Thoughts on Content Management

2009-03-13

Recently, I’ve had a fairly major project on the back burner. I had been running my personal blog with WordPress, and I was thinking about other content managers out there that might be easier to use, or more  well-suited to running an entire website that has a few pages of static content, in addition to the news/journal/blog element.The project has been on the back burner for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which is that WordPress had been working just fine, so I didn’t really need to bother while I was dealing with schoolwork, interpersonal relationships and other, more pressing technology issues.

Unfortunately, the issue of a content management system is now within the top four or five most pressing technology issues. Recently, a vulnerability was discovered on my website, and promptly exploited, leaving me with nothing but a shell of what I once had, which was a fairly well-used WordPress site with nearly 200 posts that I’d accumulated in the past year.

The biggest question I have is whether or not I go back to WordPress, or use this opportunity to find some other way to manage content.

One of the things I had done during one of my previous spurts of research on the issue was to whip up a small website in Dreamweaver. The nice thing about having done this is that I already had a good framework for how I might effectively manage journal content on a site consisting of static HTML files. The essence of this system is that I have a journal folder, a folder for each year, and within those folders,a  folder for each month. It keeps the individual html files grouped together well enough that I can tell what each post is just by where it’s located, and  it should hypothetically make linking to other posts within my own system easier. Another great advantage for me, of using Dreamweaver, is that Dreamweaver will actually keep track of links within the system of a defined site, as well as usage of templates. It’s nice because I can udpate the template to, for example, change the background color of my site to green, or change the masthead, and the entire site will follow.

There are a few disadvantages to such a system, however. The biggest one is, of course, that Dreamweaver needs to exist on any computer where I want to edit the site. Another problem is introduced very very quickly when I declare that I need or want to use more than one computer to edit the site, for whatever reason. To put it simply, files fall out of synchronization very very quickly. Another big issue is, of course, the fact that nothing gets done for you automatically, ever. Each picture I will want to use on my static HTML site, I must resize individually for each place I want to use it, and I must then put it into place. The biggest concern however, is the fact that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for more than one person to add content to the site, or posts to the blog or journal. This is a big issue because Glenn and I have been talking about joining forces in what we suspect we’ll refer to as “Epic Version 2” of the StenoWeb.net blog.

A few of the problems with an all-manual set of static HTML files are either acceptable, or easy to fix. Manual resizing of images is not too big of a deal because I was manually resizing everything for my WordPress install anyway, as an example. Another good example is the concern of versioning across more than one computer. It sounds silly, but my solution to that really is just not to use more than one computer to edit the site. The biggest hurdle is then that I would prefer something that Glenn can also edit. Ultimately, if we end up doing a joint blog, this will be what forces me to go with some kind of server-based automated content management application.
The question then is what type of content management application is the most appropriate.

The most natural type for a weblog is, well, a blogging application such as WordPress. The overall arrangement of a blog is pretty effective if you have just one type of content: time-sensitive content, or content that basically needs to be presented in a linear fashion. Wordpress has a function for managing static pages, but I don’t think it was ever intended to be used as a management system for a larger collection of pages that can or need to be browsed in a nonlinear fashion.

The best type of content manager for a large group of pages meant to be searched or browsed in a nonlinear fashion is probably a piece of wiki software. It gives you a common framework for an entire site, and then gives you pretty much absolute freedom over what content you have on the site, and where it is. The only real constructs are a permanent main page, and links, which are how you instantiate new pages. The wiki software is really good if you have more than one person who needs to edit a large collection of pages that are meant to be viewed in a nonlinear fashion. A really well-known example of this is Wikipedia, but it also works well for knowledgebases of technical information, and other collections of information that don’t need to be presented automatically in chronological order.

Ultimately, I suspect that I will go back to using Wordpress, or I will re-structure my wiki to accommodate a blog, and figure out permissions such that only I’m able to edit the main pages in the blog section. We shall find out.