What is a CMS? It stands for content management system, which offers a flexible, back-end interface for users to edit, modify, and publish content on a website.

How a CMS Works

Websites are built with databases. Think of them as huge, complicated Excel sheets.  However, instead of logging into the servers and trying to make changes one field at a time, groups and individuals have created content management systems to help users communicate easily and efficiently with the database using a secure and easy-to-use interface. Most CMS’s are managed by companies or communities and updated as the web evolves.

This is an introduction to the types of CMS’s and examples of what each platform can offer — from blogging to eCommerce and everything in between.

Open-Source

These CMS’s are free for all to use, and the public is welcome to contribute to improving the development and functionality of the platform.

Private

  • Squarespace: With their recent upgrade to version 6, they offer “everything you need to create an exceptional website.”  With beautiful templates, great customer support, unique CMS, and social integration, Squarespace is a good option for graphic designers, photographers, and bloggers.
  • Expression Engine: When it comes to corporate sites, Expression Engine is a popular choice.  It’s known for being flexible for data driven products.
  • LightCMS: This quickly-growing CMS is built by a private company in Oklahoma.  They provide an affiliate program, white-labeling, and fully-customizable templates, making it easy for designers to turn it into their own website solutions.

Blogging:

  • Tumblr: Known as a micro-blogging platform, Tumblr is know for its image. Tumblr can be quite addicting — If you can’t stop watching animated gifs on Tumblr, check out “Managing Your Social Network Addiction.”
  • Blogger: This is Google’s blogging platform.
  • Typepad: According to their website, “Typepad is the reliable, flexible blogging platform that puts the publisher in control. Plus, great one-on-one support from our team of friendly experts.

eCommerce:

  • Magento: Known for their powerful but flexible eCommerce solutions, Magento provides online stores for companies like Nike, Toms, Vizio, and more.  They offer plans for large corporations and small businesses, in addition to having a flexible open-source edition.
  • PrestaShop: his popular, award-winning, open-source eCommerce platform is full of features and add-ons.
  • Shopify: Shopify is a private CMS that offers an App Store for add-ons and themes.  It uses liquid markup, making it easy for designers that understand html/css to quickly build a custom theme.

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File-Based: 

This is becoming a common practice for small scale websites. A file-based CMS does not use a database but rather a structure of folders, text documents, and images.  These types of CMS’s are geared toward web designers and artists that are familiar with FTP, HTML, CSS, and MARKDOWN.

  • KirbyCMS: Kirby is a file-based CMS that offers good documentation, markdown syntax, an add-on admin panel, and Dropbox support. “Easy to setup, easy to use, flexible as hell.”
  • Statamic: Statamic is another file-based CMS that prides themselves on a detailed platform for web developers with a simple, client-friendly, and responsive admin panel.

Website Builders

This is more of the cousin of the CMS.  Website builders are great non-designers.  With drag-and-drop and pre-built templates, putting a website up in a few minutes is simple.

  • Wix: Wix is the most popular web builder option on the web.  With over 26 million websites currently made, Wix offers hundreds of templates, drag-and-drop building, social integration, and app integration.
  • Weebly: Weebly offers websites that are “Free. Powerful. Professional.” It offers most of the same features as Wix and has competitive hosting prices.

Other

I’d like to think of these as the hidden gems or new arrivals on the web.  They haven’t made it “big” yet, but offer a new perspective or alternative features than the big guys. Think of them as indie CMS’s.

  • Anchor: Anchor is a “super-simple, lightweight blog system, made to let you just write.” This open-source project has some cool features, including markdown. Learn how to “Use Markdown For Easy Web Writing”.
  • Perch: Known as “the really little content management system,” Perch uses simple php functions to allow you to quickly make changes to paragraphs, add images, etc.
  • Unify: Instead of using a database, in-line editors use a javascript interface to allow you to make small changes to headings, paragraphs, images, etc.
  • Big Cartel: Their slogan is “Bringing art to the cart.” Big Cartel is “a simple shopping cart for tee designers, bands, record labels, jewelery makers, crafters, and other artists.” This CMS is for small-scale eCommerce with low pricing and Paypal integration.

What is a CMS? The Conclusion

So what is a CMS? As you can tell, it can be explained many ways.  I hope that through this brief guide, you have a better understanding of the various different roles CMS’s can play.

 

P.S. What CMS are you using? What CMS did I not share that you think is worth sharing? Let us know in the comments.

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