Web Content Management (WCM) seems to mean different things to different people. This of course can lead to confusion. The term Web Content Management has been around for a while, since the mid 1990’s, but two key things have changed since the term was first adopted namely the web and the type of content available over the web.
The web has become a much richer visual experience in recent years with digital content such as video, flash, images becoming far more prevalent on all sites. Also it has become much more interactive with users generating their own content from comments, reviews, blogs, wiki’s to images, presentations, music, profile pages, video’s and applications. The web has evolved from being a fairly static publishing tool to a dynamic social media platform.
The technical infrastructure underpinning web sites has also evolved significantly since WCM was born. We have moved far from the early days of HTML pages and CGI scripts that add dynamic content often from a single database to platforms providing presentation templating and layout, content creation and editing tools with content aggregated from multiple sources both text and digital media. Expectations have changed as well with content creation and management being readily available to non-technical users.
Given these changes it is no surprise that WCM has changed and evolved to adapt to the ever changing landscape. Broadly you can divide the approaches being taken in the WCM space as those that are coupled or decoupled.
Coupled WCM (content repository + presentation combined)
A coupled WCM solution combines the presentation and navigation of the site with managing the content that is available to be included in pages. These type of solutions typically rely on a database to manage and store content and presentation details with files for templating/layout and styling.
Examples of coupled WCM’s include Drupal, Liferay, Joomla, Plone
- Rich and easy to use editorial process allowing content to be easily combined and seen as it will be displayed on the site
- Easy to associate and combine user generated content to published content
- Often many additional modules available supporting authentication, rich media, ecommerce etc which all work off the content model
- Requires less technical skills to manage and maintain site
- Usually has a strong multi-site model allowing content and templates to be reused across different sites
- Built in authentication to control access rights of users to content
- Not so strong for managing file based assets, including versioning, grouping, transformation and workflow
- Poor API support to expose content externally
- Design of site needs to be aligned to templating model of solution
- Challenges of distributing development due to configuration being stored in the database
- Poor support for managing deployment and versions of a site
Decoupled WCM (separate repository(ies) and presentation layer)
The decoupled approach focusses on managing content independently of any presentation of the content. So the content is managed in a repository which provides versioning, metadata, workflow and the presentation is managed in a front-end platform that allows pages and navigation to be easily managed and often provides user management. Some decoupled repository based solutions also offer features such as allowing users their own sandboxed version of a site to change so they can preview just their own changes before those updates are deployed to the main site. However this type of approach does assume that changes are being made to files rather than changing config/content in a database through a social media front-end such as Drupal.
Examples of content repositories: Alfresco, Nuxeo
Examples of front-end presentation layers: web frameworks such as Django, Symphony, Ruby on Rails, coupled WCM’s like Drupal where only User Generated Content (UGC) is stored in the front-end and all other content is retreived from one or more repositories, portals such as JBoss and Liferay
- Clean separation between content and presentation allowing different tools to be used that best suit the solution or enable use of new tools/technologies as they emerge
- Strong API access to content within the repository
- Ability to have several repositories that focus on certain content types such as documents or digital assets and leverage the specialised functionality of these tools
- Is possible to use a coupled WCM for front-end and gain the benefits that provides while reducing the limitations due to accessing content from a backend repository
- Challenge of providing an easy to use front end for managing composite pages which combine content from multiple repositories
- Requires integration between front-end presentation platform and backend repositories
- Content creation might require different UI’s if this is provided by each backend repository
- Need to define clear separation of responsibilities between front-end and backend such as where are taxonomies mastered, how is search managed across both UGC and content in backend repositories, where is access control to content managed
In cases where there is alot of disparate content potentially from many sources the decoupled approach makes the most sense – combining content from multiple sources and being able to present that using one or more front-end platforms. Developments such as CMIS will help facilitate accessing content from various sources from the front-end platform. The greater challenge concerns providing easy to use editorial screens to easily manage composite pages that combine content from several sources. Utilising a rich social media platform such as Drupal for the front end will help ease this process but there is still work to be done to make this even slicker. There is already a CMIS connector for Drupal currently tested against the Alfresco implementation of CMIS. For good coverage of some of the future trends being discussed in content management see What is the Future of Content Management ?
If anything is sure it is that WCM will need to continue to evolve regardless of whether the acronym itself remains or is replaced by a broader content consolidation and publishing meme. Understanding the current state and trade-offs will help ensure an informed decision is made as to the right approach for any particular enterprise strategy to exposing content over the web.