The Fallacy of “The Best CMS”

By Deane Barker • Posted on January 03, 2010

I’ve been a judge of the Packt Open Source Content Management Awards ever since they started the program. Packt has been wonderful about it, and I’ve really enjoyed doing it. It’s given me the opportunity to look at a lot of systems I wouldn’t otherwise find the time to play with, and I’ve discovered some real gems over the years (CMS Made Simple, ModX, Silverstripe, etc.)

But, 2009 was my last year. If they ask me in 2010, I will decline. Packt has been great, but I’m starting to have a problem with the entire thing. Not their awards in particular, but with this whole concept of “the best CMS.”

I get asked quite frequently what the “best” CMS is. Over the years, my answer has devolved into “the best for what?”

Here’s my issue: without concrete evaluation criteria, it’s not possible to say any particular CMS is “the best” anymore.

All content management systems have sweet spots – those requirements for which they were designed. You need a blog? WordPress is arguably the best. You need a LAMP system with a strong hierarchical content model and extreme extensibility? eZ publish will do well. You need a platform on which to manage some content but really just serve as a framework for your own app development? Consider Drupal.

In all those cases, I was matching a CMS with some requirements. This is the only way you can ever approach a question like “what is the best CMS?”

Without some requirements, that question is like asking, “is that man standing to the right?” Well...to the right of what? Something is only “right” if something else is “left.” Without “left,” “right” doesn’t mean anything. Similarly, without some standard criteria or hypothetical situation on which to judge something, any concept of “the best” is pointless.

Tony Byrne, over at CMS Watch, has echoed the same thing:

There is no “best” web content management system. [...] The best CMS for you is the one that best matches your needs – your budget, scope, and type of project – in short, the one that fits best for your web publishing and interaction scenarios.

CMS Watch does it right – when they evaluate a CMS, they have 12 different scenarios to consider, and they evaluate how will the CMS would do for all 12. Scenarios like:

Even just with simple labels like this, you’re in a much better position to choose what CMS fits. A CMS that does well with a “corporate brochure” may fail spectacularly for an “enterprise intranet.”

WordPress won the Packt Awards this year for “Best Overall CMS” – the category I was judging in. There was some grumbling about this – I was not thrilled with the results. (In searching for that post, I found this one from two years ago when WordPress won “Best Social Networking CMS,” and I was struggling with that too.)

My chief problem with it was that I didn’t think WordPress was a full-blown CMS. But, let’s think about that statement for a second – my feelings about whether or not WordPress can be called a “CMS” like Drupal is called a “CMS” is entirely dependent on what you’re asking it to do. If you want a straight-up blog, then WordPress is as much a CMS (more, even) than anything out there. If you need a product catalog...not so much.

So, this is my position – just asking for ‘the best” CMS is a fallacy. If you’re asking for a vague concept of “the best,” you need to have some set of criteria or scenario in mind to anchor your choice. Without that, no answer really means anything.

This is item #146 in a sequence of 356 items.

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