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University Web Developers

Our most difficult challenge as we continue to search for a CMS is finding something that's going to make editing a relatively easy experience (with training, of course) for our less technical users who do most of the content editing, but will let us (and users who are more comfortable with complex options) have sufficient flexibility. We're currently using Adobe Contribute, and that's definitely not meeting the need, but it seems hard to strike the right balance with a CMS.

I realize there is no one true answer here, but I'm curious what people have found to be particularly friendly for a large group (90+ with one primary support person, me) of mostly less-technical users.


At the moment, we're particularly curious about Expression Engine. We've heard great things from developers, but it's not clear to us how simple the average end user finds it. Opinions?


Thanks for your CMS wisdom, all!


-Juliana Perry


Web Services Project Manager

Bryn Mawr College



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Actually, this is a problem with a fairly clear cut answer, believe it or not.


Have money? Go with OmniUpdate.

Have no money? Go with dotCMS.


Seriously, there's no reason to even look much beyond those two systems in our world. Also, I would STRONGLY encourage you to use the opportunity to take the less technical people out of the mix entirely. There is nothing gained by having 100 untrained people creating web pages. Hire a web content editor-in-chief.

Is there anything you'd recommend that doesn't require Java?

What is the problem with using Java? If you're looking at enterprise grade CMSs, most use it or .Net or things along those lines. But like anything, you don't really need to KNOW Java to use the CMS, just like you don't need to know PHP to use Wordpress and things like that (not that it doesn't help if you want to get into complex things).


The ultimate question is, if you need to stay off Java, then what do you need to have as a requirement? PHP, .Net, Python, Ruby? If you have language limitations, it helps to know what you need to stick with before I could make any suggestion.

I don't have a strong preference, but we seem to be moving away from Java applications for whatever reason. I'm evaluating all the FOSS options first, and most of them are PHP, which is what I'm most comfortable with.

As for dotCMS, are you talking about the free community edition or the enterprise edition? Any idea on what the pricing is for enterprise? (By the way, thanks for all your advice)


Why only OmniUpdate and dotCMS?  Why not Drupal?


At first glance Expression Engine looks intriguing. Our sys admin is also having me look at concrete5. We need to move away from Contribute, too. Time to bite the bullet.

On the plus side it looks like we'll finally be getting a programmer and a content editor to add to our team of 3 jack-of-all-trades designers, so hopefully that will make the switch less painful.

How are you currently supporting Contribute on campus? I've been teaching training classes periodically, and have found that the wide gap in technical and computer skills is a problem. More and more people are requesting access to edit the website. While I would like to find a CMS that anyone could use, that may not be realistic. Rather than adding CMS duties to student workers and admin assistants, I might start to lobby for a more strategic use of human resources (in other words, what Michael said above).

Contribute was a mean, mean trick that Macromedia played on folks when it came to website management. We switched off it three years ago, and that was about three years too late. Anyone still using it should already be planning an exit strategy, and if you aren't, make it a priority.


The thing to keep in mind is that regardless of which CMS you switch to from Contribute, it doesn't solve the problem of the technical expertise gap users have. I can teach anyone how a CMS works, the same as I can teach anyone about how engines work. That still doesn't make them a mechanic. I only say that because it happens all too often that people will buy something like a CMS expecting it to solve problems that aren't really technical in nature. It won't change the skill level of users in this case. That's why I'm such an advocate for NOT allowing people to edit sites just because they ask. In the long run, you create a larger maintenance headache.

Excellent analysis.  Contribute is medieval.  Yet any system requires some level of user knowledge and I agree that rather than expanding a pool of editors because a system allows for it, you should be rethinking who really needs to touch the content and what skill sets should they bring to the table.  We are looking at really the mid level the the proofer/brander/approver...and this task does not require great technical skill, but rather good eyes and great grammar/writing skills.

As for Contribute, our exit strategy is underway.

I teach the occasional class, provide one-on-one training, and I get most of the support tickets and calls. I've also written some documentation in more friendly-to-our-users language than Adobe's. I'm staying afloat, but I spend a lot of time hand-coding HTML for things Contribute won't let them do, that we refuse to let them do in Contribute, and/or to correct things Contribute has botched (yes, it was a mean trick).


There are a lot of reasons it would make sense to have mostly tech-savvy people using the CMS, but we're a small institution that wants to put a lot of content on the web. Hence relying on the people who are content experts to update their content (with our advice and that of the Communications office as far as architecture, formatting, etc) without necessarily being web savvy. It's not ideal, but it's what we've got, and while we may be able to make some adjustments to the model, I don't see a radical change as possible in our situation.


We don't expect a CMS to change the skill level of our users, but I would like the less technical users to be able to add and format some text, etc. without becoming utterly bewildered by the array of options before them. In other words, I'd like them to be able to do the equivalent of basic car maintenance that owners do, and leave the rest to the mechanics (and have all of us in less pain than what's caused by the current Contribute situation).

...but we're a small institution that wants to put a lot of content on the web.

<warning>I'm about to sound elitest and utopian</warning>

Why? I am a firm believer in doing less better, and I have yet to see a school that has ever really excelled at "put[ting] a lot of content on the web." It sounds like maybe you all should really focus on a plan to put out a little bit of content, your essentials, and make it AWESOME. If you can't deploy a little bit of content well, and create an editorial cycle for it to keep it up, how will you ever be successful with lots of content?


I'm not trying to be pessimistic or a downer, it's just that when the focus is quantity over quality, user experience suffers. And the non-techy editors will never be quality-centric. They'll do an oil change, but get the wrong oil filter, buy the wrong weight oil, strip the drain plug, etc to continue the metaphor. Not that such a focus would be intentional, but that's what happens when our hopes and dreams are diluted by institutional policy breakers makers.


My point being, if you don't have a focused, strategic plan for the content, you shouldn't push through a content management system. You won't be happy with the results. Trust me.

Hi Juliana - 


Not sure if you've moved forward with a decision, but I'd encourage you to consider Reason CMS in your search. Reason is an open source PHP/MySQL based CMS built at Carleton College and currently used by a handful of schools in the midwest and in New York state. One of our design goals has been to make things simple and straightforward for editors.


Most content work is done by administrative support staff, and we find our role in supporting editors after an initial training is minimal.


The easiest way to check it out is to download and install the LiveCD.


I'm also happy to answer any questions you have about Reason.


Good luck with the search!


Nathan White

Web Application Developer

Carleton College



My suggestion: Sitefinity ( by Telerik, Inc. It has a lot to empower your 90+ people as well as yourself.



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