Intro to Content Management Systems

In the beginning there was HTML – hyper-text markup language.  If you haven’t heard of HTML, it’s the language of the Web.  It’s how you create the formatting for your content. Although HTML is still alive and well, any number of tools have been created to make page development almost as easy as creating a document in your word processing software. Even though these are easy to use, there’s still a lot of effort involved – editing the page, uploading it to the web server, checking, fixing, uploading and so on. And that doesn’t even count the cost of the software application itself . . .

There’s no need to be intimidated or discouraged. Today, there’s a better – and cheaper – way. Actually there’s several. These are called content management systems (or CMS) and they are web-based systems that organize and manage your entire site as well as provide sophisticated editing tools to make it easy to concentrate on the most important part of your site – your content.

The real beauty of a content management system is that it separates the site design from the content. Many systems offer several design options so all you have to do is xhooaw a theme. This frees you to concentrate on content. You can write and edit your articles without having to worry about managing the design elements. The CMS handles all that. It will also manage the indexing, linking, menus and other elements that make your site a useful knowledge center for your society’s membership. As you become more experienced – or find a volunteer with some design skills – you can customize a generic theme into your own unique look.

This article takes a look at several basic systems, describing how they can be used by a society or association to manage their sites.

General Web Site

General sites are used to present and maintain your organization’s information. This is generally a combination of static information (items like the society’s by-laws which are seldom changed) and dynamic information (news items, event calendar, etc.). Content management systems for general sites provide for multiple authors handling specific content types. For example, membership committee members might post and edit membership content while the reunion committee handles all reunion news.

Content management systems for general sites support all levels of sites – from the very basic to the most complex. There are several good open source systems (open source generally do not cost anything to use). Some of the more popular systems like Joomla can be found as hosted services where the software is set up and maintained by your hosting provider. Usually this is included in your hosting fee and is well worth the price if you’re not technically inclined.

General web site applications generally are the most flexible but will require a significant planning effort to organize the content within the site. If the site is to have multiple authors, you will also need to plan for permissions within the various content categories and develop a review and approval process for your site.

General site applications include:

Portal Site

Portals are designed as interactive sites where site members generate most of the content. These sites include features like message boards, polls and photo albums where all members are encouraged to participate. RootsWeb is a good example of a portal.

Portals are good choices when you want – and expect – active participation from your membership. It helps when your membership is comfortable with computer technology and wants to participate. Your role will be more a site manager and cheerleader than a content manager and web development experience is necessary to install and manage a portal site.

Portal applications include:

Blog Site

A blog (short for web log) has been designed to present articles in consecutive order much like a journal or diary. The most recent entry is the one at the top of the screen when you visit a blog site. Site content is further organized by the use of categories and tags (keywords) which help visitors find specific content.

Blog sites are the easiest and cheapest to get up and running. Many blogging services offer free starter accounts which can be upgraded to paid accounts as your content and needs expand. Most blog content is organized in a standard format making it easy to distribute your content – and migrate it should you decide to move from one CMS to another. Don’t let this simplicity fool you – blog sites have great potential.

Blog applications – hosted:

Just in case it isn’t totally obvious yet, we here at MCOHS are great blog fans.

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