CMS Platforms – WordPress, Drupal and Joomla!…oh my!

CMS Platforms

Those new to the online CMS world are often inundated with new terminology, product and company names, as well as uncertainty regarding costs and fees. In order to help break through this initial wall of confusion, we wanted to provide readers with detailed information on the key differences between the major CMS platforms. Given our significant experience in web development and CMS, we hoped to provide some insight into these systems as they create the core of your content management strategy and are the key to driving increased and repeat business. As with any sector of the digital economy, there are countless numbers of CMS systems, thus our overview will touch on the “major players” in the industry and highlight a few advantages of each system.

WordPress – Out of all of the CMS systems, WordPress is one of the few that many web users may have come across or even used in the past. Whether it was a long-forgotten blog you made about trying every single pizza place in New York City or a more recently created website to provide guests information about your upcoming nuptials, WordPress (and Blogger, now owned by Google) are two of the most frequently used personal blogging platforms. WordPress has since grown to be a full featured and highly customizable website application and an incredibly powerful CMS system for business and is very easy to use, given its consumer focused roots. WordPress can be used for a variety of CMS applications including intranet/extranet, a community portal, a web store, as well as a resource directory for documents, images, media and an online ticketing system.

Drupal Drupal was created from the ground up as an enterprise level CMS system. It benefits from having an incredibly open and active open source community that contributes thousands of free add-ons and layout themes for others to use. Drupal can be used to meet a wide range of corporate and professional needs, including social networking, wiki/knowledge base, as well as standard content management including resource directories and organizational web presence needs. Drupal is able to scale to any size business or organization. In fact, the City of Los Angeles recently migrated 20 of its public facing websites from Oracle to Drupal. Not to be outdone, the Australian government’s Drupal based CMS system recently went live as well.

Joomla! – Joomla! is a key player in the CMS world. It has built a significant following since its founding in 2005 and today can boast that it’s been downloaded over 50 million times. Joomla! is highly extensible and has won numerous awards including multiple “Best Open Source CMS” commendations. Joomla! has a strong set of core modules and features as well as a wide range of open source add ons and plugins. Joomla!, like other systems, offers the ability to create a company intranet, a community portal, and a web presence for any size organization.

The single most important factor in selecting a CMS system is you. The current needs of your business, as well as the ability to build in future expansion options, are the most important criteria when selecting a CMS system. At Shift One Labs, we have a long history of working with our clients to design and build the ideal CMS system, whether it’s just for pizza or the entire government of Australia (or, more likely, somewhere in between).

 

 

Web Security Essentials

Web Security Essentials

As we transition into the New Year, one of the biggest stories of 2014 – major corporations being hacked into – only seems to grow more prevalent. First it was Target then Home Depot and then a host of others, including restaurants, banks and even parking lot companies. This “first wave” of major hacking incidents were primarily financially motivated. The hackers were stealing credit card and personal information to sell or use on the black market. The cost to these major corporations to repair the damage runs in the tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the lost customer support and goodwill that these major brands have spent years trying to build.

The level of attacks has taken on a new dimension in two of the first of their kind – the lesser reported hack and subsequent wiping of entire computer systems at the Sands Casino and, perhaps most famously (or infamously) the attack on Sony Pictures for producing and releasing the movie “The Interview.” These attacks were radically different in that they were designed specifically to cause as much damage to the companies as possible, and not just to gain personal information or credit card numbers.

The attack on Target illustrates the need for all companies, both large and small, to implement strong web security policies. In the Target attack, hackers made their way into internal systems via an air conditioning/HVAC subcontractor. One of the most common ways for hackers to attack any system is to find the proverbial “weakest link” and exploit it to gain access to more secure systems. Thus, we at Shift One Labs wanted to provide some helpful tips and preventive measures that all companies – from the world’s largest corporations to individual business owners – should take to help create a secure, online environment for their customers, clients and vendors.

