will work with any thing that PEAR supports, but they only have a MySQL install script.

WebGUI -- Added Sept. 10th, 2004
WebGUI is an Open Source content management framework that is written in perl and runs atop a MySQL database on just about any platform that support perl + MySQL. It can be a bit tricky to install the first time or two, and there is a publication called "Ruling WebGUI" the vendor sells that is extremely helpful in setting things up. Once it is up and running, you have a system that has built-in security and an incredible amount of flexibility when it comes to designing a site.

To work with it successfully, you have to understand that a "Page" is the mother of all containers, so to speak. When you add a page, it gets placed as a child of the current page; this creates a hierarchy of pages that makes up your site. A page has some stuff on it based on the "Style" selected for it. By default, new pages inherit their style from their parent. This usually includes the header and menus in the margins of the page. You can add content, called "WObjects" in the middle part. Common WObjects include things called "Article", "File Manager", and "User Submission System (USS)". The USS is actually a multi-faceted creature that can be used for creating message boards, photo albums, blogs, and similar things.

WebGUI has a few quirks; one of the most annoying (to me, anyway) is that you have to layout new page "styles" by hand. There are several built-in styles, but you'll probably want to roll your own for most purposes. It also doesn't have any kind of version control yet -- that's planned in a future version.

Wiki and TWiki
These have been around for quite a few years, and there are thousands of sites on the web that have been built using this technology. It's a bit geeky, but with good use of customized skins the interface works reasonably well. It allows groups with many content contributors of varying skill levels who want to share links, articles, papers, and binary files amongst themselves. Some of the cool TWiki features:

Installation is straightforward, but does have a few steps to complete. Post-installation configuration can take a day or two once you get your bearings. Building custom skins might take a week or two. Content creation is an ongoing process. If you decide to give TWiki a try, Eric Schulman is available as a consultant (at reasonable rates) to get things installed and customized and then give you tutorial/instruction so you can take it from there.

Some resources:
A list of CMS from CMSreview - appears comprehensive

About This Page
Most of these comments and links come from a few of the great internet developers who are my friends and associates. If you have something to add, or if something is misleading, please let me know.

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