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I'm in the process of planning a content-driven website in the entertainment sector. I am looking for some guidance on the best CMS to use based on the following requirements and competencies:

I have no programming skills or web design experience, but plan on teaching myself basic HTML and CSS.

Features which I would like to include:

  • an email alert system that notifies users when content about their favorite artists, venues, etc. is added
  • a log-in system for members.
  • Google map showing location of events of interest

Am I likely to be able to achieve this using a CMS without any custom programming? If so, which CMS would be a good fit?

Although I have no relevant technical skills myself, I do know an experienced Java/Groovy web developer, who might be able to help, so all other things being equal, I would favor a CMS which allows extensions/plugins to be written in one of those languages.

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I think you're stuck here. You really just need to know programming to get into this (to do this correctly) or just as you said hire someone to do it. I would recommend wordpress or drupal highly. Wordpress does have great documentation though. – chrisjlee Aug 15 '11 at 19:48
I guess i'm wrong here. Looks like adobe is trying to do something like this. Released today: gizmodo.com/5830808/… – chrisjlee Aug 15 '11 at 20:54

Custom development is always tricky without programming knowledge, but there are several content management systems that have slightly lower barriers to entry for non-programmers. There are far more than the four I've listed below, but they will give you enough to research for now.

Self-hosted ‘non-programmer friendly’ CMS

  • ExpressionEngine is a powerful self-hosted publishing platform that uses templating tags to display content instead of a scripted programming language. This makes it slightly easier to learn and use for non-programmers than a CMS that requires you to learn PHP.

  • Silverstripe is another CMS that uses simple templating tags instead of complex code. The 'build a simple site' tutorial is worth walking through.

For both of these, you'll need some knowledge of HTML and CSS to design your templates, but they offer the advantage of not having to learn a Web scripting language such as PHP in order to build a fairly complex website.

Hosted ‘non-programmer friendly’ CMS

If you're comfortable paying a monthly fee to use a CMS instead of installing one on your own rented server, the following are both non-programmer friendly:

  • Squarespace offers a 'website builder' with a range of 'building blocks' that you can link together. It's a drag-and-drop solution and doesn't offer the fine-grained control you'll get with a self-hosted CMS, but it's great for getting fairly simple sites up and running fast, and the in-browser design tools are impressive.

  • Business Catalyst is Adobe's hosted "CMS + eCommerce + CRM + Analytics + Email Marketing + Social Marketing + Blog + SEO" product. It's aimed specifically at Web design and development companies, but is usable by individuals too, and they market it as a 'no coding required' solution.

Your specific requirements

In regards to your requests:

an email alert system that notifies users when content about their favorite artists, venues, etc. is added

I would suggest using MailChimp for this. Here's how:

  1. Create a mailing list and add groups for each category of interest (e.g. band name).
  2. Offer a way for site visitors to join your mailing list using a customised sign-up form where they can check the tick boxes next to their interests.
  3. Create a category for each of the bands in your CMS of choice, and post any new announcements for that band in the relevant category. How you do this depends on the CMS, but the result is that you should be provided with an RSS feed for that category only.
  4. Finally, you would set up an RSS campaign for each of the band names using the RSS feed for each category. This results in an email being sent to anyone who signed up and marked that band as one of their interests every time you add a new post to that category in the CMS.

It might sound complicated, but doing it this way means you can build the system without programming knowledge, and you don't need to look for a CMS that supports email notification upon post updates (few do out of the box).

a log-in system for members.

Most CMS include a log-in system, including all of the above mentioned software.

Google map showing location of events of interest

You can embed Google maps on any web page, regardless of what CMS it uses.

Although I have no relevant technical skills myself, I do know an experienced Java/Groovy web developer, who might be able to help, so all other things being equal, I would favor a CMS which allows extensions/plugins to be written in one of those languages.

I'm sorry to say that I've never used a CMS written in Java, and none spring to mind. I would suspect that a Java CMS would have slightly more complex hosting and technical requirements, so it might not be suited for a non-programmer anyway. (PHP content management systems are far more common and generally inexpensive to host too, so I'd suggest focussing your search there if you decide to host the project yourself.)

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Fantastic, thanks for your help Nick. In my very preliminary searches, Joomla seemed to be one which ticked the boxes. Those boxes being, a relatively powerful CMS which is graphically strong, but not too complex for non-programmers. Do you know anything about Joomla that you could share? – Niall Aug 15 '11 at 13:14
@Niall I think the Joomla! documentation is a little more confusing than other packages and don't personally like the backend layout, but don't let one person's opinion put you off. I would first recommend building a completely static website with simple HTML and CSS if you've never done that (and put it online, even if you never share the link!), as it's useful to understand HTML, CSS, FTP, domains, and hosting before tackling a CMS. Then read the documentation for a few different CMSes, pick one you feel comfortable with, and use your simple static site as a template/theme for the CMS. – Nick Aug 15 '11 at 13:49
@Nick I'd be a little bit concerned about the size of the communities for Squarespace, Silverstripe, etc. compared with Drupal, Joomla, etc. – Dónal Aug 15 '11 at 13:53
@Don You're right: the size of the community is worth considering. I'd say it was less important than the quality of the documentation, though. As a beginner, I would rather have great docs (and not need to rely on forums for help), than crappy docs (and be constantly posting in a busy forum to understand things). It's very hard to advise anyone which CMS to pick because there's so much overlap, but I wouldn't rule out any just because their communities are smaller. The ExpressionEngine community isn't as large as the WordPress one, for example, but the docs and forums are far better. – Nick Aug 15 '11 at 14:01

I would recommence using microweber or impresspages. They are open source drag and drop edit inline CMS that require no HTML, CSS and php knowledge to start.

Have it a try.

They already have newsletter modules and a googlemap api integrated.

However for events and interest pointers, I would suggest using a standard news or event module. Else, develop your own api...

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I would recommend using a Wordpress blog. You can find a template that makes it look more like a web site and less like a blog. There are different ways that Wordpress can address each of your requirements:

•an email alert system that notifies users when content about their favorite artists, venues, etc. is added

This could be done through an RSS alert that comes with most Wordpress templates, but there are also widgets or plug-ins you can get that do this as well. Some of the better ones have a cost associated with them, but they are pretty easy to set up and usually come with very good documentation and support.

•a log-in system for members.

Most Wordpress templates will allow you to create user accounts for site visitors. You can define what permissions they have any what access they have. This is a default option with most WP templates.

•Google map showing location of events of interest

This can probably be accomplished with a plug-in as well. I am not personally familiar with one that uses Google specifically, but I am pretty sure there are some that will accomplish something similar using GPS.

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