webtrees as CMS

Among the most common questions I have discussed on the webtrees support forums are those related to integrating webtrees into some form of content management software (cms). The most popular forms of these are Joomla, Drupal, and the one I use here, WordPress. What all of these queries ask either directly or by implication is for some integrated way of sharing a single login between the cms product and webtrees.

The fact of the matter is that at present webtrees has no integration designed for such products, and the developers have no plans to include any. The main reason being that none of the team have a strong interest in it, nor do they feel it is a priority among the many things planned for webtrees.

However, my own opinion goes further than others on the development team. I actually don’t believe it is even necessary for most people. With a little effort, and perhaps some help, webtrees can provide almost everything¬† most users think they need a cms for.

Lets first consider the shared login. That is actually a very complex proposal because webtrees uses registration in many critical ways. The most important is that the security and privacy of the system is heavily dependent on it. Anything that even remotely risks this aspect of the system is, for me, a non-starter! Many people have tried such integrations, but I have seen equally as many successful breaches of those attempts. So instead I asked myself whether the integration is really necessary.

As a first step when I did use Joomla with PhpGedView (webtrees’ predecessor) I eventually realised that NONE of the information I was presenting in the cms parts was actually confidential. So instead of sharing a login, I turned off the login requirements of Joomla, allowing free public access, but kept the family tree part secured by its own login systems.Equally, if you do have private information in the cms part, you can choose to hide the family tree data from all but those you allow to register on the cms, and turn off the family tree software registration.

But this for me was still “messy”. In Joomla the integrated family tree was held in a “wrapper”, which is just Joomla-speak for an iframe. That is not an ideal presentation solution, as it often results in multiple vertical scroll bars. You can see that clearly at webtrees’ own demo page if you select any individual’s page – or shown here:

So instead, and as a second step, I started to consider how the things I wanted a cms for could be incorporated INSIDE webtrees. For me that meant including a forum where family members could discuss things, a gallery where we could display general collections of images, and a range of other pages of useful information. In PhpGedView I found that all these could be included, but that doing so required reasonably high programming skills. But when we developed webtrees, and added a more modular structure, it became a whole lot easier.

Now I have added some of these things to my own site Our Families which is hosted here at kiwitrees (of course). It also led me to develop kiwtrees’ own range of “Simpl” webtrees modules that make this process even easier. These either do, or will soon include a photo album display module, a menu add-on that can add a link to any other installed software, such as a forum, and an easy way to add text/html pages such as family histories, general information articles, etc..

Of all the “simpl” modules however, there is one that I no longer use – the addition of a forum. That’s is another area I recommend most users stop and think very carefully about before implementing. I can only speak from my own experience, and having viewed a few family history sites that have added them. What I see is that they are just not used! They are a great idea, but can’t compete with the Facebook and Twitter pages that so many people prefer. So my final recommendation is to be totally and brutally realistic about what you really need on your site. It is also worth remembering that every additional module or component you add to your cms-based web site is another piece of maintenance, another upgrade complication, and in the case of any forum, a magnet for spammers! Is it really worth it?