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Content Management 
When should you build, and when should you buy?
  Content Management Systems

A content management system (CMS) is designed to help organizations post, update and archive their stories and artwork on the Web.  Generally, there are multiple steps, and multiple people involved in this process.  There are authors and editors, web designers, publishers, etc.  The web designers make templates that are the web pages themselves, without the content.  The authors write the content, which by magic occuring within the CMS appear inside the holes in the web page once the editors and publishers have thoroughly chewed through it.

Without a CMS, an author is stuck with modifying web pages, and generally makes a mucky mess of something which was very pretty before.

The question is,  when should you build, and when should you buy?

This answer is always obvious, isn't it?  How can you build when you can buy an effective solution with more features, better support, upgrades, and more?  The answer is less obvious than you think, and it may save you a lot of money.

First, you should consider what type of website you are building. 

The High-End

 A high-end news site will require a high-end content management system.  If you are abcnews.com, you shouldn't read any further.  You need to  look at companies like Vignette CorpInterwoven, Documentum Inc., BroadVision Inc. and FileNET Corp.

These players are expensive. But it is worth knowing what they give you for the 6 or 7 figure price tag you will pay:

  • Workflow coordination, to get the raw material of articles, photos and other content into the system;
  • Permissions-based updating, to let users with different levels of authority update a site to varying degrees;
  • Visitor tracking, to provide feedback on how frequently and in what order users view given pages;
  • A repository of archived material;
  • A search engine.

A Mid-Range Solution

Another way to go is with a company which will host a CMS system in an Application Service Provider mode (ASP) like Atomz Corp. It's a browser based system which starts at $20,000 per year.  It lets editors and writers with almost no HTML expertise publish reasonable sites hosted on the vendor's machines. The Atomz Publish Express system is a scaled back system that costs about $4,000 per year, or a little more than $330 per month.

There are other solutions such as FatWire which let you have your own system which costs in the neighborhood of $100,000 depending upon how many people use it.

Roll Your Own

Finally, you can cut the monthly charges completely by rolling your own.  If your site only has a few places where content frequently changes, and only one person is updating content you should consider this.  First, you'll have to put together a database of your articles.  

For this example, we'll use Microsoft Access, and for your template editor use FrontPage.  

First you will need to create an article table.  The table should have fields for the headline, byline, date, body, publish(yes/no), and any other fields that you determine are needed.  The good news is that you can customize this part of the publishing process yourself.  The body field will be storing text, but that can include HTML if you need to embolden words, or insert links.  If you become good at FrontPage, you can put all sorts of neat formatting things in the text, and then cut and paste from the HTML view of the page.

The next step is to create a template.  This you do in FrontPage.  Layout your page just like any good web-designer.  Then use the menu item "Insert / Database / Results...".  This brings up a wizard which guides you through linking your template to the database.  

Once you have your template set, you can issue a few magic incantations, and FrontPage will generate the HTML for you.

Now, everytime you create a new article, you can quickly go through the same process, and generate the HTML.

You have none of the high-end features, but then again, you have complete control over the page.  And it's very cheap, and you can do it in less than an afternoon.

A Higher-End Roll Your Own

If you have more than one person accessing the site, or you need remote access, or you need some semblance of workflow, or some other special considerations, you can still roll your own.  However, here I would hire a web developer.  For something in the same price range as buying just the basic FatWire package you can have a custom site which most nearly matches the workflow of your people.

 

 

 

Copyright 2002  [Phase2 Software Corporation]. All rights reserved.
Revised: March 06, 2002 .