What’s The Best CMS?

Wired starsI really like Quora. They have managed to avoid turning into another chaos like Yahoo! Answers; and the style is very much like that of a modern, more social forum, with a very knowledgeable community. Yet, some topics still get inundated with the same question (in various guises), over and over again. The content management topic, for instance, is where everybody goes to ask what is the best CMS for… (insert a specific task, company, or vertical). If you really think that’s a simple enough question, read this.

It’s important to understand there is no “best CMS”.

There are thousands of systems out there — each addressing managing content and building a site differently; each built in a distinct way; each with a strong foothold in specific (geographic) markets; with either a strong or a small community; with a lot of resources available or few.

Very few CMS address a specific vertical.

Surprisingly, there are few systems that exclusively cater to a specific vertical, industry, or company. Somehow, every vendor attempts to build the one CMS that can do it all. Of course, they often have more experience in specific settings — which is valuable, since they’ll understand how to use their system for it — but only a small percentage caters exclusively to a specific use case. Which means in most cases, it’s not even useful to ask “what’s the best CMS for…” a university, a large multinational, a village store, a lawyer’s office, etcetera. You’re still stuck with thousands of options that could potentially be your best option.

There has been no consolidation of this in the past decade, even though this was predicted many times. Instead, there’s a proliferation.

So, know exactly what you want before you decide, or even start looking.

  • If you’re looking for a CMS, be very specific about what you want it to do; and how you want it to do it. Remember that a content management system is a tool that is supposed to help you manage content. It won’t manage it for you, build your site for you, or magically transform your editorial process. So it needs to be a good fit. It’s more useful to think of this in terms of scenarios than in terms of lists of flat requirements.
  • It also needs to be a good fit as a technology (whether it’s your own knowledge, or in-house resources that are comfortable with either PHP, Java, .NET, etcetera, or SIs/freelancers you could get to work on it). And it needs to fit your budget — there’s a CMS for every pricebracket, depending on how complex you want it. Be very specific about your constraints there. Related to this: it really depends on where you are. A system may be the most popular choice in Germany, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find any qualified integrator in Singapore.

Only if you can outline the above in a very detailed way does it make sense to ask what CMS would fit your scenarios. You’ll likely still end up with 5 – 10 choices; the final decision will still be up to you. An outsider that doesn’t know your exact scenarios won’t be able to decide it for you.

Not only is there no “best CMS” in general; there isn’t even a best CMS for you.

All of these tools have drawbacks and shortcomings. Getting the right one means getting one that is the best fit to your scenarios and constraints. But it’s equally important to know the drawbacks. You’re not just committing to the awesome advantages — you’ll always get annoying problems in return. If you know about these in advance instead of ignoring them, you can live with them — and mitigate the problem. Go in eyes wide open.

This post was originally written as a post on Quora.

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