I forgot to finish my sentence:
At 10:35 AM -0500 2/1/07, Randal wrote:
4. It depends on the CMS. The standard tradeoff is between complexity and freedom. In general the simpler you make a CMS,
4. It depends on the CMS. The standard tradeoff is between complexity and freedom. In general the simpler you make a CMS, the less flexibility you have.
Thanks for the excellent tips in the previous message. I am about to
create a new site that will employee Joomla and WordPress, so I'll
finally have my CMS feet wet after spending more than ten years
glancing dubiously at the water. Your comments were very helpful. In
spite of what follows, I am actually looking forward to the experience
and interested in the views of non-tech dogmatists about the tools'
My primarily concern about CMS is that it imposes an alternative
mechanism (alternative to the linear machinery of a book) on
information rather than fostering the natural, organic nature of
communication. In a word, it's another attempt by the Cartesian IT
community to get control of the amorphous reality of the web. Like
PowerPoint, the tool enforces a way of thinking (and punishes those who
don't happen to think in the same manner). I have made my mind up about
CMS; PowerPoint is a tool of Satan.
You (I think it was) mentioned that the hard thing is "Using CMS well"
(gross paraphrase), and I find that observation pretty funny. It's a
bit like saying the hard thing about chess is playing well. Well, yes,
and I'd also say that hardly anyone does. The basics of CMS are not
especially hard to grasp. Like a chisel, it depends not only on how
well it's grasped but on who is using it. CMS becomes incredibly
dangerous in the hands of techies with no appreciation for the
variousness of language and thought. Fundamentally, language and
thinking are not machines.
My views are colored because my two close encounters with CMS were both
classic examples of IT machinists crooning "We're JUST trying to HELP
The first was early in the days of CMS, when some big companies
(specifically a firm I was consulting with) were trying to adapt the
CMS successes of Ford and Boeing (known then as SGML...) to their
information needs. Specifically, the people designing the program
wanted to build a database of sentences that could be "managed" to
create paragraphs that would be "managed" to become manuals. Local
variances would be handled by... variables! Look, no hands! Carrollian
as that idea was, the next step was that we (my guys) would translate
those sentences into languages (specific targets TBD), and the assembly
process would decide which language to harvest and Viola! Books! Those
of you shaking your head over the linguistic lameness of this please
understand, this was not the McCarthy Era; it was less than ten years
ago. And there was no reasoning with them.
More recently, I am about to have Sharepoint rammed down my throat to
"modernize" a site I manage, and the problem again is the narrow
mechanistic "structural" dogmas of the folks doing the implementation.
I took Deborah's reservation to be more on the order of what I'm about
to say than "that they restrict page layouts." The CMS system is
conceived as a complex bookcase where information resides in nice neat
things we'll call "quanta" to satisfy the Zenny types. In other words,
instead of information being "books," now it's "notecards." But really,
because the notecards are connected together kind of like, well, books.
Structure is yang to freedom's yin.
Vignette and company may have a more sophisticated potential than this
Cartesian dogmatism, but that is what their software seems to generally
create: web sites that appeal to people who like playing on stairs. My
IT guys explain to me that my "neat" new menus will simply reflect the
"first level" of information, with the "second level" as submenus.
Well, the information on the site is not related that way. Sorry. One
page is no more "level-related" to another than a foot is
"level-related" to an elbow. It's chaos (shudder dramatically) like,
say, carrots. Of course there are "levels." The toe bone's connected to
the foot bone, etc. But the hierarchical way of looking at the site is
no more felicitous or inevitable than watching a baseball game by
bending over and looking between your own legs.
This is not to say I'm opposed to CMS. After a few months with Joomla,
maybe I'll stop kicking against the pricks (that wonderfully misused
metaphor). But I am troubled, as much as the idea of information design
and even, in a reptilian sort of way, "architecture," appeals to me, by
the prospect of CMS finding yet another way to replace the delicious
complexity of Maia with a predictable, manageable Barbie.
And I have to add, since you mentioned it, that I can't think of a
better example of the tone-deaf character of the technicians presuming
to decide how you and I will converse, than the name of the almost
ubiquitous FCKEditor. I am expected to sell this product to, among
others, a brigade of middle-aged, middle-class secretaries who will
never, on pain of firing, attempt to speak its name. Personally, I find
its name deeply offensive, not because I have any problems about the
word it evokes with adolescent smugness, but because it suggests the
special nastiness of little boys who try to trick other little boys
into tasting their snot.