Category: Government

Selecting a Content Management System for work

I work for a city government.  It’s actually my second time with them.  I left them in January 2001 because I was ready to write web applications and they weren’t.  Because the I.T. department didn’t care about the web in the 1990’s, the website fell into the hands of the Public Information Office.  And its been there ever since.

A couple of years after I left, the I.T. department finally decided it was time to have a presence on the web.  So they wrote a couple of “eServices”, bulk trash pickup, real estate assessment, etc.  But they never thought about taking back control of the website itself.  They concentrated on what I call “business apps” but totally ignored other types of web apps.

In the three years that I’ve been back, there have been on and off discussions about getting a Content Management System.  The city originally looked at products like Vignette (don’t know why they thought they could afford that one).  Well, the discussions are back on and this team it is getting serious.  But there is a problem.  Remember how I mentioned the website is not under I.T.’s control?  You guessed it.  PIO would like to make the decision on the product.  And I’m not fond of what they’ve chosen.  They are sold on Ektron.  While Ektron is full-featured and could do everything we want (actually its probably overkill), I have a few issues with it.  It’s expensive, maybe not to a city budget, but it is to me.  And more importantly, it runs on Microsoft-only technology.  It’s .Net, requires SQL Server, and uses Windows Servers with IIS.  Yuck.  I prefere to run my apps on a Linux server using PostgreSQL for the database.  As a developer who would like to be writing cool web apps for citizens, rather than boring business apps, this is personal.  I don’t write .Net now and I have no intention of writing .Net.

As an alternative, we looked at Alfresco.  Alfresco is commercial open source.  Alfresco is very powerful and web content management is only a piece of the Alfresco puzzle.  Alfresco also does document management, image management, and record keeping.  Unfortunately, our design team in PIO weren’t thrilled by it.  I liked it but I now believe that it would probably be too technical and demanding for the few we have on our web team.

The next CMS we looked at is CommonSpot by Paper Thin.  CommonSpot is a ColdFusion-based CMS.  It has many of the same features that Ektron has and runs on our current J2EE platform on WebSphere.  On a side note, we’re looking to migrate away from WebSphere to JBoss, but I’ll save that for another story.  The biggest drawback I have to CommonSpot is that it needs ColdFusion.  We have ColdFusion and I’ve written several apps in it, but my long-term goal is to move away from ColdFusion and utilize other languages and frameworks like Groovy and Grails.

So what’s left?  I’ve looked at Drupal and Joomla but I don’t really care for PHP.  I really want a CMS that I can build apps to work within its framework.  We looked at Plone in the past, but I’ve never been a big fan of Plone.  I always thought it was too complicated.  Do you write your app in Plone?  Or do you go down a layer and use Zope and the ZMI?

I’m a big fan of Django, so I contacted the Ellington team and spoke to them about Ellington today.  Since Ellington is designed primarily for newspaper and publishing sites, I’m going to try and persuade our team that a city website should probably be more like a newspaper site and that Ellington might be a good fit.  It doesn’t have the features of Ektron or CommonSpot, but I believe it may have just what we need.  Plus, if there is a piece that is missing, I could add it myself or find it in the Django community.