University Web Developers

University Web Developers

Actually I am not a developer but I have started working as a web project leader in a newly-established university.

At the moment we have a website which is pretty static and we do not have a CMS. We have started working on a project to build a new website to meet our requirements and also choose a cms.

Since I don't have a technical background, I can only relate to what I read on the web. In our IT dept, .net is mostly used but for the website we think of using php.

My research was concentrated on the open-source cms and as far as I get, Drupal and Joomla are pretty good options. Plone seems to be widely used too but I read it is not easy for the developers to solve how to use it. OmniUpdate is targeted at universities specially and it is proprietary but it seems for example Drupal is a better product.

The cms world seems very wide so I feel I am lost a bit. Do you have any advices for me, as in proprietary, open-source and even .net cms products?

I know I sound vague but I used to work in an interactive web agency before and this is my first university experience. So I have just started learning the needs of an university and in this vast sea of cms products, I find it very hard to choose the right products to shortlist.

Thank you very much. :)

Özge

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I think the key to getting good advice, making a good decision, and ending up with a good result is being as clear as possible about what you mentioned in your second paragraph: "a new website to meet our requirements". What are the requirements that have been identified for the web site? If you start trying to compare CMS features and roadmaps and whatnot before you can fairly plainly state what you need a CMS to do, you'll end up overwhelmed.

There are a lot of viable products that each reflect the priorities and preferences of the person or people at the core of the project. Whether those underlying assumptions and directions are a good fit for what you are trying to accomplish depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

As you look around at different CMSs you'll come to see that certain ones are good at X, while others do a better job of making Y easier. For instance, Some CMSs place more emphasis being able to reuse content in more than one place in your site. Others focus on providing a very clean interface for technically unsophisticated content editors who maintain a distinct set of essentially static pages. Others are really good at delivering the infrastructure for end user comments and other social interaction. Some CMSs put a great deal of effort into support for calendars of events, for others calendars are a challenge. Some have very fine-grained access permissioning infrastructure, and others don't. And so on.

It will be a lot easier for people on this site to chime in with feedback about which CMSs are good at this, that and the other thing than it will be for us to give feedback about which CMSs are good.

Of course, the problem is that for the most part awareness of what matters to you, what you need, what your requirements are is something that you figure out as you go. It's an iterative process. Organizations learn the same way individuals do - by trying, exploring, experimenting, succeeding, failing, starting over.

But you have to start somewhere. So, what matters to you?
Thank you very much for taking time to reply.

I cannot count technical requirements as it is not in my ability but can make a simple list:

Platform:
IT dept is consist of .net developers, there is only one php developer. We think of using php platform but since the rest of the team is .net developers, there are questions raising about this.

We think of adopting a cms (proprietary or open source) and we want to work with a web agency to design the web site and hand us the html templates so our developers can apply it to the cms. As far as I know php is more flexible in that sense than .net.

Features
I guess we want what everybody want:
At the moment the most critical feautures for us are:
  • SEO friendly search
  • Online forms (such as application forms, feedback forms, questionnaire forms)
  • System being able to send newsletters
  • Password authentication: When some forms are filled, the system will send a password to the student for future reference so they can carry out their application process, this is mostly for international students.
Then comes the others: (We do not have content for let's say videos etc but in the future we probably will)
RSS, blog, podcast, file upload tool, etc.

Other requirements:
  • Most of our content editors will be unsophisticated, therefore the interface should be clean and easy to use.WYSISYG editor integrated with the styles and rules spesific for the site and sections of the site, if possible
  • Using the content without duplication will be necessary. We need to create a page with the content in the tree structure and whenever it is needed to be used under different menu items, we should address to that page we created. Therefore users will be able to view it before leaving the menu item that they already in.
  • We need language support, as the website will be in Turkish, English and Russian. I guess this is the tricky part, esp. the Russian bit.
  • Different levels of authorisation will be needed.
  • It should be personalised and customisable
  • Sitemap should be constructed dinamically
  • Calender of events will also be needed
  • Captcha application will be needed
  • Maybe a tool to build photo galleries
  • Able to send e-mails
  • Breadcrumb support
  • Security, configurable roles, groups, responsibilities, database level encryption

Umm hope I put everything and sorry for the long list!

Thank you very much again. :)
Ö
Özge,

Two things on your list jump out at me as being outside the list of features that I would group together in a search for a CMS: account management for admissions applications and newsletter publishing. Personally, I would treat the online admissions app as a separate entity and not a part of the CMS that I use to manage a site. And likewise, I think subscriber management and email deliverability are specialized enough that I think of them as tasks separate from a CMS. (I really like CampaignMonitor for newsletters, and I recently have been taking a long look at MailChimp as well.)

