Seven Criteria for Evaluating Open-Source Content Management Systems

If you're new to open-source CMSes, here are some guidelines to help you find the best one for your project.
Web Standards and Accessibility

Ignored in the past, compliance with the Web standards set out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and other standards bodies is an important requirement for any software that generates content for the Web. Many open-source CMSes are committed to Web standards. But you don't have to take their word for it. With a quick visit to W3C's Markup Validation Service you can check for yourself if the CMS you are evaluating generates valid HTML or XHTML.

The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has published Web Accessibility Guidelines to ensure that Web content is accessible to people with disabilities. Also, according to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998, Web sites of organizations that receive US federal funding must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Check if the CMS you are considering implementing these guidelines. Although a complete Web accessibility assessment should be conducted by an expert, you can conduct a preliminary assessment using an on-line accessibility validator such as the Cynthia Says portal, which checks a Web site's pages against both Section 508 and the WAI guidelines.

Suitability and Usability

List the features you need and how critical these features are to ensuring that your content management project meets its goals. Then, try to gauge if the CMSes you are evaluating meet the project requirements in part or in full. Also, how easily can it be adapted or customized to fulfill project objectives?

CMS-based Web sites can be complex to use. Web usability is defined as the quality that makes a Web site easy to use. Assessing and improving Web site usability is a task for usability experts, but you can conduct a informal usability assessment by gaining familiarity with the CMS you are evaluating. Open-source CMSes make this convenient because you can download and try them out without any restrictions. The Web site Open Source CMS make this even easier by providing complete installations of over a hundred open-source CMSes that you can try out (see Resources).


If you choose wisely, an open-source CMS can provide a stable, flexible and cost-effective system that is well-suited for your content management needs. More importantly, open-source CMSes give you the freedom to stay in control of your content management solution.


Cynthia Says Portal

Free Software Foundation: various licenses and comments about them.

Free Software Foundation: the GNU general public license.

"Column 100", Reuven Lerner, Linux Journal, April 2004.

"Shining a Light on the Open Source Stack", Neil McAllister, Infoworld, April 4, 2005.

Open Source CMS

Open Source Initiative, the approved licenses.

The CMS Matrix

W3C Validator

"Content Management", Reuven Lerner, Linux Journal, April 2003.

Abhijeet Chavan is the Chief Technology Officer of Urban Insight, Inc., a Web development consulting firm. He also is the co-founder and co-editor of Planetizen.



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Social application CMS

Social Application's picture

Hey its seem informative post.

Evaluating Open-Source Content Management Systems

Open source CMS 's picture

Hey ,Nice and helpful post about open source CMS.

They have to be SIMPLE

Peter Tandrer's picture

After working here - in Phuket - the only condition they have to fulfill here - they have to be SIMPLE. You really don't have a clue, how "simple-thinking" the people here are. Oh man - 8-)

Usability should be higher on the list

Matt Nuzum's picture

I have looked at many, many CMS systems and one thing I can say for certain is that few consider a polished, easy-to-learn interface as a high priority.

If you make frequent changes to your website then spend some extra time up front finding a CMS that facilitates quick and easy changes. It would be better in the long run to spend a little extra [time|money|etc] up front to find a CMS that will save you hours a week in the long run.

I'd say that usability is far more important in the long-run than the platform.

Choosing a CMS.

Taran's picture

While these 7 steps are important, the more practical aspects are just as important - and we could squeeze them under accessibility, or we could squeeze them under usability, or what have you. The ability to maximize the use of the content for the purpose of the owner of website is really what the whole thing is about.

For example - taxonomy/category handling is important. Intelligent use of categories allows data to be more intuitively handled on a site, and that means that the person designing the category has to have the maximum amount of flexibility through multiple and single hierarchies, as well as cross pollination between the categories.

That leads to documentation. If you're checking out CMS's, take a read of the documentation as well, and the support site (if available) and make sure that you understand what you are getting into.

And that leads to the most important thing about CMS choices: You really should know what you wish to do before you choose one so you select the right one for the right job. Having a proper definition of what a site is supposed to do comes first.

Apples and Oranges

Anonymous Coward's picture

A quick visit to Moodle's web site ( reveals that Moodle is a "Course Management System", NOT a "Content Management System". Using it as an example in an article about "Content Management Systems" is misleading.

You are right that Moodle is

Anonymous's picture

You are right that Moodle is a "course management system", also known as a "learning management system". However...

The term "content management system" is broad and includes various types of CMSes. According to Wikipedia, a "learning management system" such as Moodle is considered to be a type of CMS.

Moodle can certainly be used for non-teaching purposes such as community building or knowledge management and the Moodle website itself is a good example of such use.

The Moodle screenshot here is used as an example of the info you can get on Freshmeat and Sourceforge about an open source project. It is not being compared to anything else.

still misleading (imho)

Anonymous coward's picture

Yes, I noticed that the screenshot was posted to show information that can be obtained from Freshmeat, but there are thousands of other projects that could have been used for the same purpose (i.e. show the information that can be obtained). I don't think the choice of "Moodle" was mere coincidence. Come on.

Good point on Wikipedia, though. But even though Wikipedia's definition includes it, I still maintain that using a Course Management System as an example of a Content Management System in an article about choosing a Content Management System is misleading. Before I let the Wikipedia definition rest, though, I must say that we *do* work in an industry that sometimes has a bad habit of lumping things together that don't belong together. For example, there are those who call HTML a programming language.

I work with a commercial Content Management System every day (and I'll be the first to admit this in no way makes me an expert). It is used (quite simply) to "manage content" of two websites. That is, we (the "experts" (haha)) set up templates so that we have control over the look and feel of the entire site. "Users", then put in their "content" and viola, they've got a web page.

I would hesitate to call a Course Management System even a subset of Content Management. I mean, there is certainly some intersection between the two problem domains, but they still remain two distinct problems (in my mind, anyway). Maybe if I was in a good mood I would yield that a Course Management System is a highly specialized Content Management System... but even then I would start to think about how course management might have things like schedules; "students", "teachers", and "administrators" (as opposed to "editors", "reviewers", and "authors", which I would consider the users in the Content Management System domain); classes; campuses; etc. (none of which I believe to be part of a Content Management System).

I picture the person interested in reading this article as someone who is trying to choose a system that will allow them delagate management of a very large website to different groups of people within an agency or company. Or perhaps someone who is trying to maintain a consistent look and feel for a news website that has 20 different authors who regularly post articles. I don't think someone looking for a Course Management System would see this article on their rss feed and think "Hey, that might help me solve my problem; I should read it."


haas's picture

Since this topic became a heated argument, this may encourage the need for another article that covers the definitions of LMS vs CMS, their feature and functionalities, and after that we can have a much more interesting debate whether LMS can be used as a CMS and vice-versa. (Just a suggestion.)

But in my humble opinion, I would agree with Anonymous Coward that using Moodle as an example is misleading even if it can be customized and used as a CMS. I would have used Drupal, Joomla, or others as examples because they are legitimate CMS platforms and it would have been much more appropriate and accurate.

Take care guys.


Anonymous's picture

So it's a CMS with some extra features for managing "classes" -- but according to an independent site it works as a regular CMS too.


Anonymous coward's picture

okay, I'll bite... what is this "independent site" that you speak of?

CMS or not CMS

Anonymous's picture


come on... the LMS is managing content that an instructor wishes to pass to her students, correct? Does it manage content, or not?

Besides, the refrence to the LMS was only to illustrate an example of viewing project activity on freshmeat. For that example, who cares what program is used?