What if your Blogger.com or WordPress.com blog isn’t enough? What if you want to create a more sophisticated information site or service, offering community features and a variety of bells and whistles not available in typical blog software?
You may have just crossed over into the CMS zone.
CMS stands for content-management system, a term that describes a variety of software and Web services that do what the name suggests: management of various kinds of content. There’s a CMS behind every major news site. (To be clear, WordPress and other blog platforms are content-management systems, too; I’ve separated them here because what follows ups the ante on flexibility, as well as complexity. But I’m increasingly impressed with how powerful WordPress has become even in this category.)
Content-management systems typically combine two major components. The first is a database: usually a free (open source) package called MySQL. That’s where everything you create—postings, comments, pictures, etc.—resides. The CMS itself is software that: a) helps you create the material that goes into the database; b) pulls data out of that database to create Web pages for display on computer screens, phones and other devices; and c) helps you manage your website.
As noted, hosted blogging software is a form of CMS, too: It just manages the content in a few specific ways, giving you less flexibility in return for greater ease of use (and ease of management for the company hosting the blogs).
Setting up your own CMS is not trivial. Unless you are technically adept, you should find a Web hosting company that will help you create your CMS, or find a partner who knows how, or even hire someone to do it for you, or both. Trust me on this.
You can choose among literally hundreds of CMS packages. Check the Mediactive website for a list of sites that can help you find and use a system that will fit your needs. Two systems of note are:
Drupal: Probably the best known open-source (free to download, use and modify), multi-purpose CMS. (Joomla!, another CMS of this genre, has a large and passionate following as well; in fact, it’s more popular than Drupal in some places.) Drupal is a highly modular system: you can plug in all kinds of add-ons to tweak and customize your site. It has a large community of users and developers, a big plus if you’re going to be making significant changes to the core features (you almost certainly will). But Drupal can also be an extremely frustrating system, partly due to that very flexibility. My own relationship with Drupal is very much in the love-hate category. You’ll find Drupal at http://drupal.org.
MediaWiki: We discussed Wikipedia in an earlier chapter. Did you know that the software used to run the site is freely available? It’s also getting more powerful all the time. The MediaWiki.org site , which hosts the software of the same name, is itself a Wiki, of course, and it offers downloads and thorough instructions on how to use it. Just because it’s a Wiki doesn’t mean you have to let anyone edit any page; you can allow only certain people to make changes.