Finding a CMS That Fits

As we build our websites on our own bespoke Content Management System, I am frequently asked to differentiate between open and closed source CMSs, as well as what the benefits of closed source are. Here’s my take on the fundamental differences and perks of each option.

A CMS does not necessarily make a site, but it can add a polished, reliable structure to work on. Choosing the application that will manage the entirety of your site’s content should not be done without a clearer idea of what’s available. The choice at the moment, outside of specific brands, is to go open or closed source.

Open sourced CMSs are typically free to use and are backed by a large community, but their use requires hands-on, knowledgeable management. While a closed source CMS requires similar technical proficiency on the front-end, it is built to purpose and comes with development support, but for a cost. I like to think of it as a tailored suit against a supermarket standard. For those who need it, you can get personalised adjustments and advice - more than just the product.

Plugins and Updates

There are a huge amount of extensions, add-ons and plugins for popular open source platforms, along with many tutorials and discussions. Compatibility can be an issue though, as some 3rd party plugins don’t always get along with each other. When a CMS is constructed to meet your unique needs by a specialist, who will be happy to make alterations in the future, there is no need to worry about the back end of this process, just the end result.

As the plugins of an open source CMS are updated independently to the application itself, the control over updates and resulting stability is reliant on different sources. While regular updates are necessary and can be beneficial, each new version will demand another site check to ensure there are no compatibility issues or broken plugins. With a closed source solution, these updates can be custom built and executed by a professional team. This takes away the immediate attention that is usually required to ensure your site is running properly, no security risks have been created and each plugin is still working.

Security and Convenience

There is a heightened potential for security risks associated with open source options as, even though they do guard against it where possible, their code is well known to anybody who wishes to exploit it. A closed source CMS can lower if not eliminate the risks of hacking as the CMS specific code is not publicly available. There will also usually be a backup of any valuable data stored on the dedicated server used by the CMS or site provider – an open source option may not offer this.

Convenience and costs are valid concerns, and open sourced CMS solutions immediately appear to dominate this area. While popular options such as WordPress & Joomla can be used free of charge and do suit the purpose of managing a website’s content, they aren’t always as convenient as they seem. Updates to different plugins can pile up and cause compatibility issues - without a quick response this can result in a range of issues.

Implementation and Support

The decision of which CMS to go for is far from a luxury one and the needs of your business and team should be considered thoroughly. By going for an open source option, you are able to get running quickly for no cost, but will need to put significant time into the research, incorporation and ongoing maintenance of plugins and stability. Opting for closed source will lead to an ongoing partnership with a committed, driven team. It may not be cheap, but you get more than just a functioning content management system.

Utilising a closed source CMS also means that the support of the team who built the application should come as a given, but it is worth checking you will receive this. This requires some thought, as you will want an experienced partner who is going to be around for a while, but this additional support can be priceless. Comprehensive training and more information around the flexibility and usability of the CMS can also ensure the adoption of a new platform doesn’t hamper site management.

It comes down to your in-house capabilities and budget. Whether you want to take it on yourself or have an expert team help out. Essentially, it is in the interest of the closed source CMS developers to provide an optimum experience and see their sites do well – open source communities have many more parts. A tailor wants to see his suits worn well, but a supermarket don’t hold much interest when the customer is out of the store.

Both options have their upsides. Both options do the fundamentals. The difference comes in the additional value that can be taken from having a CMS built to suit your needs, acquiring a new technology partner and dedicated ongoing support.

Flickr Creative Commons Image: Beatrice Murch