  • Strong Passwords: Creating strong passwords, much like flossing, is something that we all know we need to do but don’t actually do often enough. Creating a strong password might make it more difficult to remember, so you may want to use a password manager program to help keep them all straight.
  • Web Security: Talk to your web development company about security. If you run an e-commerce site, this is of vital importance since it is your customers’ credit card and personal information that is at the greatest risk. Make sure they are using secure, well known e-commerce solutions such as Magento or osCommerce. If they don’t provide detailed information about the steps they take to help build and host secure sites, come talk to us.
  • Use Open Source: Open source solutions offer users increased security compared to closed systems. Open source allows anyone to look into the underlying code that the software and applications are built on. Much the same way it’s a risk to buy a new house without a proper inspection, it’s difficult to truly access the effectiveness of a given program if you can’t see how it works.
  • Web Hosting: Look into the specifics of your web hosting company. What are their qualifications? What security implementations do they have in place? What level of support will they provide during a potential problem? Shift One Labs not only provides web application development – we also have website hosting capabilities.
  • Update Software: Updating the software on your computer – particularly the operating system – goes a long way towards helping prevent potential problems.
  • Offsite Backup: Creating on offsite backup of your most important data should be a core component of your IT system. Sites such as Crash Plan are designed to be easy to use and allow to you back up to a home or other trusted computer as well as the cloud.

If you have any questions about web security or the steps you can take now to help reduce the risk of a potential incident destroying your business, please reach out to us. For now, we need to go find some floss.

A (Brief) History of Web Development

web development history

It’s often been said that the best way to know where the future is headed is to look at the past. Though in the technology field, as we are constantly facing forward, always trying to determine what the “Next Big Thing” will be, it helps to stop and take a moment and see just how far things have come in a relatively short amount time. It’s of particular interest to note how much has changed, but also, how much has not.

No tour (even a brief one) of the web would be complete without a stop where it all began – the very first web site. It went live on August 6th, 1991. In it, we see many of the same links that appear on modern web sites – a help section, an FAQ, policies, even a link to help with ongoing projects, likely one of the very first reference to open source projects online (we’re big fans of open source at Shift One Labs). From there, the web developed at an uneven pace, punctuated by dramatic moments in advancement followed up by slower times of little significant change to outside users. Some major milestones include:

  • 1992: The first ever photo is posted to the web. One could argue that web photography has not vastly improved since that date.
  • 1993: Easily one of the most important moments in the development both of open source software, as well as the internet itself, CERN (the research organization generally credited with inventing the World Wide Web) puts the technology and software into the public domain. Also in 1993, a kid named Marc Andreessen creates the first web browser called Mosaic. He would go on to found Netscape one of the very first dotcom companies that helped set off the IPO boom of the mid to late 1990’s.
  • 1994: PHP is invented. PHP has proved to be one of the core technologies of the web – Shift One Labs, for example, currently offers PHP hosting.
  • 1995: JavaScript is created.
  • 1996-1997: Some of the web’s largest players are founded, including Amazon and eBay in 1996, and Google in 1997.
  • 2000: The much-hyped Y2K bug ended up being mostly inconsequential.
  • 2003: WordPress is founded. Much like PHP, WordPress continues to be a key player in web development.
  • 2004: Some kid named Mark Zuckerberg creates a web site at Harvard called thefacebook.com
  • 2005: YouTube is founded.
  • 2006: Twitter is created. It gained a huge following in 2007 at the South by Southwest Festival.
  • 2008: HTML 5 is introduced. The significance of this is highlighted by the fact that the previous version, HTML 4, was announced in 1997.
  • 2010: Shift One Labs was founded!
  • 2011: The second generation of social media websites are launched, including Pinterest and Instragram.
  • 2012: E-commerce sales top $1 trillion dollars for the first time.
  • 2013: SugarCRM releases their latest version of their customer engagement platform Sugar 7.
  • 2014: Though it has been many years in the making, 2014 was the first year that people spent more time accessing the internet on mobile devices than desktops. This has particular implications for companies as they begin to focus greater time and attention on their mobile web development strategy. Clearly this trend will continue as the number of smartphones, tablets, and even watches allows greater mobile connectivity wherever users happen to be.

Despite these developments, some sites – at least visually – appear to have changed very little from the early days of the web. Perhaps most famously, Craigslist still looks nearly identical to its original layout, though many people have offered suggestions on how to update it. Google’s homepage is still much the same as it was during the earliest days of the web, in fact, the number of words appearing on their famously sparse home page is closely monitored and tracked.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this walk down (virtual) memory lane. We’d love to hear from you on some of the things you remember most about the early days of the web. Reach out to us any time!

