I started using my first content management system around 1997, when things were crude and clumsy. You would think in the past 15 or so years time would heal all and improvements would be made, but you would be wrong. The modern CMS is still in a state of flux.
In the early days of the CMS we had major players such as OpenText (which didn't really have true CMS functionality until around 2002), Vignette (which was a separate company before being acquired by OpenText in 2009), and Fatwire (which was acquired by Oracle this past summer), among others. Note a trend here? These were gigantic software installations, requiring six figure PO's and a phalanx of consultants to care for and feed these beasts. They were and still are the exclusive domain of the IT department, who treated them like other big-ticket software installations. If you wanted to build a corporate website, you need plenty of time to plan your requirements and implement the code.
Then something happened to the CMS market, and a more democratic and user-led effort began with the rise of the blog. The entry of the blog didn't help matters. While blogs can and are used as CMS, they really are poor substitutes. Part of the problem is that today's blogging platforms make it so easy to post new content to a website that almost anyone can do it. And when Facebook and other social media equivalents for the enterprise came to the scene, these made matters worse for the huge CMS installations, as we wrote about earlier this fall.
While the big guys like OpenText and Oracle still have lots of CMS business, today when you say CMS, people usually think of three vendors: Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla. Microsoft Sharepoint and DotNetNuke are sometimes mentioned as well. These can be six-figure installations that are part of the IT department, but they don't have to be. I can set up a Wordpress site in the early part of a day, and still have plenty of time to fill it up with content before the sun goes down (or comes up, depending on when you do your coding).
Image c/o OrangeMantra.com
Part of the challenge for today's CMS is that it sits squarely across several different markets, all of which are clamoring more for our attention: blogging, social media, Web services and rapid/agile development. None of these plays on the typical strength of the CMS: the ability to stage and organize content for the Web. For example, the typical blog presents information in reverse chronological order, and makes it difficult to arrange your content in some other order. The typical social media tool streams a news feed, and makes it difficult to sort this or classify this without investing heavily in some sort of schema. Web services relies on a variety of protocol add-ons to HTTP that don't easily translate into how content is organized, searched, or presented.
So we have a lot more powerful tools at our beck and call today than we did when the Web was young. But the CMS is still the poor stepchild for many of us, and still a source of frustration. Each time I transition to a new CMS, (as we are about to do here at RWW), hope springs eternal that I will find the one true system. And then, these hopes are quickly dashed.
Over the years working with various CMS's, I have seen the following weaknesses:
- Integrating text and illustrations was a foreign concept then and now. You really need a solid database behind your CMS, and how you post your graphics and videos and organize them with the accompanying text is never easy.
- Recognizing actual workflows isn't easy either. How many times have you heard this across your network: "Are you out of editing your story so I can go in and review it?" That is the sure sign that workflow isn't happening in the CMS. Those that have tried to implement proper workflows know how hard these projects are.
- You still need to know HTML coding no matter how rich a text editor is part of the system. Some of the CMS's that I have used have some pretty snazzy text editors, but still when push comes to shove, you have to go to the raw HTML codes to get stuff done.
- Timing your posts is problematic. While all of the CMS's do a nice job of scheduling a post in the future, the notion of changing something in the past is fraught with all sorts of quirks, making it sometimes nigh impossible.
- Search sucks. Just about every website that I have ever worked with has fallen down when it comes to a proper search function that can be used by the reading public. If your search algorithm drives people to use the Google site search, you know what I mean.
- And the same can be said about stats. Sigh. Why is it that on the Web you can measure so many things with such accuracy but with so little insight? With most CMS's, their internally generated stats on page views never come close to agreeing with any other stats package. We have three here at RWW: all three report different stats.
- Most CMS's are still the province of the dev team, and protected as such. This makes the pollination between the editorial department, who creates the content and lives inside the CMS, and the developers difficult. Now, I have enormous respect for my dev teams that I have worked with over the years (and try to bow down to them on a daily basis, because they truly have the power to make my life easy or difficult, thank you Jared and Tyler, thank you, thank you), but still. Take as an example Wordpress with all its plug-ins. How many of you know what any of these plug-ins really does, and whether there are any bad interactions between any two random plug-ins? I am still fearful that upgrading my main Wordpress software that will break something. This is what the dev team does before they even eat breakfast.
- Finally, Facebook and Wordpress set the bar high on usability that isn't readily attainable with the standard CMS. How many CMS's work better in one browser than others, which is odd for something that is so Web-intensive? (Did anybody check?) Or that have odd UI quirks that can crash the system, or delete your entire article that you have been working on for the past hour? That this should be happening in 2011 is an embarrassment.