Every couple of years I seem to end up in a job where someone wants me to write web-content for their small business. I’m not particularly sure why I end up with these jobs – I’ve never been particularly good at SEO and the accompanying headaches that come with writing for the web for money – but somehow it keeps happening despite my best intentions and heartfelt promise that it will never happen again.

When I went into the interview for my current job they mentioned they might want me to do a little work on their website, and I brought up the question of which content management system they were using. This brought a blank look from the interviewer, but after a little explanation we eventually got the answer: “we don’t know; we paid a company to produce the website.”

At this, I nodded and tried to hide the shriek of despair that threatened to escape at those words. “Self,” I said, via the magic of internal monologue, “if you end up with this job, it will be exactly three months before you try to brain yourself on the edge of the desk due to the horrors of a custom CMS.”

Today, three months later, right on queue, I spent a good twenty minutes introducing my forehead to the faux-pine veneer of my cubicle desk.

I’m not really an open-source kind of guy, but years have dealing with web-design companies who have developed their own content management systems have taught me that the phrase “proprietary CMS” is roughly equivalent to “we’re going to charge excessive amounts of money for small changes to your site that any idiot with common-sense would have designed that way in the first place, and you’ll still need to hand-code your punctuation in HTML when you post something.”

For some reasons the companies get tetchy when I point out we could start a whole new WordPress site that has ten times the functionality for the same price it’d cost us to install their hand-coded blogging CMS to the dodgy website CMS and shopping cart software they already have.

  7 comments for “CMS

  1. Cat Sparks
    28/01/2011 at 11:47 PM

    Oh hell yes. Been there. Recently.

  2. 29/01/2011 at 12:29 AM

    I have a 'custom CMS' for my own website. I made it myself with MS Access, many years ago. It has some fairly nifty features, but I despair at updating it to anything modern.

  3. 29/01/2011 at 1:45 AM

    @David To be fair, I have no problem with people writing their own CMS. Just with the folks who want to charge $300 to swap the position of two things in a sidebar.

  4. 29/01/2011 at 3:10 AM

    I have been developing my own CMS since 2001. It is currently used by around 25 clients – the oldest client has been using it consistently since 2003. 10 of those sites are author and publisher sites and the others are used by both small and large business.

    Once the CMS is installed I rarely hear from a client unless they want a new module installed (they pay for the use of the module, a one off payment, and not for the time to install) or they want me to code a new custom module for them (in which case they pay for development time). In almost all cases (after initial training and the User Guides) I never have to help out a client for content changes, minor style, IU changes, etc.

    On the other hand, I have clients who had previously installed (or had installed for them) Mambo, Joomla or any one of a million CMS systems out there and in almost all cases it is too much for what they need and confusing for a non-technical person to navigate the backend or upgrade with new modules or versions.

    I'm sticking with my custom CMS… I love it, my clients love it 🙂

  5. 29/01/2011 at 3:16 AM

    And you say 'hand-coded' like it is a bad thing! I still write most of my code in Notepad and despair at the rubbishy code I see produced by developers and their new-fangled WYSIWYG development environments. Urggh! To me 'hand-coded' is actually a quality sign of a developer who knows their coding language and doesn't have to resort to a machine to know it all for them.

  6. 29/01/2011 at 4:01 AM

    @Andrew There are two types of handmade – one gets you a quality, sturdy bookshelf that's a joy to behold; the other is a couple of bricks and a two-by-four stuck in the corner of the room.

    I'd kill to be working with someone who created the former, but this time around it's definately the latter – the company in question has left a lot of rough edges on their coding and there are just some outright unnacceptable problems.

    Admittedly this problem can usually be traced back to working for people whose original design specs were "hey, make us a website," without thinking of how it'd be used or what they needed it to do.

    Whenever I end up in these jobs there's months of figuring out exactly what the employer expected their sites to do, then figuring out why they didn't get them when there's a design team whose good at this stuff getting paid a bunch of money. Maybe 40% of the time these can be traced back to original user error – not enough detail or forethought put into the predesign.

    The other 60% of the time, someone's paid good money for bricks and two-by-four, and the response to the "how will we fix X" questions do nothing to inspire confidence in things getting better.

  7. Ian Houlihan
    05/02/2011 at 5:01 PM

    Fucking CRU!!!!! That is all.

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