Breaking Development: I can smell your CMS

by October 22, 2013

In his presentation at Breaking Development in Nashville TN, Phil Hawksworth outlined the problems in many content management systems (CMS) and their impact on Web sites. Here's my notes from his talk I can smell your CMS.

  • Clients want to avoid being locked-in to technologies, agencies, and structures they can't control. They try to do so through their CMS.
  • Why do people use a CMS? to reduce the cost of change, empower content authors, and make ongoing maintenance easier.
  • The cost of building complex, powerful systems for content management often does not offset the cost of getting things done but people invest in big CMSs anyway.
  • Who in the organization wants the CMS? CEO, CMO, CTO. But these aren't the people actually making the changes and using the system on a daily basis.
  • When process workflow and permissions break-down in an CMS, people try to subvert the system to get things done. This defeats the whole point of the CMS in the first place.

CMS Issues

  • Platforms that enforce specific URLs on you force lock-in. If you change technologies, you have to change URLs.
  • Some platforms also lock you into bad URL structures that aren't human readable and overly complex.
  • Other systems introduce excessive mark-up to provide hooks into the UI of a site.
  • The classic make-up of a module in a CMS platform consists of HTML, CSS, Javascript encapsulated into a single unit. Excessive modules can really slow pages down and make maintenance a nightmare.
  • WYSIWYG is dangerous -it makes it difficult to protect the design and mark-up of a site.

Potential Solutions

  • Markdown is a simplified way to annotate content. It enforces constraints that simplify what can be done in documents.
  • To simplify CMS requirements: ask what needs to be dynamic, what REALLY needs to be dynamic. Simplification goes a long way.
  • Consider using no CMS, in many cases it can be more flexible to just enable people to use HTML. It's learnable.
  • Challenge CMS stink to protect the craft of the Web.