How SFMOMA Chose the CMS for This Website

by Keir Winesmith

The backend of the website cms

There are many ways to build a museum website. Various successes and failures, going back to the very first such sites in the mid-1990s, are documented in museum conference proceedings and blog posts. The three most common approaches are: build it from scratch, choose something off the shelf and use it as is, or extend an existing framework or platform to do what’s needed at that moment in time. There is no right approach. The best choice, as in any digital project, is defined by the time, money, and technical skills the individual institution can muster.

Last year I chronicled the new, and since then I’ve been asked a number of times why SFMOMA chose an extended GLAMkit framework for this project.

Here’s why.

SFMOMA does not have a large enough staff to develop a site of’s size, complexity, and number of integrations (think membership, ticketing, online store, customer relationship management software, venue hire, collections database, digital asset management platform, museum apps, and in-museum digital signage) from scratch. And even if we did, we still would have looked for a partner to help us create something different (and better) than what we could have made on our own.

We looked at a few frameworks and platforms during the research and discovery phase of the project, including WordPress (PHP), Radiant/Refinery (Ruby), and EPiServer (.NET), and settled on GLAMkit (Python). GLAMkit provides us with the foundational elements of a modern website such as user roles, content editing, and publishing. It also supports more museum-specific needs, such as backing for large, complex online collections or the myriad ways events appear, including recurrences and series. With its robust infrastructure, GLAMkit allows us to integrate with SFMOMA’s existing systems, implement our Design Studio’s gorgeous new design, and provide a platform for the breadth and depth of content SFMOMA is known for.

Another key consideration was that, once the project launched, we wanted to take ownership of the site’s maintenance and growth, and this led us toward open source software. Making software developed for or by a museum open source is almost always the right thing to do. It allows other museums and cultural organizations to build upon the work of others, in a way that suits their specific needs. GLAMkit is open source, and SFMOMA is proud to support and contribute to its development for use across the GLAM community.

Keir Winesmith

Keir Winesmith

Keir Winesmith is the head of Web + Digital Platforms at SFMOMA.

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