When you think of a CMS, chances are you think of a PHP-based application installed on your server that lets you login and add/edit pages, such as Drupal or Joomla, or maybe even WordPress. Such content management systems are great, especially for users that aren’t massively fluent in code. However, the way these websites work can make it difficult to customise your website, leaving the backend dictating how the frontend works. Osmek, on the other hand, aims to be flexible enough (and powerful enough) to work with any design or idea you have whilst leaving you with benefit of easy data entry.
How does it do this, and how good a job does it do? Let’s take a look…
A cloud CMS?
Before you start groaning about yet another new cloud service, let me explain why it actually makes a lot of sense. Traditional content management systems store your data on the same server. This is great, for the most part, but what happens when you want to pull some of that information onto another website of yours? Even if that website is hosted on the same server, getting that data still requires some jiggery pokery (either pulling it from the database, or setting up another instance of the content management system). Okay, though, that’s feasible. But what if it’s not on the same server? No easy (and secure) solution comes to my mind, certainly.
Osmek works differently. All of your data is stored on its servers and accessed by API. You can serve up content stored in Osmek on any number of websites, all using the same method. You just need your API key. This also means that you no longer have to worry about a database; everything that you’d normally store in one is managed by Osmek.
Okay, I want to manage some content!
Right! Firstly, you’ll need to know that Osmek content is stored in ‘Content Bins’ and that there are different kinds of bins available. To be precise, there are twelve different types, which include single- and multi-entry, photo gallery and events (the full list is here). These content bins cover pretty much every usage case I can think of, and make data entry very easy. What’s more: if you find something missing from a content bin, you can add it as a custom data field. Default data fields can also be customised. All in all, I found managing content with Osmek to be easier than with any of the other content management systems I’ve tried.
It’s not quite all sunshine and roses, though. The user interface is a little clunky and convoluted. For instance, slugs can be set manually for each content bin, but not from the content bin creation page. Rather, you have to create the content bin, then edit it. Not a massively big deal, but it adds an extra bit of time and confusion to the process.
What about the API?
I’m going to make a startling admission here: in all the years I’ve spent tinkering with web-design, I’ve never actually used an API! I know, I know, it’s shameful. So you can understand that I was a bit apprehensive about Osmek’s API. Well, I am fearful no longer! All it requires is a HTTP POST request to http://api.osmek.com/[METHOD_NAME], with a few details passed along as variables. Osmek can return the data in JSON, XML, RSS, pre-formatted HTML or a custom format defined by a user template. Easy-peasy! And of course, you can use whatever language you like to request data from Osmek. As long as it can mak HTTP POST requests, you can use it.
If you happen to be a PHP or CodeIgniter developer, Osmek have developed their own client-side libraries to make working with it even easier.
So is it any good?
Actually, it’s very good. It has the best system for actually managing content that I’ve seen. That, of course, makes sense because that’s exactly what it is designed to do. It leaves all of the content manipulation and display to you. In this respect, Osmek is definitely a developer’s content manager; without a developer you won’t actually end up with a website. That leaves you with a significantly higher initial investment; you can’t just use a pre-made template.
The problem with Osmek is it seems a little confused. The idea behind it appears to be: let the techies configure everything and leave it for the not-quite-so-techies to do all the content managing. Unfortunately, the separation of these two areas is not quite complete. The slug problem up above is a perfect example of this – it’s most likely a developer’s job setting up the content bin, so why not provide full customisation options on the create screen? Not doing so makes the developer’s job just that little bit more difficult, and so a little less likely to use the product. The developers behind Osmek could really do with going through and making sure every page is tailored to the needs of its expected user.
My other slight problem with this service is more conceptual: it took me quite a while to get my head around the idea of a ‘Content Bin’. My initial understanding was that you created content bins based on what area the content fell into on your website. Not so: the split is between different types of content. So, for instance, all pages of directions with a Google Maps’ map go in one content bin, even if they’re entirely different parts of the website. Maybe I was just being a little unperceptive, but I did not quickly gleam this from the Osmek documentation. Improved documentation would help with this, and generally make using the product easier.
…I would say it’s a good product. It’s an interesting idea, and one that has a lot of potential. For the most part, it’s well-executed; the areas that need improvement need only small changes. Osmek’s pricing is perhaps a little on the steep side, and uncharacteristically inflexible. The options are $9, $29, $59, $99 and $149 per month plans. The $9/month plan, however, includes only two content bins and 1GB of storage with one user. If that’s not enough, you have to add an extra $20/month. It would be nice if Osmek offered customisable plans that could be tailored to the needs of individual clients. Until then, I may have to hold off on using it myself, sadly. Taking into account the confusion of audience, documentation and pricing, I’ve given Osmek 8 out of 10. It was very nearly a 9, and ti’s definitely worth taking out the free trial and seeing how you like it, and it has plenty of potential to become a great product.