Resourceful CMS Selection

In EContent's 2005 year-end roundup of the Content Management System marketplace, I (amazingly) found 1,879 distinct CMS products listed in 20 directories around the world. I have received dozens of requests for my spreadsheet listing all the CMS tools and a second spreadsheet of their most common features, which is being developed as part of the CMSML project (a markup language to help describe and evaluate CMS capabilities).

Over the year, readers sent additional directories, so the total is now 23 ( The number of unique CM systems listed now tops 2,000, but I won't cross-compare the lists again this year. Instead I want to point you to many broader resources that will help you in the very difficult task of selecting the right CMS for your organization from the plethora of offerings.

My favorite place to start looking is books, but that's because I am 70 years old and books were where you found knowledge when I was young. Today books are great for understanding what a CMS does, but they can't keep up with the frantic pace of tools being developed in "internet time."

My son Derek heads straight to the web for information. If you Google "Which CMS?" or "Choose CMS" or "Select CMS," the top few hits are actually very helpful. The results send you to sites like: CMS Watch (where EContent Contributing Editor Tony Byrne has chosen 40 top CMS); CMS Matrix (a tool for comparing hundreds of CMS); OpenSourceCMS (a hosting service that offers trial versions of many free CMS); the Wikipedia article on Content Management; and my own CMS Review site.

Besides CMS Directories, I list articles, blogs, books (of course), calendars, conferences, consultants, glossaries, jobs, magazines, mailing lists, newsletters, reports, seminars, and websites. Some sites are deep background resources and their most valuable information can be found in published analyses, like Tony Byrne's CMS Report, which is available for $1,000 or more. Other sites are membership organizations, with content locked behind passwords and annual fees.

However, a great deal of current information can be found in open blogs and in various community mailing lists, some of them free. Note that it is easy to get lost in current blogger jargon and the latest buzzwords, so you might need to turn to a glossary of CMS terminology to sort out what they are talking about ( CMS News ( aggregates the latest blog posts from over 50 top bloggers and includes a feed from the CMS Glossary to help you translate the news into plain English.

When making a CMS selection, it is a good idea to have someone on your team join the major free mailing lists and tune in to them. And one person should join the professional organizations with private mailing lists, like CM Professionals and the Information Architecture Institute. Mailing lists are the least expensive way to get direct answers to your questions. Some lists are friendlier to newbies than others, so if you don't get a fast reply, try another list.

Those seeking a first CMS have a lot of learning to do. If you are migrating to a more powerful system, your selection job will be easier because you can make a careful list of all those things that you will continue to need and make sure they are all available in your next generation CMS. Implementation will be harder though, because now you face the daunting task of content migration: salvaging all that remains of value in your current system and moving it into your new content repository.

No matter how much use you make of the resources out there, you still face the difficult task of preparing a long list of candidates, then narrowing it down to the short list of two or three. How is the final selection of a CMS usually made? You shouldn't be surprised to learn that the most common criterion for a CMS getting on the short list, and sometimes even being selected, is the friend-of-a-friend recommendation. The best of these are from someone in your own industry using a tool that you know will fit your needs perfectly. The worst are the CIO with a golfing buddy who has invested in one of these 2,000 CMS, or the CEO herself who went to school with someone now marketing a CMS.

If you really truly have a good personal friend working on a CMS, this may not be all bad; you'd probably get great tech support. Ultimately, when you select any product or service, you are really choosing the people that stand behind their work.