Fae is a new open-source content management system based on Rails

FINE, a San Francisco- and Portland-based brand agency, is open sourcing the content management system (CMS) it has developed in-house to build sites for brands like Anchor Brewing, Kimpton Residences at Seafire, Prūf Cultivar (“Elevated Cannabis”) and others.

It’s no secret that there is already a plethora of other CMS systems on the market and that it’s hard to stand out in this crowded field. FINE, however, believes that Fae, as this new CMS engine is called, stands out for a couple of reasons — largely because of its focus on being lightweight and highly customizable. And because FINE has been using it to build its own customers’ sites, it should also be pretty battle-hardened at this point.

It’s worth noting that Fae (which stands for “Fine Admin Engine”) is squarely aimed at developers. There is no WordPress-like setup procedure that gives you a complete CMS with a working front end and back end in minutes.

As FINE director of operations Lori Dunkin told me, a few years ago, the company typically wrote a custom PHP-based CMS for every client. That also meant a lot of its resources went into building those. With Fae, it developed a CMS system that it can easily customize for different clients without having to reinvent the wheel for every one of them — and now that it’s open source, anybody can give that a try.

Typically, companies open source those internal products that they believe aren’t major differentiators for them. One could argue that a CMS system like Fae is pretty central to FINE’s work. Dunkin, however, noted that FINE believes that its differentiation is in how it configures a Fae environment for its clients and how it works to distill its clients’ brands into a data model. “None of that has to do with how the forms look or how you log in,” she noted, and added that because the new system is open source, clients aren’t locked in and can easily move to a different agency if they want to. “It’s in everyone’s best interest for this to be a non-issue,” she said.

Because it’s based on Rails, developers can easily add additional functionality on top of Fae’s existing features with the help of Ruby gems. Thanks to this, the system remains pretty lightweight (unlike, say, Drupal) while still offering the necessary flexibility to be useful for all kinds of sites and applications.

The core features of Fae include authentication, support for multiple user types, the usual UI components for field types, page structures, lists and workflows, as well as multi-language support, image uploading and processing, change tracking, filtering and a global search tool.

Over the long run, the company hopes to build a community around Fae, which is now available on GitHub. FINE will maintain the code and keep the open-source repository updated. Indeed, it’s worth noting that there is only one version of Fae, and that the company isn’t keeping any proprietary parts for itself. That, after all, would go against its stated principle of making it easy for its customers to take their sites and move them elsewhere.