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One of the most important aspects of the management part of content management is controlling how that content is accessed and changed. Users, groups, and permissions allow you to do just that. In a typical CMS, there are dozens of tasks that can be performed by users. This could be anything from posting or editing a blog post, uploading images, adding metadata, adding dates to upcoming events, or even moderating user comments. If your site is a one-person operation, then controlling access to all those tasks isn't that important.
You are just going to be doing them all yourself. However, in a team-based environment or in a situation where you want to separate the administration of a site from working with the content, groups and permissions allow you to do just that. The basic premise behind using groups and permissions is pretty simple. Typically, an administrator will create groups that include various permissions. An authors group, for example, might contain permissions that allow members to write and edit specific ranges of content. Another group might have a broader set of permissions to allow members to publish articles, add metadata, and decide which marketing campaigns to run in the sidebar each month.
After groups have been created, users of the site are then added to these groups which then control what the user can do within the system. As is the case with all functions within a CMS, the levels of control you have with users groups and permissions vary depending upon the CMS itself. Some have very broad and rather limited ranges of permissions, while others offer an incredibly granular amount of control over what users are allowed to control or do within your site. Within these systems, you can restrict access to whether users can modify the site's CSS, assign templates to pages, communicate with other team members, start email campaigns, or I mean a host of other features.
Other content management systems take that control even further, by introducing the concept of what we call workflows. Now, workflows are groups and permissions that are kind of bundled together to control how content is created, managed, and published within a system. By assigning workflows, you can set these permission levels across multiple groups at once. In addition to managing team members, permissions give you the ability to control how visitors of your site can view and interact with it as well. If your CMS allows you to manage site memberships, you could create multiple user experiences based on member permissions.
Here, for example, we see a guest of a site that can only see two pages. Well, you could, if you wanted to, restrict some pages or content to registered members only. I'll restrict who can respond to a post through comments. You can even use permissions to decide which content to show a member based on what type of member they are. The amount of control you have over groups and permissions does vary widely among different CMSs, so before you begin looking for a CMS, you need to carefully consider what types of users, groups, and permissions you or your clients are likely to need.
Getting a CMS that allows fine granular control over permissions when you really only need one or two user types is pretty much overkill, and it's going to result in inefficient administration of the site. Likewise, a CMS that has very simple user and permission capabilities will likely be too restrictive to a team that needs various user roles and capabilities. Be sure to map out the needs of your team to decide what level of control that you're going to need from your CMS. If you're researching a CMS and find that it doesn't contain the necessary permissions and groups, don't assume that it won't work for you.
First, carefully examine how users and groups are created. Often, you can create exactly the system you need through a little extra work. Second, take a look at the available modules and extensions. Many open-source CMSs have custom user group and permission extensions that add more granular level of control to the core functionality. If you're going to be creating multiple sites for various types of clients, you'll want to find a CMS with really flexible groups and permissions that you can modify depending upon the needs of your client. Regardless, pay close attention to how users, groups, and permissions are handled by the CMS that you choose.
Working efficiently within the CMS requires you to control how content is managed in a way that's suitable for your team or the clients that are going to be using it.
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