Other than that, I found myself leaning toward suggesting a new product that I have been evaluating recently, Silverstripe (http://www.silverstripe.com). It's a PHP-based content management system and application framework. So far I have only built a small site with Silverstripe, and I really like it. One of the things that it does unusually well is allow for clean URLs. It is very strongly oriented around individual pages, which is nice for smaller sites, but I am wondering how flexible it will be when we start throwing more complex challenges at it.

I have done a couple of larger sites with Drupal, and have had success with it. Silverstripe and Drupal are extremely different kinds of projects - Drupal is much older, more established, more complex, better documented, sprawling, intimidating. I've never really become entirely comfortable with its approach to taxonomy (http://drupal.org/node/299), which is something you'd really need to dig into before committing to going with Drupal.

I don't know anything about .Net-based CMSs, and I plan on keeping it that way.

Regarding the design help you are going to hire, do you anticipate that relationship being a short-term, take-the-designs-and-run kind of arrangement, or are you thinking you will be looking for ongoing design assistance? The more of an ongoing relationship that is, the more that vendor might be in a position to partner with you to recommend or provide a CMS, not just templates. One vendor and CMS that struck me as potentially very interesting is White Whale (http://www.whitewhale.net/).
Actually after I wrote that answer and we had a meeting. At the meeting we decided to integrate features such as newsletter, forms with CRM. For basic forms we can use cms but for the rest IT dept doesn't want to create different forms whenever it is required.

Thank you for the suggestions. Silverstripe was already on my list to check. So I am glad to hear you suggested it.

For the design, unfortunately we do not have a design team here at the moment. Once we get templates from an agency, we will only need them to keep some elements of design updated on the site, such as flash application on the front page etc. So we might not even need a maintenance contract. Or if we find out we will need them continuously, then we can have a maintenance contract.

Actually there are a few agencies like White Whale here in Istanbul, too. They both offer design and cms services. I would prefer working with one of those coz it would make things much easier, there wouldn't be coordination problems at least. However it has its own risks. A friend of mine is dealing with such at the mo. So I am less excited about that option now.
Go take a look at dotCMS. It's enterprise open source, and a very nice system.

The trick is, be prepared to throw money at it. Even if it's an open source product. You'll have to train on it, and you'll probably have to do at least a little custom work on it. If you can hire a dedicated developer for it, even better. Most free, PHP based systems you can download simply aren't robust enough to handle a university (Drupal the possible exception). When they are, they tend to get very complicated very quickly. Your best bet is to find out what the needs are of the people you're going to ask to use it. If that means you have to work a little harder to admin the system, but the users buy in, then so be it.
Programming language is Java for dotCMS, am I correct? If so, we don't have Java developers here so I cannot use it. :(

Actually just for the same reason, I had to eliminate quite a few of those in my research.

Thank you very much for your answer.
Take it from a person who's used a several CMS applications/platforms and evaluated several others. Go with Drupal!!! Joomla isn't bad either, but Drupal is a magnitude better. I am impressed every day with the features and how well thought out it is. Drupal can do *ANYTHING*. It's so nice. Very powerful. Very easy to install, administer, and use. It's the clear leader in CMS, in my opinion.

What bewilders me is that organizations pay tens of thousands of dollars, EVEN HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS, for proprietary CMS systems that are crap. How does this happen? Are CIOs being corrupted by "training" trips to Vegas or something? Or are they just marketing victims? Because it makes no sense to me.

Rather than talk about what Drupal can do (everything), I'll focus on what lots of other CMS fail at...

• Must have *GOOD* search
• Must provide SEO-friendly URLs
• Must be able to extend/customize
• Must be able to create pixel-perfect themes/skins that are 100% valid XHTML and CSS
• Must have good versioning/revision history of documents/pages
• Must have vibrant third party developer community
• Should rely only on popular/common server technologies, like PHP or ASP.NET, or MySQL or Microsoft SQL Server, for example

Notice I didn't mention price. That's because I don't choose Drupal because it's free--it just happens to be free. If all the free CMS were crummy, and Drupal cost $10K, I'd still recommend Drupal. It's that good.

Don't be fooled by the salespeople. They'll try to scare you away from open source software, or tell you that you need a product focused on educational institutions. They'll tell you that there's no technical support available for open source software--not true. What they won't tell you is that they charge for their technical support in the form of annual maintenance fees, or they roll it into the cost of their product. Meanwhile, most technical questions for open source software (like Drupal) can be answered with a Google search or by visiting the project's website/forum. And in the case of Drupal, companies like Acquia provide premium technical support for a reasonable fee, and Acquia even gives away their "community" level support.

Try Drupal!?!

- Kit
Thank you very much for the reply. :) I have collected quite a few research results/articles etc that promote Drupal so yes it is on my list. Luckily our software manager also worked with it before so that is another chance too.

