So, the title is kind of moot if you don’t know what a CMS is. To start with, CMS is an acronym that stands for “Content Management System.” A content management system is a program used to create, edit, and publish content online. Anything that can go on a website—text, images, music, video, applications—can be stored and managed using a CMS. They usually work through your browser, meaning that you can open up Firefox (or Chrome or Internet Explorer), go to the site you own, log in, and add new blog posts or pictures or fix a typo, whatever you want, and then tell the program to go ahead and publish it online, meaning that anyone and everyone can see your new, improved site the next time they visit.
All of the sites we build for our customers, this blog post, and everything else on Creative California’s site was put together using a CMS. We use different ones depending on the needs of the site/client, but often choose between WordPress and Joomla! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the name).
Now that we know what a CMS is, what’s an open-source CMS?
When we talk about open-source, it’s usually in reference to software programs, though it can apply to just about anything. When a program is open-source, that means the creator or creators have licensed their program so that anyone who wants to use it, can. For free. Or, they can tear it apart, change it, improve it, fix it, expand on the original ideas behind the program and add their own.
Think of a car. A sexy one, like a ’65 Mustang. Now, imagine that someone leases you that Mustang. They tell you that you can drive it around and put gas it in, but that’s it. You can’t drop a new engine in it, or change the upholstery, or repaint it. You can only use it as it is. If something breaks, only the person who leased it to you can fix it. If they want to change how the car works, they can do it without your permission. The car is only as good as the mechanic they let work on it, and they can charge whatever they want to work on it.
That’s a closed-source Mustang.
Now, let’s look at another ’65 Mustang. But this one, you can do anything with. You can pop the hood, tear it apart, invite your friends and neighbors and strangers off the street to take a wrench to it or change parts out. You can have a thousand mechanics look at it, and you can choose who works on it.
That’s an open-source Mustang.
So, this sounds like it just benefits us, right? Like the only people who care are all that nonsense are the folks working under the hood of your website. Meaning us, your humble web designers.
Nope. Wrong. First of all, we can use Joomla! or WordPress for free. So you get it for free. If we had to pay to use it, those are costs that we would have to pass onto you, the customer. You would have to pay more for the exact same services. That would be bad for everyone involved.
A good CMS is incredibly safe and secure to use, because thousands upon thousands of people have torn it apart because they wanted to know how it works, and to make sure that it works as well as it possibly can. When somebody finds a problem, they let everybody know, and soon a new and improved version of the system comes out that doesn’t have that problem. That means that your site will work more efficiently and will be more secure against hackers and other problem-makers.
Perhaps the best reason for using an open-source CMS is that you aren’t stuck with us. What would happen to your site if everyone here at Creative California died in a freak golf cart accident? Or we let success go to our heads and become complete jerks who are impossible to work with. Or you simply decide that you want to try another company.
You’d lose your site and have to start all over, right? Wrong. You can take your site and everything in it, and hand it to another developer who knows how to use the CMS, and they can continue where we left off. If we used some weird proprietary program, you might very well lose everything, because nobody else would know how it was built or how to work on your site. But we don’t do that. Because we use a CMS, you truly own your site.
We’re building YOUR site. It belongs to you. Using an open-source CMS is what makes that possible.