Web Collaboration

Building a blog. Building a CMS (content management system). It has come to pass that I have a perceived need to manage a community website. This is due to the fact that as my website has grown over the years, updating it has become a major chore.

My goal in using dynamic, as opposed to static HTML, is to improve the organization of my site, as well as open up contributions from the internet community. First the good news. After 2 weeks of reviewing internet-based software to maintain forums, blogs, and content management systems (CMS), several packages stand out. I tried three packages (four, if you count phpBB). Five if you count Plone/Zope.

The packages installed are all freely available, open source programs, which install in about an hour (or minutes if your server has the Fantastico program installer). They all run on a server, which means most home PC users will need to test them and administer them online. So at a minimum, you are going to have to get to know the Control Panel at your hosting server. I recommend bluehost for a relatively inexpensive, but feature-rich server.

Plone never got installed. It was the first package I tested, and I really like the power of Python that this offers, plus the fact that it has a good Windows server emulator that works. But as I was gritting my teeth, preparing to become a python plone geek with a minor in Zope, I noticed that my server had Fantastico, which does the installations of CMSes and blogging sites at the server side with a single click (but it doesn’t do Plone). So I clicked my way to these other programs described below.

I feel that eventually Plone will be ready for the masses, but as of spring 2005, it is still somewhat eclectic. And after seeing how difficult even a simple blogging site can be to tweak and develop, I think it was a good move to start simple. Even so, a good knowledge of php, css and mysql are highly recommended if your are going to administer anything more than a canned blog.

Xoops CMS has got to be the easiest to use and install. It is totally modular, and modules are easily added, modified or deleted. MXBB, the MX-Portal system is commendable for its smooth integration with the phpBB forum, which is a stable system on most servers. While on the subject, phpBB (now up to version phpBB2) has got to be the quickest way to get a forum up and running. WordPress provided the most flexible interface. Since it doesn’t pretend to be more than a blogger, the developers have lavished extra care on making a clean interface.

The down sides are the same for each system. Except for WordPress, most CMS packages try to be everything for everybody, with the result that pages are disorganized, and some things work well and some things don’t. My biggest gripe is that it takes lots of work and php developer knowledge to remove unwanted features from a module. Because most of the designs are open source, there are skads of user-designed modules out there. Invariably these lack documentation and require the user to invest considerable time in learning php, so that the modules can be modified for your system. Xoops has the smoothest integration of modules, but many of the modules are still in early development and lack features. I really love xoops, but after trying a dozen modules, could not figure out how to just load a simple HTML page with some links into the opening window. The xoops community is largely international and the developer pages are often computer-translated with varying degrees of success.

MXBB had the same problems, and had fewer modules, but I liked the concept of building a forum upon the existing phpBB framework.

WordPress allowed me enough control to create a page close to the way I liked it. At least it looked the way I wanted it–it still lacks an easy method of controlling various page elements. It was a headache when I tried to upgrade to a newer, more secure version. Upgrading involves backing up the MySQL database, and then overwriting some files and not overwriting others, or optionally, editing the php code yourself to make minor updates. Not fun. Probably the other programs will have similar problems. I couldn’t even get the Backup module to work on Xoops, and had to resort to backing up the database through my server’s control panel. There are lots more CMS programs out there, and in a couple years this is going to be a much more mature group of programs. A number of enterprise (read pay-for) systems are likely to crop up and try to take over the market. Whether this will result in anything like the Netscape / IE wars is yet to be seen.

Posted in Web Works | 10 Comments

10 Responses to Web Collaboration

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