Thanks again :)
Hey Kit,

While what you write may be true, (hard to evaluate Drupal) that fact is, Drupal is pretty much unintelligible to anyone outside of the Drupal community. I suppose that comes across as a slam, but the comment is not really intended that way. It's fair to characterize the Drupal evangelists I have met as highly technical, but eccentric and kind of outside of the mainstream. As a project manager I have been told more than once by the Drupal crowd that if Drupal doesn't do 'it' (what ever task that may be), then I don't really need it. So for example, web 2 kinds of things were 'unnecessary', and social network kinds of things, were 'unnecessary' and so on. For those readers who are looking to get an actual project put together with little delays, Drupal is a very poor choice.If you want a never ending science project, Drupal is a good choice. If this user makes the decision to go with Drupal it is almost a certainty the project will not get delivered at all.

And I do think that a deliverable is what its all about. Sorry about the candor.
I have to disagree with you on this. Although Drupal has a higher learning curve it is very flexible. The templating system is easy to work with and you can be very granular in the look and feel. Writing modules isn't all that difficult either. There are many successful high profile sites that are built on top of Drupal, Forbes, NASA, and The Onion come to mind, in fact I believe Purdue uses it for part of their presence. Much of Obama's online presence was Drupal as is Recovery.org, Yahoo is pushing many front facing websites out that run on Drupal. I think I'd call all of those actual projects that got off the ground wouldn't you? You say Drupal isn't for social networking. I beg to differ, it's all about community, out of the box you can start pushing content right into facebook, there is a module that hooks right into the Facebook API. I'd love to have a chance to implement this on a college website. I assure you your problem wasn't Drupal, it was lack of experience.

The comment was made about Drupals downfall being giving the user to many features. Ummm you can control that you know?

Unfortunately Drupal doesn't have a flashy sales presentation (their website is buck ugly to), however there are many many companies using it on heavily used sites, and they could afford to use just about anything.

You need to take a closer look before you squander tax dollars on a proprietary system and lock yourself in. 200K which is what it will set you back with datatel for instance will take you a long way Acquia or another consultant that knows what they are doing.
One more thing concerning Drupal. Sorry for the rant but you really do need to have at least the CCK and Views modules (which I believe will be in the core in the next version) to make it effective imho and you have to effectively leverage taxonomy. No Drupal will not do everything, however no cms that I'm aware of will. The beauty of Drupal is that the code is solid and there is help available for free and as mentioned before through paid support. You can build in custom extensibility without touching the core.

You will find that many times when you have a need (for instance hooking into an online service that has just become popular), by the time you think you might need it, someone will have written a module for it. For instance when Digg released the Digg bar, a couple of days afterward a module had been developed, subjected to peer review, and made available for download without charge to block it.

Another advantage of Drupal over a proprietary cms targeted at the education market is that you have a product that is much more widely distributed and used in entertainment, government, business and industry and of course education globally and as a consequence will evolve quicker in in response to the changing needs of web producers and consumers.

Of course there is a learning curve with any system as versatile and diverse as Drupal, but that shouldn't scare away anyone in this forum, learning is what we promote and do.
I have to agree with Mtnman on this one. It's not the learning curve I was worried about with Drupal, but the fact that Drupal does not provide an intuitive way to build websites. Our process, and I'm sure it's the same at many other institutions, is this:

1) Wireframe the site
2) Design
3) Develop XHTML/CSS and code
4) Launch

note: I left out a bunch of steps about customer feedback for the sake of brevity. Yes, we do involve our customers in the site development process :)

Drupal adds a layer of complexity on top of this process that isn't necessary. I don't want to build a custom Drupal theme for every site I build and clutter my markup with a bunch of PHP code that doesn't need to be there. Our team already knows how to build websites and the last thing I want is a new paradigm for doing so, and that's what Drupal brings to the table. As a software engineer and web developer for almost 10 years now developing a Drupal site just didn't "feel right" (yes, this is a subjective way to evaluate a system like Drupal, but sometimes you have to go with your gut, and my gut said run away). I also don't want to manage a bunch of third party modules, which are not part of the core distribution and usually maintained by one or two people, that you really need to have installed in order for your Drupal install to be of any value. And for me, Acquia wasn't an appealing solution either.

We selected Umbraco as our CMS, and are currently in the implementation phase. It's certainly not a perfect solution, I don't think one exists, but it fits our development process well and paid support is provided by the original developers. It's also a .NET solution, and that fits well with our existing IT infrastructure. Our process will need some minor tweaks to accomodate the creation of editable regions for our CMS-ified sites, but it still feels like we're building regular old websites, with the added bonus of having a web-based UI that our end-users can use to maintain content.

Drupal might be a good choice if you're building a "social" site with lots of community interaction, but in my opinion it's not a good choice as a solution that will be used to launch and maintain a large number of informational websites, each with their own unique look and feel.

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