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All buyers want CMS, which is best for freelancers to use?

 6:35 pm on Jan 11, 2008 (gmt 0)

I have been bidding on freelancing sites, but it seems that anymore, all the clients want to be able to edit their sites after I am done with it.

They want to be able to change their leaderboards, logos, upload and rearrange pictures, product information, and all manner of things.

I have played around with a couple wordpress sites (other people's sites that I had to 'fix'). But had so many issues, I don't think it would be a good solution for most clients. I have heard names like Joomla, Xoops, Mambo, Drupal tossed around, but if they are just going to be glorified blogs, with really confusing UI's, I want no part (having to teach clients how to use them could be a real pain).

Is there a 'dumbed-down' cms that is easy for anyone to use, and will not cost me a lot of money? I would rather not mess with any CMS ever, because each one has a new learning curve, and I have to increase the bid $ amount in order to cover my costs, which means that I am less likely to get the job.

Would the best solution be trying out all the free options? I guess each client would have different needs, so there is no easy answer, I have read a lot about EE today, but wonder if that would be cost effective for a person who is only bidding between $500 and $1000 for each job...

Or should I just learn how to build my own custom CMS using php/mySql so that the only cost I have is my time? I feel overwelmed, since each time I think I am learning something, I find out my skills are STILL pretty much nothing in the bigger picture.

Should I just stick to static sites?



 7:19 pm on Jan 11, 2008 (gmt 0)

if they are just going to be glorified blogs

They certainly aren't just glorified blogs. They have significantly more flexibility. And, although there is a general default style and set of functionality for most CMSs, it's that of a "portal", not a "blog", and there's considerable ability to change the style.

They all have a large number of "plug-ins", "modules", etc. that implement various subsystems - blogs, message boards, catalog, store, etc.

The biggest mistake I've seen newbies to CMSs overlook are the plugins and customization. ("Q. Where do I find the ... in MegaCMS? A. It isn't there. Install NiftyPlugin, or OtherNiftyPlugin...) You certainly aren't stuck with the functionality and look-and-feel that comes in the box.


 7:37 pm on Jan 11, 2008 (gmt 0)

Joomla and Drupal are the two I considered. Both are open source and free. Here's what I heard:
Joomla - easiest to use out of the box, but not as powerful
Drupal - very powerful (lots of add-ins), but slightly harder to use out of the box

I decided I'd check out Drupal. It was pretty easy to use, so I stuck with it. Unless you're doing wacky stuff (which it sounds like you aren't) the learning curve is pretty quick.

And for users, once a site is set up, it's REALLY easy to change the stuff you described.

The drupal.org website has a bunch of "handbooks" that run the gamut from the basics to super-detailed technical stuff. The site also has a relatively helpful community.

Or if you like tangible books, Drupal Pro Development is supposed to be helpful if you're technical to begin with.

BTW, demand for capable Drupal developers grossly outstrips supply. If you decide to move beyond the basics you won't have trouble finding work.



 10:05 pm on Jan 11, 2008 (gmt 0)

Okay, both of these were helpful. I will probably look into Drupal before anything else, eager to save money (and make it!)

The beef I had with wordpress was that it seemed each time I tried to put conditional statements in the sidebar.php file, I would either get errors, or the included content wasn't showing up at all. Hopefully, Drupal will be easy enough that the users can figure it out without much trouble, as I am not the best teacher.

Thanks again!


 7:57 pm on Jan 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

I'm Working on that myself. see my post [webmasterworld.com...]

Would the situation be? You build a template and they provide you with a spreadsheet to fill in the a group of pages for that template? Does more than one person need to make changes and do the others need to be limited to a page or a template? Do they want to do the uploading themselves or will you be around to do it for them?


 5:05 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think the key to using drupal if the clients are not too savvy is to use the CCK + Contemplate plugins.

This allows you to essentially create pages as structured data, so that you might have

image link

And each of those have an input or textarea field. You, the designer build the template that holds that data and determines display. If there's a textarea where you want Rich Editing, you can add in the Tiny MCE plugin (yikes!) and they can go crzay with bold and image input and all manner of ill-advised things.


