The Most Basic Questions Asked of a CMS

By Deane Barker

The more you work with content management, the more you get introduced to its patterns. In Web content management, Blend has worked with dozens. Just now, in fact, I’m getting re-introduced to Joomla as I’m trying to re-work my church Web site.

In every content management system I learn, I find some simple questions always need answering. There are some really basic concepts that I find myself asking with all of them, and they vary considerably in how easily they answer to answer.

As a start, here are the most basic questions – the questions that you need to know when you’re just playing around with a system, trying to get your feet wet.

  • How do I define my content? How do I model it – configure the system to structure my content how I want it structured?

  • How do I add and edit content?

  • How do I map content to a template? How do I tell the system, use template X when rendering content X or content of type X?

  • How do I customize content rendering? How do I make a piece of content generate markup I specify?

  • How do I make content appear in navigation somewhere on the site?

  • How do I organize the content? How can I group it in relation to other content, and what can I do with these groupings?

If someone can answer the questions above, they’re very likely to have some sense of accomplishment. They’re likely to feel like the system has allowed them to do something substantial out-of-the-box. This is a good feeling.

These are the questions I’m running into while I’m playing around with Joomla. Some of these were very simple to answer. Some weren’t. (For the record, though, Joomla 1.5 is much better than I remember Joomla from years back.)

If you develop a content management system, consider these questions and ask yourself how easy they are to answer. Look at your system through fresh eyes and consider: if someone with no experience asks the above questions about your system, how easy are they to answer and accomplish?

The ease or difficulty of the answers will be very proportionate to how willing these users are to stick with the system and push through to the next level.

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