In search of the perfect CMS

In search of the perfect CMS

Summary: One of my New Year's resolutions was to use Moodle for everything. It's very possible to build entire sites with a huge community interaction component without much coding.


One of my New Year's resolutions was to use Moodle for everything. It's very possible to build entire sites with a huge community interaction component without much coding. Forums, blogs, you name it. Moodle actually represents as much a content management system as it does a learning management system.

Which is great...I've already used it to set up a learning and teaching site I'm developing and am migrating another aging site of my own from straight HTML to Moodle so that I can do some community development and share content more easily. That being said, Moodle has a few areas where it struggles. One is polish. It's one thing to use it for a community of educators or for guiding constructionist learning activities. It's something else to use it as a forward-facing site for more general consumption, as a school might want to for clubs, organizations, community outreach, an online yearbook, or even for teacher-student interactions.

Because in addition to perhaps not being as pretty as the average school committee member might want, Moodle is also a bit heavy. It helps to understand the pedagogical underpinnings of its design and to remember that it was meant to be an incredibly robust learning tool. It just happens to have features that lend itself to interactive, Web 2.0 sites. For many teachers just setting foot into blended and e-learning activities, it's daunting. Sometimes, it's just important to share or quickly build out a website for an event, an initiative, or simply to give teachers a communication channel that doesn't involve Facebook (despite some encouraging trends, teacher-student interaction via mainstream social media remains a sore subject for many communities).

This is why we have content management systems. Such systems, most notably the big three of WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal, aren't just blogging platforms but can be used for creating rich, content- and user-driven sites, perfect for a classroom where all of the available activities in Moodle can obscure what many teachers want to do: Post homework assignments, share readings, and promote student interaction.

I've used WordPress and Joomla! extensively (both ZDNet and the WizIQ blog run on WordPress) and they're both easy to use and install. Without some work, though, they tend to feel fairly "bloggy". This isn't always a bad thing, but if you're looking for something that comes out of the box feeling like a website (that also happens to be pretty and support posting and sharing a variety of content), then WordPress and Joomla! can feel a bit limiting, taking too many steps away from the complexity of Moodle and towards an overly simplistic blog.

Drupal gets away from this and is probably the richest of the big three in terms of being able to roll out a relatively turnkey, interactive website, but lacks the sheer volume of pre-made themes and templates that are available for WordPress and Joomla! It also has a steeper learning curve which is basically transparent to end users but might be off-putting to the motivated teacher (or overworked system adminstrator) just trying to get together a website that her school can use easily.

As I've been looking at other content management systems for another project (one which, quite frankly, needs to appeal to investors more than a Moodle-driven site ever could), I've had time to think about the qualities that would make a particular CMS especially useful in a variety of school settings. Ease of use for end users is, of course, the #1 consideration. Ease of installation and hands-off, maintenance free operation for admins is #2. Aesthetics follows close behind. If this is something that school committee members or accreditation teams will be viewing, it needs to look slick and professional without anyone having to break out Dreamweaver.

Flexibility is #4. Admins and users should be able to become familiar with the CMS and then apply to a variety of projects and sites. Freedom (as in both beer and speech) is #4. There are too many good platforms that are free and open source to have to pay for anything in this setting.

At the moment, I'm leaning towards Concrete, but this may end up being too technical for mainstream use. I feel like Goldilocks - I need a CMS that's juuuust right!

So what do you use? Do you just use Google Sites and/or Google Docs? Blogger? WordPress? Your SIS? Another LMS? How are you promoting connections online between schools, teachers, students, and the community at large? What's your platform?

Topics: Enterprise Software, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    I use Konductor -
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    Given Joomla! doesn't have a native commenting solution, not sure how you feel it is "bloggy" without actually having to do something to it.
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    I have used so many CMS systems. It really boils down to features and look. All in some form or another are relatively easy to use. Joomla is by far the best. Hands down joomla has the most configuration options, extensions and support than any other CMS out there.

    For a blog style CMS I would have suggested wordpress with a template from someone like rockettheme. Maybe checkout MyBlog for joomla with JomSocial or JoomFish and Comunity Builder integration?

    Personally I'm a joomla guy and have been for at least 6 years now. Just to many features and free extensions that do what I want and easy to navigate. The most attractive is some template designers integrated support for styled extensions and module positions. You don't get that with many other CMS systems. I have shown hardcore html coders joomla and have had many tell me they'll never go back. Need something that normally requires some API coding? Just copy paste in custom HTML and whola! Load extensions to articles, embed content within content. All from simple command switches within an article. No coding. Need social media integration and Community features? Joomla has them.

    I have used systems from all of the following: Joomla, Mambo, Drupal, Magento, osCommerce, CRELoaded, Dolphin, Data Life Engine and a custom developed CMS from a private company I used to work for.

