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Best CMS Platforms

Choosing the Best CMS: Open-Source vs. Closed Source

Open-source vs. closed. For independent publishers looking to build or revamp their websites, there might be no greater question.

Choosing the right content management system (CMS) is one of the first decisions a publisher makes, and within the broad category of CMS platforms are both open-source and closed solutions.

A content management system is the backbone of a website, supporting the publishing and editing of all digital content. For publishers, choosing the best CMS is extremely important because nearly every member of the organization will interact with the software on a daily basis. Behind every blog and digital newspaper, there’s a CMS doing the heavy lifting. But some CMS platforms do more of the heavy lifting than others.

The first step to finding the best CMS is to look at whether the platform is open-source or closed. While WordPress is the most well-known and popular of the open-source solutions, there are a number of lesser-known platforms, such as Drupal and Joomla, that are also used by online newspapers, magazines, and blogs to publish content on the web. With a large community of users, open-source CMS platforms like WordPress are often considered to be the easiest and most straightforward option for independent publishers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are closed CMS platforms. Solutions such as Rivista, Haven Nexus, and Metro Publisher all fall into this category. Closed CMS platforms are like prefab homes, in that they’re designed to be used by organizations in a specific industry with little to do in the way of customization. While the initial costs with a closed CMS are sometimes lower, many proprietary systems come with expensive monthly or yearly premiums, and exporting data can be tricky.

Here are four additional questions to consider when choosing the best CMS for your publication:

What is the interface like?

Reporters, editors, and other members of your publication’s team will be interacting with the CMS on a daily basis, so it’s important to choose a solution with an interface that’s easy to use. Content needs and brand guidelines play a major role in determining how well a particular CMS will work for a publication. Although there is something to be said for personal preference, open-source solutions like WordPress usually win out when it comes to the interface and usability.

Can I customize the system?

Publishers who want a unique look or custom features on their websites will often be better off with an open-source CMS platform, since closed systems can limit the options available. Using plugins and extensions, publishers can customize their WordPress websites for a fraction of the price that they could expect to pay with a closed system.

Even publishers who feel comfortable with an out-of-the-box template website with a closed CMS should consider any changes or upgrades they may want to make as their publications grow in the future. Publishers who choose open-source platforms can make modifications at any time, with or without the help of a developer, depending on their level of expertise. While customizations on an open-source platform may cost extra, this is usually a one-time cost—versus an ongoing expense. Still, publishers should take pricing into consideration when selecting the best CMS.

How frequently is the system updated?

A closed CMS may not be updated as frequently as an open-source system. Publishers who opt for an open-source solution like WordPress benefit from the community, with a team that’s dedicated to enhancing features based on the latest advancements in technology and web security.

While there are some CMS vendors that do an adequate job of rolling out software updates at regular intervals, the vast majority of these providers have systems that are largely considered outdated. If you are thinking of going with a closed CMS, request a change log from the vendor to see how frequently upgrades are being made before making a final decision.

Will I be handcuffed to a system?

What happens when it’s time to migrate from one CMS to another? Exporting data from a closed system to an open-system or even one closed system to another can be challenging and very expensive. Open-source solutions, such as WordPress make it easier to be “platform independent,” meaning that you can expect a smoother transition moving data from one platform to another if you decide to make a change in the future.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to finding the best CMS platform, most independent publishers with local news websites will find that open-source platforms, such as WordPress, offer the most flexibility with better pricing than what’s available through closed solutions.

By: Stephanie Miles