Where the Wild CMSs Are!

It's really a jungle out there in the Content Management System space. For the past couple of years, I have attended the Gilbane Conference in Boston and reported on the number of CMSs listed in various online directories, like the Google directory, Business.com, the Yahoo! portal, etc. There are well over a thousand systems listed, perhaps even two thousand. I myself edited several hundred entries in the DMOZ Open Directory Project (which has more than 1,000 in its various subcategories) and in my CMS Review (with a few hundred).

This year, I have made my most comprehensive CMS study in order to provide an overview for the CM Professionals organization and our work on a markup language (CMSML) to help describe and evaluate CMSs. I identified more than 20 online CMS directories around the world; all told, they have more than 3,400 links to CMSs. I captured them all into a master file and did some regular expression work to eliminate duplicates. (Note that if the directories were perfect, they would all be duplicates.) Lots of hand/eye work was required to see that Flexcmp was not a typo for FlexCMS and immediaC was not the same as Immediacy. I'm sure I didn't remove all the duplicates, especially with so many companies being acquired and their products getting renamed. And many of those identified may have disappeared from the market in these turbulent times, which would cause my count to be high.

My total number may also be low, since I'm certain I didn't identify every CMS. In fact, vendors actually wrote to me saying they did not even want their CMS listed in Web directories. They only market their consulting and development services, then reveal their "consultingware" tools to their clients as part of their solutions. Another way I am seriously undercounting CMSs is the vast number of organizations that build their own systems, on CMS frameworks like Apache Cocoon or Zope or even from scratch using ASP.NET, ColdFusion, Perl, or PHP. I estimate that half the recent RFPs identify their current system as home-grown as they look to migrate to one that's more in compliance with emerging CMS standards like XML.

With all those disclaimers then, how many CMSs can we say lurk out there in the CMS jungle? My count, as of September 2005, is 1,879. If any of you would like to look at the raw data, drop me an email and I will send you the spreadsheet. You can see whether your favorite CMS is included. Or, if you are one of the thousands building a CMS, you can use the list to help pick a good commercial name. Happy to have the work go to practical use.

How, you may wonder, with so much to choose from, can anyone begin to make an intelligent analysis of their options when selecting a CMS? You might think you could go to any CMS directory and get a good starting list, but that would be a mistake. Google has several hundred CMSs. Yahoo! includes only about 200—and here's the catch: Only 89 of the Yahoo! CMSs are on the Google list or any other CMS list. Of Business.com's 84 CMSs, 41 are not on another list. Okay, these directories are far from comprehensive, but more importantly: Do they really know how to identify a CMS? Do you know?

To help you identify key CMS features, three of these online directories (CMS Matrix, CMS Review, and Hartman Communicatie) provide the ability to compare CMSs head-to-head based on features. My work included the creation of a spreadsheet to compare the CMS features in each directory. There was considerable agreement on perhaps half the features, e.g., workflow and versioning, but also a surprising number of differences. We are compiling a master list for the CMSML project—which will be a joint project between CM Pros, CMS Review, and Hartman in the Netherlands—and which I'm also happy to email out to readers. (You can find a full list of the CMS directories at www.cmsreview.com/resources/directories.html.)

If you are starting down the long and winding road to selecting a new CMS, it should strike fear in your heart to learn that you have so many options. There are several ways to reduce the number you need to consider: Make sure the vendor or developer is close enough to you to provide good support. If your support will be online, try to take part in the community support options to see if the discussions are open and helpful. Most importantly, however, you must realize that CMS selection is a jungle and that you may well need a seasoned guide who will bring you back alive.