At the New Media Lab, we’re currently working on developing a better way of supporting students in the way that they present their work online. Naturally, for many students working on projects where the site itself isn’t the innovation, I strongly endorse content management systems (CMSs). The freedom to focus on the content or the digital innovation rather than the display mechanism I think is an important part of the package the lab offers, but still- I can’t help but wonder if the homogeneous CMS environment that is emerging might be inhibiting digital innovation on campus.
We’re looking to implement a Wordpress multi-user installation in the lab, which would allow students to build their digital project’s websites without worrying about things like security updates. It would also make it easier for the lab to maintain the WordPress version across multiple WordPress installations. This would be a major win for security, but would it be a negative for us to create or endorse another WordPress multi-user installation rather than encouraging experimentation with other CMS?
Does the Graduate Center need another WordPress installation? The CUNY Commons is available for faculty and staff; Open CUNY is available for students. Would a third or fourth such option make it seem too much like we’re outright endorsing a single way of doing things?
Firstly, I’m aware of my biases. I have done an extensive amount of development work in WordPress. I’ve developed plugins and themes within the sites I have built. Although I always present a whole host of options, it seems WordPress is the preference. Is it the ease of use? The fact that I myself am situated in the lab and happen to be very experienced at WordPress development? Or is it the fact that WordPress has caught on at CUNY (due to the projects I’ve mentioned above, but by no means limited to the Graduate Center- lest I forget to mention Blogs@Baruch).
I suspect it’s a combination of all of the factors above, and although I will continue to support students in whatever system(s) they choose to work with, I want to make sure I give equal time to other systems which may be ideal for students who are looking for something a little bit different…
The Big Names
Joomla. Drupal. They both power a significant portion of the web, and both offer a wide range of options (in addition to solid developer communities) for building page based sites and even blogs. I know the reputation is that they are more complex than WordPress, and although I think it is somewhat deserved, I don’t feel that they are so complex as to be beyond a novice site builder. In fact, I think for many sites that are not blog-oriented Drupal may be a better option.
And Into the “Underground”
FlatPress I learned about recently, and it is a compelling alternative to WordPress. It doesn’t require use of a database, which makes it significantly more portable. For developers who want to use a more inexpensive hosting service without mySQL databases, or for site owners who expect to have to move their site frequently, Flatpress’s use of text files makes it as customizable as some of the other names here, but infinitely more portable.
Zotonic is a new name on the CMS scene and it claims to be 10x faster than other PHP based systems. Alike the other CMS’s, it’s customizable, but the code base is designed to weather the “Slashdot effect.” Considering every site owner hopes their content goes viral, Zotonic might catch on among developers who cater to sites such as Slashdot, Digg and Reddit.
A deep breath
I enthusiastically support the WordPress use in the lab and at the GC, and think it is a good thing that students, faculty, staff, and all of CUNY have more options than ever for getting their scholarship and work out there. But that doesn’t mean that we should forget that there’s never only one way to go about these things. There’s a great deal of options worth exploring, and at the New Media Lab we hope to continue supporting students as they adventure digitally and boldly into new projects- whether it be WordPress or any other system of their choosing.