Monday, October 17, 2005

Application Exploration

Along with blogs, there is a lot of excitement surrounding Content Management Systems (CMS) - basically a suite of features that allow sharing of thoughts and ideas, as well as team collaboration. I have spent some free time lately exploring what is out there in hosted sites (similar to this Blogger.com site) and tried out various wikis, discussion forums and CMS platforms.

As my interest level intensified, I made attempts (usually unsuccessful attempts) to download free open source CMS programs to my own web server. Given that I am completely "self taught" (with not a very knowledgeable teacher), I did a whole lot of trial and error (lots of error). As I don't know anything about programming terminology and just a little about reading / writing html, it was quite an effort. While most of the sites offer download "help" and forums (with quite active participation), I really don't know enough to know what I don't know or how to begin asking what I needed to know (that's a mouthful).

While I was successful in installing a few applications, I found out in the discussion areas that there is this slick little utility called Fantastico (part of the cPanel) that makes installing the supported programs a snap. Unfortunately, my current host (Yahoo!) does not utilize cPanel, so I went off to find a new host that does offer it. This turned out to be a good idea anyway, because there are a lot of good hosting options out there with a ton of available space and functionality for not much money at all. It seems the going rate is about $7.95 / month for mammoth amounts of space and I was paying about $20.00 / month down from about $35.00 / month earlier in the year . . . but I digress . . .

So, long story short, I found a new host (BlueHost.com) that supports Fantastico as part of cPanel and I spent the better part of the weekend trying out all sorts of blogs, wikis, discussion boards, and CMS platforms. After all that testing, I think I found one with a great mix of options, functionality, ease of use, ability for plugins, etc. called Drupal. I have found other review sites that rave about it, too. I have no experience with commercial CMS platforms, but here are some of my observations about Drupal as compared with the other free open source options:
  • Functionality: A ton. I don't even know where to begin . . . I guess the most interesting aspects are the administration options, blogs for each registered user to your site, discussion forums, wiki like "books", RSS aggregator, RSS feed of your site and the list goes on . . .
  • Ease of Use: While there is a learning curve with every new piece of technology, this one is VERY intuitive. They didn't come up with their own language for things, but named the modules what a "normal" person (non developer) would. So far, I have been able to figure out about 95% of what I tried to do - not bad at all!
  • Aesthetics: This is where I was really sold. It is very simple with lots of white space and no annoying logo of the developer. In fact, I chose a template that doesn't have any reference to Drupal. Also, you can organize and move the content around in blocks as you desire.

While I am mainly just playing with the application at this point, I could see many uses in a business or educational setting. As I keep playing with it, I'll keep this blog up to date with my observations and thoughts for this tool in an educational setting.

p.s. This turned out to be a WAY longer narrative than I expected. Thanks to anyone who hung on to the end!

2 comments:

J Tzanis said...
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J Tzanis said...

This is great! I have some suggestions for you about programs to install if you'd like, and I'll be happy to assist with some of the tech issues - where I can!

I like Drupal a lot...and you're right, it is very easy to install. I also like WordPress and (it's starting to get more CMS features), and I'm really installing Mambo a lot for clients lately, but it's a bit trickier.

If you want to try out some software I have on my system to see if you'd like to try installing it, let me know and I'll set up an account for you.