Reply To: Project Evaluations

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Becky Jenkins

The DH tool I am evaluating is Scalar, a content management system. For comparison, I am also evaluating two other content management systems, Mukurtu and WordPress.

Background information:

Scalar: A project of the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture (ANVC), Scalar is a free, open source authoring and publishing platform that is used to create dynamic media projects borne from multiple sources and media types.

Mukurtu: This is a stand-alone CMS that can be mounted to a site via cPanel. You can also purchase hosted solutions for a fee. Born out of specific archival needs of the Warumungu Aboriginal community in Tennant Creek, Australia.

WordPress: WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL, which runs on a web hosting service. Features include a plug-in architecture and a template system. WordPress is used by more than 18.9% of the top 10 million websites as of August 2013

Ease of Use:
Scalar: Scalar touts itself as easy to use and as requiring little technical knowledge. Despite this, I found the interface to be difficult to use, and overly laborious to complete simple page creation. The help pages are well designed, but I still seemed to have problems getting pages and features to work.

Mukurtu: Mukurtu is not easy to use. The interface seems reasonable, but using the content management features is difficult. The design is sort of “clunky,” and the features are not intuitive to use.

WordPress: WordPress is the easiest to use of all three systems. Most cPanels have a one-click install for WordPress or come pre-loaded with it. It’s easy to use, and is the template for most online publishing.

Scalar: The publishing aesthetic options are limited but customizable. It’s clean looking and seems to be fairly clear in navigation, when the options work properly.

Mukurtu: The layout is clean looking and well organized, but navigation of the features can be tricky. I lost my place several times and had to start input over for media items. The aesthetic options are more limited than the Scalar options, making customization an issue.

WordPress: WordPress is extremely customizable. Because of the enormous audience for the tool, customization options are almost endless. There are pre-built themes, tons of plug-ins and you can tweak your site in thousands of ways until you’ve reached something you feel is right.

Scalar: The major drawback to Scalar is the inability to import the tool to your own web space. Your work remains on their servers, and you have to re-import all the materials you want to use. It forces you to start from scratch in creating a site, but if you’re starting fresh, that’s not such a down point. Not being able to use it in your own domain, though, might be a deal breaker. There’s also a news item on the page apologizing for a server breakdown and instructions for re-uploading lost media. For intricate, time-sensitive or low budget projects, this could be devastating.

Mukurtu: This CMS offers a variety of options for publishing, including a mobile publishing app for smart phones. The general layout of Mukurtu is easy to understand and navigate, but the “Roundtrip” feature is extremely confusing. It’s supposed to simplify the process of a sharing unique item data across platforms, but the interface needs simplification for novice users.

WordPress: WordPress is THE content management system for most blogging type web publishing. The tools are intuitive, the navigation is clear – WordPress set the standard for content management system publishing. It’s by far the easiest of these three projects to use and manage.

Scalar: Scalar is a fairly new tool, and is still gaining ground, but has active partnerships with such research institutions as the Critical Commons, the Getty Library and the Internet Archive.

Mukurtu: Last updated in spring, 2013, “Mukurtu is a grassroots project aiming to empower communities to manage, share and exchange their digital heritage in culturally relevant and ethically-minded ways. Mukurtu CMS is meant to be ‘a safe keeping place’ for cultural knowledge and a catalyst for ongoing dialogue about sharing, making and reproducing cultural materials and knowledge.”

WordPress: WordPress is the most widely used content management system in the world. It’s been downloaded more than 20 million times and is used to run more than 60 million web pages.

Scalar: Created as an affiliation to the University of Southern California and the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.

Mukurtu: Development funds and grants provided by Washing State University, the NEH, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

WordPress: WordPress is closely associated with Automattic, the company founded by Matt Mullenweg. On September 9, 2010, Automattic handed the WordPress trademark to the newly created WordPress Foundation, which is an umbrella organization supporting (including the software and archives for plugins and themes), bbPress and BuddyPress.

Rooted in Scholarship?
Scalar: Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the NEH, both prestigious peer-reviewed credentials.

Mukurtu: The site lists advisers, research partners and the project team on the site, and includes support from dozens of university affiliated individuals and institutions all over the world.

WordPress: Though free, WordPress is not affiliated with any educational or scholarly institutions.

I think Scalar is a great idea, but needs to be expanded to make the tool independent. If I could install the tool on my own cPanel and publish from within my own framework, the options offered by Scalar would be great. The major downside is having to publish within the domain. Mukurtu is a niche CMS, and I didn’t have a lot of luck in using it. Designed with cultural knowledge preservation in mind, the site is data heavy, which surprises me, considering the site description’s dedication to artifacts. WordPress is the most popular and most versatile of all the options presented, but the publishing style is fairly limited to blog-type publishing. It would be useful to expand it to offer more media-centered projects.