Making Nobody Happy: Web CMS

February 16, 2009

Posted in Higher Ed.

Web content management systems can be many things… free to super-expensive, lightweight to ultra-complex, clunky to flashy. Today, I want to focus on one particular range: self-explanatory to 850-page manual.

The Infinitely Extensible

Photo by

This kind of CMS is super-customizable, doing anything you could possibly want. Need custom fields? A special function? Update permissions limited to a specific paragraph on a specific page? No problem! But there is a problem: the more flexible the system, the more complex it can become.

Designing usable software is very difficult, even for experienced software designers. So imagine how hard it is to make software that lets novice users create usable software for themselves and others. This kind of CMS can quickly grow out of control, making it nearly impossible for new users to get involved.

In my experience, this is what you end up with when the CMS is chosen by committee that tries to meet everyone’s requirements.

The Lockdown

Photo by

Some systems are really easy to use. There aren’t a lot of options, and it’s incredibly easy to get in and do certain tasks.

But like a Fisher-Price toolset, sometimes this CMS is ineffective. It’s frustrating to have changes you want to make and not be able to make them. That’s not to say this is always a bad thing, but it can be hard to understand why there are limitations.

A Balancing Act

No CMS is a perfect fit for everyone. It depends on your level of support, the needs of your clients, the complexity of the site(s), and the expertise of the users who have to put up with it on a daily basis. That said, there’s got to be compromise. You’re going to disappoint people at one end of a spectrum or another. The most important step, in my opinion, is to identify your communications goals first and pick a CMS that best lets you achieve those.