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Like people, computers often lose a few things in translation, some of the minutiae more significant than others. The growth and interconnectivity of our global community in many ways parallels the spawning of an equally giant network of online communications systems, all attempting to speak with each other and share information, yet without common ground. It seems the web needs a translator, and for the team behind OASIS’s recently announced WEMI (Web Experience Interoperability Initiative) committee, the call to action comes none too soon.

A Gross Need for Web Experience Management

The idea behind WEMI was initially sparked during discussions for CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Specification), another initiative at OASIS to create a standard for diverse document management systems. A few members on the CMIS team realized a similar demand was necessary for web experience. Braced with the task of devising an abstract features set “enabling organizations to optimize and manage online engagement with their users,” WEMI was launched, and thus will aim to establish open standards extending the reach of experiences into social networks and end-user devices.

As Cedric Huesler of Adobe Systems, and Committee chair describes it, in system communications, there’s an author and a publisher. The extent of the author’s role is to manage content. What WEMI strives to do is enhance the final experience presented -- the "publisher’s" job -- to various interfaces, from mobile phones to tablets to Desktops.

“There are a few challenges I think exist in web experience management,” explains Huesler to CMSWire. “First, customers spend a lot of time putting data into a system. Some systems already have defining structures or a defined content model, but others make it up on the fly. All these systems work differently as soon as they have to expose data for integration into other systems. It is a lot of plumbing work, which the customer has to pay for…Furthermore, another main driver is the fact there are all kinds of other systems, which want to absorb that content. The subject of targeting content is, of course, a big thing in online marketing -- you want content relevant to visitors, content based on past visits. Some CMS have that capability built in but there are tons of providers having a hard time accessing and making use of that content.”

Additionally, with more and more websites working to convert material for mobile platforms, another challenge crops up in that some CMS have built in structures to map it out, but others create intermediate layers to transform information mathematically. This creates a complex area of formulas to decode, thus, WEMI will establish a simple semantic way of getting it out most efficiently. Lastly, with interest in social media publishing proliferating, vendors are building their systems incompatible with the next, a third task to be addressed.

Notes Huesler,

There are various ways to find and access content...We are going to create an API that is read-only, which is an important limitation as it’s very easy to be repurposed, it’s reusable, and it’s not remote or out of scope of unlocking all the content over different CMS."

The Process

The WEMI team aims to use existing systems as a starting point, identifying what works and doesn’t, and what still needs to be invented. Detailed plans include “specifying a default binding as a lightweight, resource-oriented, HTTP-based protocol that will focus on ease-of-consumption from modern web browsers (and web browser-like systems) as well as server-side integration technologies.”

It’s a process only in initial stages, but with the goal to develop at least a draft of the standard over the course of the year. CMSWire reported in January, that the committee will also lead the effort to produce a "reference implementation" and test suite that validates the specifications.

Deliverables of focus on the initiative include:

  • Display and Mashup Content from a WCM
  • Index Content and Metadata
  • Export all Content / Migration
  • Entitlement and Access Control
  • Versioning and Records Management
  • Data Ingestion / Write operations

The committee consists of 35 members around the world representing companies including Adobe, Oracle, HIPPO, Nuxeo Systems, Sitecore, DotNetNuke Corporation, Ektron, Enonic, Jahia Solutions Group SA, Liferay, Inc., Magnolia International Ltd., SDL and SDL International.

So Where to Begin?

Serge Huber, CTO & Co-founder of Jahia Solutions Group and WEMI committee member, believes web experience management is mostly about customizing the user experience for end-users, “tailoring it both manually and automatically.” He points to Amazon as a good reference point on a well-managed system.

“Amazon has been a real innovator," comments Huber. “Very early they started integrating the Autonomy recommendation engine, before switching to home-made technologies, which enabled them to be among the first to offer "recommendations" to their customers. This is an important part of WEM because it allows to push content and products to the clients that are interested in them. In a similar manner, others have done innovations in advertising, allowing for powerful segmentation.”

Huber goes on to mention Amazon’s more recent strategy of tracking user activity, following up with email recommendations for similar products, and doing so in a way that not only is inoffensive, but helpful. Furthermore, Amazon makes use of a user’s browsing history rather than solely their purchases.

He remarks,

What Amazon has been doing for years for e-commerce is now coming to all websites, and this is what the current wave of WEM is about. Making sure that whatever the website, the visitors get the best custom experience, adjusting it as more is learned from what works and what doesn't, and modifying it accordingly."

Marketing Gimmick versus Important Solution

Skeptics of web experience management claim it’s a marketing term with little substance, and that an initiative like this could merely be a waste of time. WEMI member Lars Nielson, the Co-Founder and SVP of Technical Marketing at Sitecore, argues such comments indicate a lack of thorough knowledge on the subject.

It’s hard for us as vendors to find a topic that describes what is it but it is significantly different than the web content management we saw in past appropriations. It’s a term that describes well beyond editing content systems and is more about connecting the dots and measuring effectiveness. It’s about providing personal experiences for individual users that live up to today’s standards."

Huesler adds, “The difference from CMS or WCM is that these are traditional systems where you manage content and kind of throw it over a wall into another system. WEM presents that content to customers.”