Software Review: Joomla – Free, Open Source Content Management System (CMS)

You probably know this already, but keeping your website up to date, edited and organized can be a challenge for even the well-funded startup venture.

438223_businessmanThere’s just so much going on that it can be hard for an entrepreneur to make the time to get this crucial task completed on a regular basis. Sometimes it gets delegated to an outside company or a junior staffer, but that can result in a less than satisfactory website.

The founding entrepreneur needs to be hands-on with the company’s digital communications, even if the details are delegated, to ensure that the message is delivered. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the time, skill or inclination to play web master, editing HTML on their website, nor should they. But hiring the outside design firm to make every minor change is expensive and wasteful. There has to be a better way.

Enter the “Content Management System” or CMS.

What is a CMS and Why Would My Company Need One?

A CMS is a web-based system for making updates and edits to a website using a built-in visual editor in the web browser, rather than hand-coding anything. For the last 5 years, these systems have been overtaking static website designs as the tool of choice for keeping sites lively, dynamic, engaged and engaging.

A CMS is intended to make editing a website, from any web browser, easy and quick. Formatting, style, the location of links and documents, and site navigation are all handled by the CMS, so that the content writer and editor doesn’t have to think about these things while editing.

Content and presentation are basically separated. You just worry about the content and the CMS worries about the presentation.

Most modern web content is published using a CMS. MySpace and Facebook, for example, are elaborate social content management systems, allowing individuals to edit and publish their own web page, while linking to other people’s pages and adding content.

For companies, a CMS does the same thing, but it allows the company to have full control over the website, while making editing and publishing extremely easy for anyone who can type. Suddenly, there’s no excuse for not keeping your website up to date.

Our CMS of Choice: Joomla

Our CMS of choice is called Joomla. (www.Joomla.org) We have been using it for a couple of years to build company websites.
joomlalogoJoomla is free, open-source software. It is supported by a large community of users (one of the largest in the world for a CMS). Most of the setup and all of the editing of content is done from a web browser. It runs on most web hosts you are likely to use, including both the cheap ones and the expensive ones.

And did I mention that it’s free?  You can just download it and install it on your website, usually in a few minutes. Many web hosts actually include Joomla as an option for automatic installation from their list of available scripts. (GoDaddy.com, HostGator.com, BlueHost.com, 1and1.com, etc.)

Some advantages of Joomla:

  • It is able to use both free and commercial add-on components and modules to do almost anything you might want to do with your website, very inexpensively. Want to post video, set up a support forum, or manage feedback and surveys? No problem. Joomla does all of that easily.
  • There are many inexpensive design templates available for Joomla that, with a little customization, can produce a nice-looking site quickly. These templates include a nice looking page layout, typography, icons, navigation menus, and often include nice Web 2.0-style interactive slideshows to engage your visitors. You have to supply the content and graphics specific to your site, and there’s usually some customization, but it takes 90% of the work out of launching a nice looking site.
  • It runs on a programming language called PHP against a database called MySQL. Both of these are well established, run most of the sites on ther Internet and are free.
  • PHP and MySQL are included with 99% of the web hosting plans you can buy.

Some limitations of Joomla:

  • It does require some getting used to, even if you’re just editing articles. You have to figure out the interface and the conventions regarding categories and sections. Not everthing in the Joomla editing interface is intuitive. It takes a few hours of use for every activity to become easy.
  • Setting up a Joomla site takes some work just to get all of the content, menus and modules in place. For most non-technical users, setting up Joomla is something you may want your IT person or a Joomla consultant to do initially. However, once set up, you will reap enormous benefits from being able to quickly edit and post content, organize menus and modules without any coding, and otherwise do 90% of what you need to do on your website without any outside technical help or overhead.

Summary: Joomla Rocks

If you’re only publishing a few pages to your website and only changing them a few times a year, a CMS and Joomla might be overkill. Hire a web design firm, send them the content and be done.

However, if you’re planning on adding content regularly, making updates and tweaks, adding new product and service outlines, managing sales leads and interactions, and want your site to keep up with new tools and promtional opportunities, you can’t beat Joomla. Especially with the lastest release, 1.5, Joomla is a relatively mature, easy-to-use system that makes building and maintaing a deep, rich website a snap for non-technical users.

Joomla Resources We Like:

Joomla Extensions Directory – This is the directory of add-on extensions for Joomla that is provided by the Joomla no-profit organization. Most of these are third-party extensions and many of them have a price. But they’re often very cost effective for what they do.

RocketTheme – This company provides Joomla website designs. Only a few are right for the typical corporate site, but their designs are stunning and their interactive add-in tools are great. And they provide a complete and ready-to-install package for each design that includes not only the design template, but also a full, configured installation of Joomla. This saves hours of work when you want to use a lot of the template features.

JoomlaShack – This is also a design template company. Their designs are fewer in number and they’re more sedate, but they are nice, sophisticated, and good for Web 2.0 business websites.

Some Alternatives to Joomla

Before settling on Joomla, we also tried out a couple of commercial products, including ExpressionEngine. We came back to Joomla. It was easier, faster, required less customization and coding, and had a huge support community and a wealth of downloadable components. The size of the user base makes a big difference for this kind of product.

We’ve also tried Drupal and WordPress, both free, open source content management systems.

Drupal is a great system, and probably more sophisticated than Joomla in many ways, but we like the look and feel of Joomla. Undoubtedly, we will try Drupal again in the future. It is widely considered the “Geek’s CMS.” It has a cleaner, simpler feel than Joomla, but requires more work to get it customized, in my experience.

Some people promote WordPress as a CMS. WordPress was designed and is primarily used as a blogging software – meaning it does great work with a sequential seris of posts. For the heirarchical structure of a website, it doesn’t work as well. It takes a lot of customization to make it walk and talk like a classic CMS, rather than a blog. For very small websites, however, it is probably a great alternative. It may develop into a full-scale CMS, given the direction many developers and template designers are taking it.

In any case, we continue to use WordPress to publish this blog. It is definitely the best blogging software. More on WordPress in another post.

Finally, here are the results 0f a recent contest between the major open source CMS’. This lists also includes Plone, e107 and XOOPS as viable alternatives.

Need help with your business? Contact JumpPhase.com

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This blog is dedicated to providing advice, tools and encouragement from one entrepreneur to another. I want to keep this practical and accessible for the new entrepreneur while also providing enough sophistication and depth to prove useful to the successful serial entrepreneur. My target rests somewhere between the garage and the board room, where the work gets done and the hockey stick emerges.

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