Have had some experience with one of the most famous Opensource Content Management System – Drupal, while working on this website. Now, it is not unexpected that whenever I visit websites, I pay attention to the layout, template and try to take a guess at the CMS behind it. Not that I have particularly an expert, but the curiosity for knowing what is right for what purpose has been awakened and not yet properly satisfied.
Before I proceed, I need to ensure that we are talking at the same level. You can skip this paragraph if you know about Content Management Systems (CMS). If you do not know about them, I would suggest you go through the Wikipedia link given in the above paragraphs. However, to quickly and informally give you an idea, a CMS essentially makes the task of maintaining websites simple by separating content from the layout. With this tool, maintaining consistency in the site, taking care of right links, ensuring easy navigation, providing search facility, all of these become simply a question of one click. This is particularly useful for the sites that are updated frequently. Since the layout is separate from content, every time you add something, you do not have to worry whether you have put the right headers and footers, and the right things in the sidebar so as to ensure consistency. This would look pretty much like blogging tools to those of you used to blogs and blogging. That’s almost right – blogging tools are pretty much Content Management Systems, except that a full fledged CMS would boast of more features and more flexibility to handle a full scale website, with different kinds of contents defined, ability to support a large user base etc. There can be variants and specific CMS meant for particular purposes like running an online classroom.
So much for the technical aspects of it. What I meant to talk about here is not as complex and long as the above explanation. Okay, so now that I have tried hands on Drupal and have known a bit about CMS, whenever I come across a website which appears to be using one of these, I am tempted to study it more closely. One of the biggest problem that I have seen with some (not all) of these sites is that in the love of dynamic content, they often forget to attach sufficient importance to some of the static content. Something as simple as an “about” page displayed at a prominent position so that a new visitor could understand quickly what the site is about. I do not have a list ready right now, but stumbled on one a while back. See this – http://www.pagalguy.com/ Ahem!! Lots and lots of stuff. Enough links to static pages too (on the top of the page), but nothing that will tell me what this site exactly is about. (Or is there a link like that. If I missed it, it is equally bad!!) So, I try to look through the content – probably it isn’t difficult to figure out, but come on. Most of the time I would not have the patience to do that and ultimately it would be a guess only. One of the basic purposes of having a website is defeated. Some would argue, that websites like these are mostly meant for the community, which is aware of the purpose. But that would be a lame excuse. For this site, I would have pretty much been a useful addition, but I do not want to register right away before knowing exactly what is it about. Dynamic content and all is fine, but of no use if a visitor does not know what is it for. For a good example, see the Drupal’s own site. The first thing you would notice on the page is what the site is about with more links if you want to explore further. Of course, the dynamic content is there. The page mostly has the news about latest happenings and is well placed. So, what I feel like telling the CMS users is – ऐ भाई, ज़रा देख के चलो – आगे ही नहीं, पीछे भी, dynamic ही नहीं static भी (“Hello, brother. Look around while walking. Not just to what is in the front, but also to what is at the back.” – This part is from a famous song of an old Hindi Movie. The later part I added is “not only dynamic, but static too”)