If you need to compare or evaluate different content management system (CMS) options — especially for non-profits or for distributed networks that share content via RSS and tags — check out the results of my recent work on choosing a platform for telecentre.org. Telecentre.org is a project of Canada’s International Development Research Centre, jointly funded by IDRC and Microsoft, aimed at linking up all the telecentres around the world.

Telecentres are basically community technology centres that focus on helping people use technology for economic, social and educational development. They do cool things like using radio to battle locusts in Mali, giving Tanzanian villagers access to the Internet, or getting higher sale prices for Indian sugarcane farmers. In the developing world — and in many part of the developed world, too — telecentres are the key to translating the innovations of the digital age into practical benefits for more of the world’s population.

Right now there are many regional and national networks that help telecentres in their work with everything from training to event support to infrastructure development. But these networks — just like telecentres themselves — often tackle similar problems, and could work more effectively if they were able to share ideas and resources. That’s where telecentre.org comes in: trying to help telecentre networks work more effectively together so that they can do a better job of helping telecentres…and so that telecentres can then do a better job of helping people.

That’s why I was delighted when Mark Surman, the Managing Director of the telecentre.org project, asked me if I could help with the development of the telecentre.org web network. The online network among telecentre network sites is only one dimension of telecentre.org’s ambitious five-year program, but it will support many other aspects of telecentre.org’s work.

The vision is for a distributed network of web sites that share content via RSS and tags, and I have spent much of this summer examining the different web platforms that can help realize that vision. I have had an almost criminal amount of fun working on this – what, you mean you want me to spend my time thinking about RSS and tags? — particularly because Mark has had so many great ideas about how to use these technologies in ways that actually make web collaboration cheaper and easier as well as more effective.

Drupal fans will be unsurprised to hear that we concluded that Drupal is currently the best option for a distributed network, but there are many other tools that we considered seriously before reaching that decision. I have documented the various CMS options in a short document that is available online or PDF form. It may be useful to others who are working on similar visions of multiple sites that work together to share content and build community.

In the course of working on this project I’ve met with others who are working on distributed network projects — but would love to hear from more. If you are working on a distributed network project, please let me know; I’m hoping to organize a community of practice/e-mail list so we can share ideas and strategies.