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9/10/2007
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Everything You Need To Know To Get Started With Content Management Systems

Free and low-cost enterprise wiki tools and open-source content management systems are plentiful. Here's a quick guide to the available options.

It can be easy to dump thousands of dollars into a content management system that no one in your company will want to (or can figure out how to) use. Here are some solutions that keep costs in check but deliver a useful, easy-to-use system with lots of capabilities.

In this article, we'll give an overview of the concepts behind enterprise content and document management, take a look at some practical applications for different types of organizations, and then discuss specific software packages, such as MediaWiki, Drupal, and others, that can be easy to use but also pack lots of functionality.

Content And Document Management Concepts

Whether yours is a multinational corporation with 100,000 employees or a small nonprofit with a staff of 5, virtually every organization shares the challenge of knowledge management. Getting your mission-critical information into a centralized place that makes it easy to create, update, and find is daunting. Enter content and document management.

The concepts behind content management are fairly universal whether you're purchasing a sophisticated system with a price tag in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or using a simple wiki. Both content creators and end users will be reluctant to use a system if it isn't easy to search and it isn't easy to add and edit content. Keeping that user experience in mind is critical.

Deciding what solution will work best for your organization relies on having a strong understanding of what your content management goals are. If you're creating a simple knowledgebase for a small tech support team, then a wiki will probably serve your purposes. If a robust Internet or intranet site with constantly changing content is required, then a more full-featured content management system is more likely to meet your needs.

The good news is that you can set up a world-class content and document management system at little or no cost. Full-featured open source content management systems like Drupal and Mambo rival the functionality of off-the-shelf systems that may command many thousands of dollars. There are quite a few free options for wikis, including MediaWiki, the open source software that runs Wikipedia. We'll also take a quick look at Basecamp, for small workgroups and project teams for whom a full content management system or a wiki may be overkill.

Open Source Content Management

In terms of creating a centralized location for all of your organization's information and documentation, a content management system (CMS) will generally offer the most flexibility, although they can have a steep learning curve and tend to require a good bit of administrative care and feeding. Many of the open source options are programmed in and require PHP, and run a MySQL database on the back end with an Apache Web server front end. Thus, having a comfort level with PHP, database, and Web server administration makes managing the systems easier. Managing access, setting user rights, and general system administration can also be a bit time consuming, and may require a dedicated resource.

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