CMS vs. Blog…no you don’t need Pepto Bismol

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Wordpress as a CMS

{this is part 2 of the series “WordPress as a CMS”}

WordPress is primarily a blogging tool (or engine as I like to call it!) but I’ve learned in the course of designing three websites that are not primarily blogs that WordPress can also cross over and serve somewhat nicely as a Content Management System (CMS). In the second article of this series I want to talk a little bit about the difference between a CMS and a blog and then in the next article I’ll talk about how this played into my decision to use WordPress for the design of UnashamedSermons.com, VigliottiWoodworking.com, and gohpc.net.

On the surface it may seem that there isn’t much difference between a CMS and a Blog. They both provide some sort of backend interface for administrators to manage the content of the website. They both invite social interactivity via the ability for visitors to leave comments, register as a user, or even become a contributor to the content. Then of course the primary focus of each is the delivery of some sort of content which in later years has involved not only pictures and text but also videos and audio (podcasts and the like). But surface appearances can be deceiving!

I believe that while the differences between the two may not be extreme (and indeed the line is being increasingly blurred between the two with the advent of Web 2.0 and the “social” internet – and as I’ll argue later – great tools made available like WordPress), there are a few things that make a CMS distinct from a blog. Why is this important? Put briefly, in developing websites there are some places where using a CMS works better than using a blog engine and vice versa. Later in this article I’ll explain how this is so.

Here’s some more noticeable differences between a CMS and a Blog (keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and I’m not going to go into a great level of detail as that’s not the purpose of this article. Also keep in mind that this is a very generalized list – I fully realize that not only are there differences between CMS platforms and Blogging platforms but there are also differences within and among various CMS platforms as well as in and among Blogging platforms. Again the purpose of this article is not to compare Drupal with phpNuke or WordPress with Typepad.):

  1. Difference of structureThe bones McCoy, the bones…A CMS is usually a system of “blocks” and/or “modules” that are added to the website via the administrative interface. Blocks are usually positionable “content display sections” (for lack of a better term) whereas modules are usually entire sections of a website designated to a specific task. For example in a CMS you might find a “menu-block” which contains a list of hyperlinks to other areas of the site and below it you may have a login-block which allows people to register and/or login as a user to the site. Now the login-block might actually be a part of the “user – registration” module that controls all the various backend stuff for managing the users of the site and what they have access to. An example of a CMS might be Drupal or phpNuke (in my eyes even MySpace may be considered at a CMS of sorts). In most typical content management systems there is a main “core” to the software upon which these various “modules” and “blocks” are added to build the website (and then “skinned” by a theming/templating system). Certain modules and blocks are usually included with the default setup but there are many possibilities for how the software can be used to set up a website.A blog engine on the either hand is usually a core defaulting to a certain layout and may have the ability for adding “plug-ins” or “widgets” which can give additional functionality to the blog but for most users the layout stays roughly the same (in terms of structure of the blog – of course theming systems can change the way a blog looks but generally speaking the components [structure] stays the same). In CMS terms a blog usually has one module (which is the core) and the potential to add optional “blocks” (plugins or widgets). Some examples of blog engines are of course Google’s Blogger, Typepad, and of course, WordPress.
  2. Difference of purposeWhen the mask drops from the ceiling…

    A blog engine usually has one purpose and that is for publishing the various writings, observations, and sometimes pictures of the person owning the blog or other authors he/she has invited to contribute as well. Typically the core and administrative interface is designed with that purpose in mind. A blog is like an “online journal” – although in a real sense, the evolution of the blogosphere has led to certain blogs taking on the credibility of more traditional newspapers or other journalism forms and so the blog has become (is becoming?) a mass news outlet. At its core however, it still remains a way of for the average joe to self-publish what they want to write (and the rest of the world to read…although we only think the whole world actually wants to read it ;) ).A CMS on the other hand, has a core that is a lot less rigid and provides for all kinds of different uses (including blogging as a component). Because of it’s module/block structure – a website designed around a CMS can just as easily (figuratively speaking!) become a storefront for selling things as it can be a community hub via forums. The purpose of a CMS is managed content delivery period – in whatever form it may come.To put it simply – multiple sites using CMS may have all kinds of different purposes but, for the most part, multiple sites using a blog engine only have one purpose – getting their message out!
  3. Difference of function - Martha, the VCR time is flashing again…all I want to do is change the dang channel! When I use the word “function” here I’m not using it as a synonym of purpose but rather as a way of describing the usability of a CMS vs. a Blogging Engine. There are two ways of looking at this – function from the standpoint of the developer and function from the perspective of the user/contributor.From a developer standpoint designing a website that has different purposes (shopping system, blog, news portal) with a CMS is more functional than designing the same site using a blog engine. Further, the argument could even be made that it would make more sense to start up a blog using a CMS rather than a blog engine because it leaves the door open to easily evolve the website to further uses without worrying about the adaptability of the core software.However from a user/contributor perspective the broad functional use of a CMS can sometimes require a greater learning curve to do what you want to do (especially in the case of multi-purpose sites). This is certainly more the case when the developer/designer is not the one who is actualy maintaining the website but instead is passing it off to a user(s) who will most likely be unfamiliar with the way things work. A CMS can create more hoops for a user to publish the content they want to publish. So in the example of using a CMS as a blog – while it may make more sense from a developer standpoint – to a user, having to find the module for the blog and learn how to recognize it from the other modules, access it, write their piece and then publish it can be more difficult than doing the same from a blog engine where the steps are (generally) much more intuitive.With that said, the functional difference between a CMS and a blog engine is probably the one that varies the most between various software solutions. In some cases it may not be a problem at all – I’m basing my observations here primarily on the usability differences I’ve observed between phpNuke and WordPress.

For me, these three differences (structure, purpose, function) are the primary ones I worked through when thinking about the best fit for the sites I was designing (CMS or Blog engine?). Of course, from the title of this series you should’ve guessed by now that the sites I designed were more suited to a CMS than a blog engine. If so, then why did I go with WordPress as the core for their design? In the next article I’m going to answer that question.

Series NavigationWordPress as a CMS – IntroductionChoosing WordPress: “ooo doesn’t she LOOK fine?”

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