July 16, 2011

Open Source CMS - The Entrepreneur's Choice?

Stage 1: Thinking it Through

A web business needs to attract attention and to do so it must have something special and eye-catching to attract customers: something to draw them to you as the source of something they need, like advice or security. Sometimes just being the cheapest is not enough!

As a grocer on the internet you are never going to push yourself past Tesco and Walmart just by selling beans a little cheaper than they.

One possibility to consider is the expert site, providing experience and advice to the newcomer, and if that can be a Wiki site where your own visitors provide at least some of the content it will make it cheaper to run and give it a degree of credibility your couldn't achieve on your own.

A CMS, a Content Management System gives you the tools to enable your visitors the power to place their thoughts on your site without them -or you - having to learn the intricacies of HTML.

The USP The letters USP are short for Unique Selling Proposition, that thing that makes your business better or more suitable than the rest of the market, that thing that makes your business stand out from the common herd. Of course, the market you have stand out in is not out there on the street but on your computer screen, the market represented by the listing on the search engines.

Search Engine Optimisation is the art - some people say science - of getting your site to the top of the list in a Google - or any other search engine - search. The potential customer clicks into Google, or Yahoo, or any of the other search engine, and types in his keywords and the search engine gives him a list of all the sites with that keyword.

The KEI's main function is to help the SEO team to find keyword sequence that is best suited to get to the top of the search engine page, but you can use it to refine your offering to the market - to tune it. You will need to use a 'long tail' to produce a KEI high enough to get to the top of search engine list. A 'long tail' is a phrase including important keywords yet not much used by other sites.Small adjustments to the KEI make a big difference: 'flat screen tv' scores 39 whereas 'flatscreen TV' scores 403.

Now that you've used the KEIs to discover what your customers are seeking but not finding on the internet, you can set up a community to attract them.

Stage 2: Making your choices

Some Concepts

Wiki Sites are sites where visitors can take an active role. The great social networking sites, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and the like are in effect wikis. To work, a wiki site needs to provide facilities for visitors to add their comments and contributions without needing to learn "HTML", the language of the internet.

A CMS or Content Management System provides the owner of a site to set up a community web site without the need for him (or her) to learn HTML or have anything more than a very basic knowledge of computing or the internet. CMSs provide all of the structure needed to build a Social Networking Site including (but not limited to)

  • Membership and Access Control
  • Site Organisation and structure
  • Blogging
  • Templates controlling the appearance of your site
  • Input Structures allowing you and your visitors the possibility of creating pages by simply typing in your text

Open source software is available freely and legally over the internet. Although it is free to use as you will, there are drawbacks and you should read our Open source Page before committing your time and effort to setting up your site.

Note that

  • Some Open Source is used as a 'free' test bed for new software: software that can only be tested under load.
  • Open source offers no guarantees and you could be exposing yourself to risk by choosing open source over commercial options.

Open source CMSs is just what it says on the box, suites of CMS software available to download free on the internet.

A Google search on 'Open source CMS' will give you more than 17m hits which gives an idea of the size of the open source CMS world. We at Computer-Virgin have experience of just two packages, Drupal and Joomla, both of which are excellent in different ways. Given the nature of the Open source community - young, bright, disputatious, there are plenty of blog sites arguing the case for and against each package. Use them to help you choose!

Setting up a CMS Suite takes a little patience, but is basically straightforward. Some of the better web providers even provide packages to explain or even do the job for you.

Stage 3: Setting Up

CMS software is almost invariably mounted on one or more databases based using MySQL 5.0 or Microsoft SQL. Check that your package includes at least two databases - preferably MySQL 5.0 or greater Then check if they provide a facility in their 'help' function either to load or tell you how to load your CMS

If they don't choose another supplier. There are plenty who do!

CMS suites, particularly open source CMS suites, are generalised and to get some specialised functions such as

  • 'Tell a Friend' functions
  • Image transfer and galleries
  • OnLine shop functions such as shopping trolleys etc
  • Chat Rooms
  • SEO friendly structures

are available as separate downloads called Extensions or Plugins so that you can build your site to match your needs. Some are Open source but some have to be paid for - generally the ones you want.

Templates control the look of your site, they set the colours, the arrangements of columns and the like, arrange your menus and links. As with extensions, a small number of templates come with the CMS package, other you have to add. Hundreds, if not thousands of templates are available free on the internet The loading process is normally self explanatory.

Always down load from the originating site ie from the site operated by the creators of the original content management system.

The downloaded software will probably be in a.zip format and should be 'saved' to your download file. Then use the trial version of winzip, or a commercial copy of winzip to open the zip file and store it into a new file in your 'documents' section named after your choice of CMS Now you have a choice. You can either:

  • use the facility provided by your Internet Provider to upload your CMS package or
  • follow his instructions and use filezilla to do the job.

If - for some reason you have to download manually it takes a little patience, but a very minimum of computer knowledge and if you've chosen the right internet provider, they'll be giving you detailed instructions specific to their setup and that of the CMS.

In general avoid registering to use a site or facility. Often you will get bombarded with 'Newsletters' and Advertising. But you'll need the forums and help lines of your CMS provider.

...so in this case Do!

Stage 4: Downloading and Uploading.

Downloading is the process of drawing down your new program from the internet and installing it on your own computer. Files are normally stored on a site and transferred to and from sites in a "Zipped" format to save space and time. The name of the file will in the form 'productname.zip'.

Zipped files normally have to be 'unzipped' before you can load them onto your provider's facilities, So go onto the home site of the CMS source you have chosen (eg joomla) and choose to download the highest numbered version available (eg Joomla 1.6) Somewhere on the page you will find a 'Download' button - different packages: different location.

You usually have to register to do so but use an email address specially set up for the purpose - preferably on your own site.

Open or save? Your own security will ask you if you want to 'save' or 'open' the file. Always save downloaded files - never open them. Then you'll be asked where to save it: start a new directory in your computer in which to save it.

Now you've got the zipped file on your home computer, you need to unzip it. To do that you can use the trial 'Winzip' program on your computer or buy a full version

Find your zip file - use the name you gave your directory and the 'search' facility to find it - and click to open it. Winzip will ask you where you want to park it. Create a file in the new directory and call it 'sourcecode' ie "c:/mysite/sourcecode" and have the expanded code placed there.

Uploading to your site The program you need for this is an "FTP Client" like the open source Filezilla, but before downloading that see if your provider provides one as part of his package. Now, use whatever FTP Client program you have to create a directory within your space in your provider's site named 'htdocs' and upload your "c:/mysite/sourcecode".

That's enough If you've got this far it's time to take a break!

Roger Webb is now retired after a long career that culminated in his holding a number of CEO roles in the construction and logistics industries.

Often these were family companies or companies led by specialists who had grown in skill through years of practice but had never been exposed to those 'soft' skills needed to run a modern company.

Too often they had little or no understanding of computers and the huge impact they had had on their industry.

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