 6:48 pm on Jan 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

dotnetnuke - open source & free

+1 for idiot proof.


 7:22 pm on Jan 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

I would not say that makes it idiot proof. There are probably over two hundred free and open source CMS.

A couple of years ago, I went on a testing binge and found that many were still forks of the PHPNuke code base and were just absolute garbage.

Now there are dozens and dozens that have been created from the ground up without legacy code (at least in theory) and have various strengths and weaknesses.

I've been using drupal for a while and it has some advantages (huge array of plugins, huge community) and some disadvantages (still feels a bit cumbersome).

I just recently did a brief test of ModX and, though at version .9 it still has some rough edges, especially with respect to some oddities in the workflow, and is not nearly as rich in terms of available plugins and community, it is very nice. Some mag/site/whatever recently awarded it "Most Promising New CMS" and I would have to agree - very impressive for something that isn't even at version 1.

On the other hand, Drupal, Joomla and, if you consider it a CMS, Wordpress get all the press and awards, so they are likely to be choices your clients would be more comfortable with and there are quite a number of drupal and joomla freelance job postings.

Also, since these are both harder to customize and much more customizable than Wordpress, there's more potential for selling your skills and for building a portfolio where the sites look completely different.

If you knew how to build on the Drupal platform and also on the DotNetNuke platform, you could of course be "OS blind" and that might a nice advantage in the long run.

PS, both Dotnetnuke and Drupal have "Professional Development" books, so that might make them easier to get started with than some lesser-known CMS. I think Joomla has at least one developer-oriented book as well.


 8:12 pm on Jan 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

I said +1 for idiot proof because my clients (some self proclaimed idiots) say they love the ability to change their content by cutting and pasting from word... These people (mostly social service agencies) need to update their sites almost daily and DotNetNuke has performed flawlessly thus far.

Granted I know a lot about DotNetNuke and MS operating systems in general.

I completely agree that drupal and the other open source cms application are great!

DotNetNuke has a base of 300,000+ users and every type of module known to mankind...

I like and am comfortable with MS operating systems as a hosting platform though.

Don't know much about linux...


 8:26 pm on Jan 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

We've been working with Modx quite a bit, particularly since we've had several clients who liked their existing website but wanted an easy way to update it themselves.

We've found it very easy to duplicate static html sites in Modx while maintaining all existing file names and navigational structures.


 12:16 am on Jan 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

>>change their content by cutting and pasting from word...

How frightening! ;-)

You can use the TinyMCE editor in several CMS and that will try it's best to clean up Word junk, but it has its limits.

I do think that having a LAMP option and a Win option is probably a good hedge because a lot of people won't want to change server platforms just to use some CMS they've never heard of (what's a CMS?).

Personally, I wouldn't know where to begin with IIS and MSSQL and so forth. Wouldn't know how to do a simple 301 or connect to the DB, so that would be a steep curve for me.


 1:11 am on Jan 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

As you are a developer, I'd strongly suggest that you build your own. It doesn't need to be much: Image uploading and a WYSIWYG type editor (Xinha, Tiny MCE, ...). That way you can get precisely what you want without having additional functions or features to confuse matters.

In addition, the overall deliverable will be more professional because you will not have lumbered your client with commercial inflexibility open source (copyleft) code or the modification and resale restrictions of a commercial CMS.


 8:30 pm on Jan 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

>> Personally, I wouldn't know where to begin with IIS and MSSQL and so forth. Wouldn't know how to do a simple 301 or connect to the DB, so that would be a steep curve for me.

My thoughts exactly on using LAMP hehehe... don't have a clue.


 2:23 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

We use drupal a lot for clients. Very flexible, allows us the ability to develop complex sites, yet still be managed by the client.


 2:51 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

Let me ask, does using an open source CMS like this open you up to potential security and hacking issues that you didn't have before?

The thing I'm concerned about is using a CMS that is off the shelf like this. I've read too many horror stories of entire groups of people being hacked due to security holes.

