I was at an interesting panel tonight, hosted by Boston area #NPTech
folks. Techies (in a couple of cases, techie-ish) folks represented several Content Management Systems talked about WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal and what was good/bad about them. It was a polite, respectful panel. And I thought the silliness of focusing on brand of open source platform was brought up by the first person (other than myself) to offer a question--someone who had this complex system put together years ago and kind of maintained by volunteers and it didn't quite work and....
Yeah, now THAT's an issue--not which brand of CMS, or which CMS community with which one should affiliate, but how to handle the damn thing once you get it built. Do you host it elsewhere so you don't have to maintain it, patch it yourself? (For most very small organizations, yes, you should figure ongoing operating expenses to cover active management of your website infrastructure.) What are your options? How do you tie donations into general CRM into your social media tools, from mass emailing to twitter, facebook, instagram, whatever, to that "content" stuff you "manage" with a CMS?
Those are real questions that, in my mind, people responsible for non-profit technology should be learning to ask. Once you understand why "having a CMS" means, in terms of maintainability, periodic changes and updates, the ongoing patching and maintenance, tying it all in to your communications environment and figuring out what might help your organization best, then you can ask better questions. One question that many organizations might want to start asking: In the age of tumblr and facebook, does my tiny organization need a website? What if we just tweet a lot and maintain a presence on tumblr and put lots of neat pictures out on Instagram?
It's too bad. The moderator, and one of the panelists, are both from AnnKissam, an organization of unusually talented and friendly people. I keep trying to see myself as obviously wrong in the face of such expertise, but I think this time my approach makes more sense.
I think we hold CMS panels because we know how to, and because they sound like they are useful. They are the equivalent of those long charts comparing features between complex products that most often lead you astray. Turns out that most of those charts convert nuts and berries to fruits so they fit the chart, and that useful reality is elsewhere.
While I am ranting, one more issue. At one point, one of the audience members righteously compared the virtues of open source tools like drupal and joomal and wordpress to the corporate over-priced offerings of IBM and Adobe. Oy. Never mind that IBM provides one of the best gardens of Drupal application notes out there and that Adobe doesn't offer a CMS. Never mind that the 100 pound gorilla in this discussion is Sharepoint, which is so majorly different conceptually from drupal and joomla and wordpress, and is offered to such different audiences, that a comparison between, say, drupal and sharepoint lacks meaning (which isn't to say that religious zealots on all sides ascribe meaning to such a comparison). Nevermind.
The real competitors to Drupal and Joomla and WordPress are scrappy commercial companies like ExpressionEngine--companies trying to do the same thing--make it easy to get specific types of content onto the web in an easily manageable, maintainable fashion, while also formalizing a support relationship so that the tools (and the contents) =are= maintained.
Sometimes, we tell ourselves stories to make ourselves feel good, and justify what we were going to do anyway, and forget that there were important questions that we meant to answer.