Silverfen Web Design

Content-management systems, or not?

Broadly there are two models for implementing web sites:
  1. Manual editing
    This approach goes back to the start of the web, and is what the design of the computing for web sites assumes will be normal. It means someone editing the HTML and CSS files manually.
  2. Using a content management system
    This newer approach makes a radical departure and uses a database to hold the content of the web site, with other software to interface between the user and the database. It means that very little knowledge is needed to alter things, but setting it up is rather more costly.

The Silverfen Editable web content facility provides something which holds the space between these two, allowing clients to make some changes to a site intended to be manually edited, but there remains a tricky question: which is better?

The strength of a content management system is that it allows lots of people to contribute things without needing to know much. The new URC Retreat Group web site will use the Joomla content management system so that all members of that group can log in and add things. All the content is stored in a database, and how it is actually presented on the web site depends on the configuration of the content management system.

One snag is that setting up a content management system is costly, and making changes can also be time consuming if they go outside what the system's design makes easy. The other snag is that it's hard for users to control the details of appearance. Facebook provides a good example of this: very many people have accounts there and happily add content, but users have very little control over the appearance. This is good in that it gives a sense of consistency, but would be a problem for anyone wanting the appearance to be tightly controlled.

Against this, manual editing is a quick solution for a designer who has learned about the technology. This typically saves many thousands of pounds in the implementation of a relatively modest web site. If is frustrating if every comma to be changed has to go back to the designer, but the judicious use of Editable web content allows clients to change those things that are likely to change frequently. The subtlety here is that there are parts of web sites which will change often, such as blogs and news pages, but other places, such as new content on home pages, which tend to need not just new words but new design work. Here not having a content management system actually simplifies the process.


The conclusion? Neither solution is right under all circumstances, so it does pay to think carefully about what a site actually needs. But there is a curious compromise: typically it makes sense to mock a site up with no content management system, as that process almost always produces changes in the perception of what is needed. This means that, if there is any doubt about the best course of action, it is often right to make a preliminary decision, do some experimenting in HTML and CSS, and to make a final decision about what is most appropriate.