Museum Web Design logo, composed of the letters M and W stylized to look like a classical museum facade.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Edit More than Pages with a Content Management System


A Content Management System (CMS) makes updating your website content easy. Want to add a page? Just log into the CMS, click "new page," type some text, and click submit. Need to edit an existing page? Click "edit page," edit the text or add a photo, and save your changes.

The number one way to make your museum website popular is to add interesting content, and add it often. A CMS makes this easy.

While we usually think of a CMS as a way to edit web pages, websites are no longer just pages of text and graphics. Modern websites serve up audio, video, and interactive content. Others provide classifieds, forums, or online stores with hundreds of products. All of this content can be edited and organized by a CMS.

Museums typically exhibit some items and care for many more items in storage. CMSs can be tailored to present all of a museum's collections online and categorize items by type. Even better, CMSs can integrate directly with a museum's internal collections database so a museum's entire collection can be viewed online by the public (or researchers with other institutions).

And the potential for CMSs to mange content don't end there. Many museums manage member accounts and donations via CMSs. Others use a CMS to publicize upcoming events and sell tickets online.

What does it take to get a CMS integrated with your website? Depending on your needs, it can be a complex process or a surprisingly simple one. CMSs range from free open-source solutions like Drupal and Joomla, to expensive, proprietary offerings from Microsoft and other vendors. Some CMSs include free hosting but these are usually less customizable and extensible or are intended to serve a specialized area such as blogging (for example, Wordpress.com or Blogger, the platform on which this blog is running).

Most museums will find these solutions are best deployed by a knowledgeable web developer. While using a CMS to manage website content is easy, initial setup and configuration usually requires knowledge and know-how of web server technologies. And customizing a CMS (either in terms of function or design) often requires web development skills including web programming abilities. Hosted CMSs are relatively easy for individuals to set up but are also best suited to individuals because they lack the breadth of features required by institutions like museums.

So if your museum website is not running on a CMS platform and you're tired of editing html pages to update your site (or paying someone else to do it), consider investing in a CMS. If you already run a CMS, consider whether there is other content you could provide your audience by updating your current CMS or deploying a new CMS.

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