    Joomla & Virtuemart are a nice site/cart integration but sadly, virtuemart is not PCI compliant yet. If you need a simple cart (and what most Turn-Key cart sites you can buy) will come as either Magento, CRELoaded or osCommerce. Simple, no frills, straightforward pci complaint cart with bare support for paypal and only. Need anything else and be prepared to start forking out $175-$599 for extensions and payment gateway support.
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    Drupal, when done right can be pretty intuitive for all users. The Drupal community is also very willing to help you get where you need to go. As far as themes, there are 1380 linked off and extending a theme or creating your own has been much more intuitive for me than doing it in Joomla or Wordpress. All that said, if I were doing a blog site, I would definitely use Wordpress. Best tool for the job.
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    I've also worked with several CMS apps and found the best, by far, to be CMS Made Simple. Exceptionally powerful, flexible, reliable, easy to use for both developers and admins, well-supported and free - what more could you want!
  • Definition of terms

    You do know that to those of us who work in I.S. in the Healthcare industry, CMS stands for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and would never consider content management systems, much less something called Moodle.
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    We're in the same boat. We're currently using Concrete, and while feature rich, it's a pretty complex platform. Wordpress actually [i]is[/i] blog software that has been retrofitted into a decent CMS by the developer community. The extensive library of themes and modules has turned it into a popular platform for both beginner and intermediate users. I don't think there's a lot of work in turning Wordpress into an awesome CMS, you just have to install it with the understanding that being a CMS was not it's original intent.
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    You should look at DotNetNuke :-)
  • It all boils down to a community

    Go with the strong and active community an you will be fine. It also gives you a wide selection of developers to hire and prices will not be too high compared with some more fancy, but at the same time less known CMSs. The more active community the more free plugins you will get and they will cover more topics of application. Those are WP, Joomla and Drupal. I would vote for the WP, cause after trying many CMS I think it has the easiest way to extend it. And with some tweaks WP really doesn't feel "bloggy" :)
    Tomas M.
  • CMS implemented in Java...

    Hi folks,
    I am looking for a Java implementation of CMS. The one I am spending lot of time looking at now is Liferay. Does anyone have any comments on Liferay?
    • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

      @playdoh888@... Dana Blankenhorn at A-Clue, the former Open Source blogger at ZD, has done several posts about LifeRay over the years.
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    BTW can anyone say that this WP site looks "bloggy"? (Not counting the news section, because I wanted it too look the way it is)
    Tomas M.
    • Does this make my site look bloggy?

      @Tomas M. You asked:- "[i]BTW can anyone say that this WP site looks "bloggy"?[/i]"<br><br>Well TBH, yes I could actually - especially when I look at the bit at the bottom of every page, that reads "[b]Powered by WordPress[/b]". lol :D
      • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

        @mrgoose Very funny ;)
        Tomas M.
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    depends what you want they all have a place.
    Wordpress if you want a blog
    joomla if you want a little more, you're new to building sites and Joomla does what you want - but I pretty quickly found it's permission system limited which limits multi-role type sites where you need people to not just be either "users" or "admins" but rather you require user that are "bloggers", "event posters", "user managers", "moderators" etc.

    Drupal... this can do all of the above, and more, and more, and workflow... but its got a steep learning curve as an admin looking to do these things... it is time well spent though.
    • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

      @richard.e.morton@... Sounds like you were using version 1.5 or earlier. Versions have gone to 1.6, 1.7, and now 2.5. Joomla has had improved permissions for a while now.<br><br>-bc
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    In WordPress there is a plugin User Role Editor ( ) that takes care of user management.
    Tomas M.
  • RE: In search of the perfect CMS

    Concrete5 is my choice of cms. I think that while the dashboard can be somewhat confusing, the actual editing process is a lot easier than most other cms. Thats one of the reasons I use it- most site owners just want to change content around, not necessarily to manage all the settings. if they do need to access the dashboard pages, then it may be a bit more complicated. However the most recent version (5.5) provides a search widget to quickly find dashboard pages, making it much easier to use.
    A limitation is that there are a lot of paid add ons. However, they are guaranteed to work, which I often find to be a worthwhile tradeoff. I've also made a fair bit of cash selling these add ons, which can be very rewarding as passive income.
  • Dotnetnuke - very popular with Colleges, Schools and Universities

    You should have a look at Dotnetnuke which is now the largest Microsoft opensource project around. You'll be blogging about the 'Big 4' next! Check out their case studies on the University of New Orleans and Cornell University ( It more than ticks all your requirements. Plus there are thousands of additional modules and extensions available - including Moodle Single Sign On.
  • TikiWiki

    This will do everything you would want a CMS system to do, and is open source. I am building my site using it and they say it has everything but the kitchen sink, and I wouldn't be surprised if that gets added too.
    linux for me