CMS Marketing Advantages and Trends

marketing

At this point in the evolution of the web, if a company doesn’t have a web site, there is a great deal of confusion on the part of the potential customer. Did I not spell the name correctly? Did they change their name recently? Did they go out of business? The possibility that a website for a particular brand, company (and in many cases, even individuals) doesn’t exist is simply unfathomable. Surprisingly, many small businesses – as many as half in fact – do not have a web site.

Even those that do have a web presence often view their website as more of a “check box” – we have a website and it has our contact information on it, so no need to ever update it again! If you happen to be Warren Buffet you might be able to get away with that, but for the rest of us, a well designed, frequently updated website is a key marketing initiative that will help garner new customers and provide specific information for current ones.

At Shift One Labs we work with clients to help them build a strong online presence. A website is only as useful as its CMS (a database application that provides website text, images, and multimedia content). A well-implemented CMS system is just like the person at work that everyone turns to for help. Their title or official role may not be lofty, but they are the ones that can get things done quickly and painlessly. CMS systems are vital to a company’s marketing efforts since they help create a consistent customer experience across an organization’s online properties, as well as provide internal messaging for employees. Allowing both customers and employees to have a consistent, specific concept of your company is one of the easiest ways to distinguish yourself from your competitors and build brand visibility.

One of the long-term trends that will continue to make a significant impact for customers and employees going forward is the increasing use of mobile devices to access information. Whereas not having a web site used to be an issue, the lack of a mobile-friendly site is increasingly becoming a red flag for potential customers. Over time, this trend will accelerate even faster with additional non-desktop options becoming more common – including tablets, wearable devices (such as the forthcoming Apple Watch) as well as embedded and “constantly connected” devices. Furthermore, younger generations are increasingly accustomed to accessing vast amounts of information via their phone and using desktops only for homework – Millennials, for example are the largest group of cell phone owners and the adaptation rate is still growing. In order to properly leverage all of these changes, small and large companies alike will need to create a powerful content management system that not only takes your current needs into account, but is designed with future technologies and uses in mind. Combined, these tools offer companies a powerful marketing outlet that will have a significant impact on your marketing efforts and help increase ROI. In essence – if a potential customer is looking for you, make sure you can be found.

The Weblog Blog

Creating a name for a blog, much like a company (to say nothing of naming a child), carries with it a great deal of weight. For a new blog, the name should indicate the key topics that it will discuss (such as web development and e-commerce for example), and, hopefully, add a bit of personality as well. At Shift One Labs, we are big fans of Arrested Development and in honor of the Bob Loblaw Law Blog we’ve decided to name our blog the “Weblog Blog.” Much like our namesake we take our job very seriously, and much like the Arrested Development series itself, we try to find the humor in any situation.

While ubiquitous today, blogging is a relativity recent development. Just a decade ago the word was so new that it was named the “Word of the Year” by Merriam-Webster. The term “blog” is actually an abbreviation of the term “weblog” which itself is a combination of two terms: “world wide web” and “log.” Log, in this sense, meaning a list of activities that have taken place. The earliest blogs were, often times, simply a sequential list of updates to a website, in some cases to help users find particular pages or information that may have moved. At the same time, with the rise of personal web publishing tools (many of which allowed users to create websites without in-depth knowledge of HTML) combined with greater access to the internet led to a boom in personal web publishing – the “online diary” that is still very common on sites such as Tumblr.

Blogging today has grown and expanded far beyond its humble origins. Today, there are hundreds of blogging and CMS platforms to choose from. Key players in the industry include WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal. Each has its own particular set of features. Determining exactly which system is best for your business depends on a variety of factors as well as your long-term goals. At Shift One Labs we have extensive experience assisting clients with these types of decisions, whether you are in the process of implementing a large-scale CMS system or simply creating a humble law blog. No matter your goals, we can help make them a reality.

With the rise of social media, some have wondered if blogging is still a viable option to help increase brand visibility. There is a very easy way to test this – the next time you search on Google, see how often a specific tweet or Facebook post appears in the results. Most likely, they will be ranked below websites and blog posts on the same topic. While social media should certainly be part of your online presence, a well-written, regularly updated blog is one of the best ways to communicate with current and potential customers and allows for a more expansive forum to discuss your brand and value proposition. We’d love to help you build the perfect platform to help expand your business, and if you need a good lawyer, we can help you there too.