I'm sure this could happen with any CMS but I'd imagine that the more popular ones are under constant attack, yes?


 3:13 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

I don't think it's necessarily the fact that you are running an opensource cms that creates the security risk, but the fact that you are running a widely used application.

Hackers like to focus on the largest target base. Windows is obviously not opensource, but it is easily the most targeted application out there.

Personally, I've got a little over 100 sites all running on Joomla. I've had a total of 6 of them hacked in the 2 years they've been running...all at the same time.

The hack used an exploit that became known. Obviously, that has been dealt with and once I learned how to better lock down the security of the application, it hasn't happened since.

I think the important point to keep in mind when using an off-the-shelf solution is to take the time to read up on properly securing it. Most people don't do this and they are the ones that get nailed in the end.


 5:09 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

RE Security, there are pros and cons to a popular open-source package

- large user base makes an appealing target
- obvious code signatures make it targetable
- third-party modules often have lax code review

- fixes usually come out very quickly.
- the large user base means a gigantic testing base, meaning that a higer percentage of security holes actually get found than would be the case with a script running just on your site. Think about Apache versus IIS or Linux versus Windows. Open source does not automatically make it less safe (or more).

misc observations

This is based mostly on my experience with drupal (though I have played with several others - xaraya, dragonfly, modx, joomla).

- the security holes lately tend to be related to xml-rpc (and thus AJAX features). A few years ago, it was all about SQL injection, and most CMS came up with coding standards to stop that, but now that AJAX is the new thing and a lot of developers don't know how to lock down their code, that tends to be source of problems.

- third-party modules are particularly a problem. The core package usually gets pretty good review, but anyone can turn out a module and make it available for download with no review at all. For every 10 security notices I get on the drupal security list, I would say only 1 actually pertains to core or a module I have installed. So Expression Engine touts that they have far fewer security notices than Drupal, but it's not really a fair comparison. The fair comparison would be to core and core modules, where the security problems are way lower.

- you can protect yourself from some of the annoyance problems (contact form spam and comment spam) simply by changing the code signature in the template.

One final thought - at least in theory, the time you save on coding from scratch could be spent on hardening the code. Submit your findings and fixes to the community, and now the whole package is safer from everyone and less of a target.


 5:16 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

The hack issue is fairly significant. I've never had a static site hacked, but I've had some Mambo sites defaced over the years. In one case, it was a server-side problem with the web host, so I can't blame the CMS completely.

The key thing is that you, or the client, will have to keep the CMS scripts up to date. You can't just hand over the site when you are done and forget about it, because if an exploit becomes known and the site isn't patched or updated, it will get hacked eventually.

That's not to say a CMS isn't a good idea, but rather that it's not quite the same as handing over a bunch of HTML pages.


 8:07 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

I spent the better part of three years researching content management systems when I decided to start offering that kind of functionality to my clients. After testing out hundreds, including everything from open source to commercial, I settled on Geeklog.

Geeklog has a bit of a learning curve, but it's powerful, scalable, and I can embed almost ANYTHING in it. As an application framework, it simply excels. With some minor configuration (and less than a hundred hours of personal investment), I've been able to build packages easy enough for my most computer-illiterate end users to update but powerful enough and secure enough to stand up to anything I've thrown at it so far.

I like it.

[edited by: tedster at 6:59 am (utc) on Feb. 8, 2008]


 9:51 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

In my experience i start from my own template cms which give meta tage, image upload,page add/removal not forgetting back up as i have done (brochure site) then just change your overall page image, i use photoshop, i can now have a 9 page brochure up and running in 5 minutes once the image is is completed use a text editor and let the customer play with the center as most i come accross now want to do.
Then just add products / gallery db from there.


 11:09 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

I built my own which is (and should be) a never finished CMS tool, pretty much each client has a bunch of new/never-heard requirements.
If you built you own then you may make it grow by catering to new needs.

