Core of CMS

I have been trying to figure out how to best describe the awesomeness that is content management systems to an audience whose technological knowledge will range from using email/Word to a little more advanced.  By the way, I have less than an hour to do so.

Instead of bemoaning my fate I am looking at this as an opportunity. I get to think about the “elevator speech” for content management systems.

After much thought I identified the two most important aspects, content types and permission levels.  These two aspects of CMSs are counter intuitive to organizations and individuals used to traditional websites.

Content Types
Separate the content from the presentation and let the content creators create the content. Content can be a blog entry, an image, a page, an advertisement for an event, a description of a database, a video, a link to a helpful website, anything really. The type of content doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that the content is easy to put on the website for the content creator.

For example, I want my youth librarians to be able to add upcoming programs. The “youth program” content type will need to display the title of the program, a description, an image to draw the eye, the date, time, the age group the program is intended for, and how to sign up.
For the sake of uniformity, I want:

  • the title to be in the Arial font, grey, and to be defined as a header
  • the image to float to the right of the description and be sized to 75px by 75px
  • the description to also be in Arial, colored black, and the font to be sized to .9em, and be below the title
  • the date to be formatted to short hand (01/30/10) and be bold as will be the time
  • the age group to be in bold
  • the youth program to automatically be placed in the youth programs list (sorted by date), be put on a calendar of events, and move to a place of high contact as the program’s date comes closer

An example of  a content type,  input form on the left, output on the right.

To ask a non web designer to try to figure out the necessary HTML/CSS or follow lengthy step-by-step instructions to keep this uniform format is crazy and a complete waste of time on many levels.  To have a single person format and position all the content is also wasteful.  Any CMS designer will be able to make what I described happen fairly easily.

Permission Levels

The idea of permission levels takes some time to understand for those used to one or two people being the funnel to getting content on a website, but should never be overlooked or underestimated.  Permission levels allows assigning particular users differing abilities.

For example, a youth librarian may be assigned the permission level/role “youth” and be able to add content such as youth programs, blog entries to the Youth Services Blog, databases to the youth research area, images to youth photo gallery, and administer comments on the youth blog.  An anonymous user could be allowed to add certain types of content (pending approval or not), comment without permission, or anything else.   The admin roll would be able to do everything.  The best CMSs allow the creation of roles to suit any organization’s needs.

The ability to think in terms of permission levels is hugely important.  It also completely revolutionizes websites which are meant to have community generated content, be that community: library employees, patrons in a town, or interested parties all over the world.

How are you selling content management systems?  If you are not using a CMS, why not?

Mick Jacobsen – TTW Contributor