On another note I think I am pretty much the only one (or have been?) for many years here mentioning SPAW
I was involved a few years ago in binding it with a fully performing img plugin (crop, rotate etc..)
Recently out of curiosity I looked at it again
The newer SPAW version is outstanding
Give it a try and use it in your own CMS

Tom did you try it?


 11:25 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

I did, but I just have never found that I like RTEs. I might have to look at it again. TinyMCE has gotten better, but still they're just so clunky it seems.

I'll check out the new SPAW. I have to do something for someone who is really computer illiterate and it might be nice for him.


 11:29 pm on Feb 7, 2008 (gmt 0)

I just went and had another look at SPAW. The demo actually turns out nice HTML - <p> instead of <br>, tags matched, closed and nested properly, lists come out correctly. It's pretty nice. I might have to change my mind.

It does take forever to load. Even on DSL it took about 10 seconds to render. I realize that once cached that speeds up.


 12:39 am on Feb 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

TinyMCE has gotten better, but still they're just so clunky it seems.

Have you tried 3.0 yet? FWIW, TinyMCE has become much better IMHO. Version 3.0 was just released last week and has changed quite a bit, for the better. I downloaded it during RC and did some testing and contribution. After a few minor issues and quick resolution during RC, I found I was using it on LIVE sites before stable release ... it was that much better ... gooder ... er, it was that much more betterer. Here nor there, the CMS you use should allow you to use your RTE of choice if you ask me!


 2:45 am on Feb 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

Most of these CMS solutions are riddled with awful Duplicate Content issues that need a lot of work to fix up before the site goes live.


 4:36 am on Feb 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

I agree, the last year the market seems to be shifting in this direction. Since my world is all about IIS, MSSQL and .net - everything I build for clients is from scratch and with that there is almost no request they have that I cannot answer.

I had not idea there were so many CMS platforms out there however, so it looks like I need to do some more learning.. its all about the skills :)


 5:17 am on Feb 8, 2008 (gmt 0)


I keep looking at CMS software like Drupal and Joomla, and can never quite get comfortable with them. I don't like the way they ignore portability between versions, the number of bugs, the lack of consistent support, and the contorted designs which leave even seasoned players scratching their heads sometimes. It seems more like the CMS is an end in themselves, as opposed to an important tool.

Most everything I need to do, can be done in Wordpress, and I consider Wordpress much more maintainable and stable than the other CMSs. Plus, I know I can get the job done. The All-In-One-SEO plugin makes the platform very search engine friendly, though content is always king.

[edited by: tedster at 6:56 am (utc) on Feb. 8, 2008]


 8:30 am on Feb 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

Drupal is a fine solution, but I keep noticing a continental divide here. I use - and with total satisfaction - TYPO3, which is very popular in Europe. It has a steep learning curve indeed but if you are willing to invest time you will gain a competitive advantage on the bleeding edge.

The flexibility is amazing, it is pretty robust and secure as long as you know what you are doing, the html validates easily (if not out of the box).

I sell it mostly to the public sector and customers are happy. They either run the site them self (after training) or give me a contract for administration and/or editorial tasks (constant source of income here).

The big advantage for the customer is, that they do not rely on you for running the site but can always and with ease switch to another provider (they never do in my case).

That being said, it is not the best solution for a sole developer. You need a capable graphic artist, a developer and a content manager.
I have tried Mambo, Yoomla and Word Press, but this is just a totally different class.

There is a lot of documentation available in english plus an english mailing list but most of the books (and most of the development it seems) is in german.

Nevertheless - give it a try


 12:33 pm on Feb 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

It does take (SPAW) forever to load. Even on DSL it took about 10 seconds to render. I realize that once cached that speeds up.

What's nice is that you may fully customize the edit bar and only select the tools that you user might use
without "breaking it" I always get rid of tables etc...
Doing so speed up the loading process.


 5:04 pm on Feb 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

>>All-In-One-SEO plugin

Also check out Headspace2 which does everything that the AIOSP does and more (which may or may not be a good thing depending on your needs, of course). Anyway, both are quite amazing plugins, but I currently prefer Headspace2.

coopster and henry0 - thanks for the tips. Maybe I'll give them another look.

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