Web content management has changed. Yes, again. The universe of options for organizations to create, edit, manage and ultimately publish content to their Web platforms has shifted for the second time in a decade.

In the first part of the 2000’s WCM software solutions were focused on one thing -- and one thing only; making it easier and more powerful for non-technical people to move content from their desktop to their web site. Interfaces were critical. Every enterprise web content management provider touted their “easy-to-use” UI and how flexible and intuitive their solution would make the web content management process. And power-user enterprise features were also key -- with the focus on powerful workflows, and approval processes -- and the ability to integrate with other enterprise tools.

But then, toward the latter part of the decade and lasting up until this last year -- the WCMS industry went through another major pivot. The marketing department and the “social web” became the primary business drivers for Web sites -- and many of the solutions shifted their focus to solving marketing related challenges. Email campaign management systems, and Web Analytics systems were integrated into web content management, and there became a focus on testing, targeting -- and driving more marketing value from the WCMS.

Now, as we move into 2012, and the middle part of this decade -- the industry is pivoting yet again. The explosive growth of content consumption from mobile and social interfaces, the pending expansion of the “internet of things” and consumer expectation of content availability is driving WCMS providers to shift their value proposition. Ironically, the Web content management industry is no longer focused on web content management -- but rather on the delivery of web content. Terms like Web Engagement Management, and Customer Experience Management are all the buzz among vendors. In fact, the latest Forrester Wave Report for Web Content Management is focused exclusively on vendors providing “Online Customer Experience”. Report author Stephen Powers states “functionality to enable publishing to the Web -- whether internally or externally -- has become commoditized. Yet, now, the WCM market is growing based on customer experience management.

WCM software solutions are increasingly differentiating themselves on a scale of how well their solution can help a customer DELIVER a personalized “web experience” to the client’s consumers through multiple channels such as web, mobile and social.

However, this incremental step is just one toward a different corner in which vendors will find themselves commoditized. The real shift of Web content and consumer expectations is not in delivering a solution that helps a client DELIVER a web experience -- but rather one that helps their audiences CONSUME an experience of their own making.

Web Experiences Won’t Be Managed

WEM (or CEM) itself is a marketing concept -- defined by analysts and vendors as a method to create more relevant experiences for consumers using a combination of process and tools. In an article back in May, CMSWire’s Brice Dunwoodie appropriately put it this way:

It's about managing content, conversations, conversions and relevance in mostly the same place and at almost the same time.”

The value presented by WEM/CEM is that this process is, at its heart, about managing the audience’s experience in such a way that they ultimately do what the marketer wants them to do. Marketers want the audience to have a relevant, engaged experience with content -- just so long as they do what the marketer wants them to do.

In short -- software vendors are going down the same road they went down before. Now, instead of making it “easier to manage Web content” vendors are saying it’s “easy to manage experiences”. Is it any wonder that many have found the whole WEM, CEM trend just another buzzwordy marketing acronym?

Audiences’ experiences (both good and bad) are affected by a number of things that are out of the marketer’s control. And as many have pointed out -- content optimization is already a best practice that few practice. So in the end, while we can manage an experience to a point -- down the road we may ultimately spend so much time trying to account for what limited sets of variables we can (or want to) control -- that WEM from a MANAGEMENT standpoint stands the risk of becoming unproductive.

Search Isn’t The Answer

To answer the “contextual” challenge -- there have been some analysts and vendors that have suggested that “Search” is a step in the right direction. The increase in the popularity of Google -- and optimizing site content for external search engines has resulted in many corporate Web sites becoming bloated and “filled with data” and usability of sites have suffered. This has resulted in “web site search” becoming a crutch for navigation -- and many have suggested that this is a positive step. For example, in a recent post CMS analyst Janus Boye suggests that “navigation is for losers” and says:

Today, search has matured into the primary mode of navigation for an increased number of users. Not just the digital natives. Users, whether internal or external, quickly scan the site and then don’t bother decoding what’s behind your navigation. Instead, they often simply go to the search field or give up.”

While this thinking is correct and is certainly a must-have for many sites today -- it is still a “management” oriented strategy -- and ultimately won’t help to create a contextually aware platform. Today’s site search is based on an assumption of “relevant” information based on a query. The user is immediately given results based on a semantic algorithm -- despite the context in which they’re searching. In short, the user may want much different results if they are searching a repository from a mobile device than if they are searching from their desktop computer.

Contextual Content Delivery Is The Right Question

Rather -- the real pivot -- and the real future challenge we should be solving for comes in a different form. It is empowering our audiences to optimally consume our content when, where and how THEY want it -- and giving us the insight to continually get better at the TYPE of content we are delivering, rather than the form it is delivered in. In other words, as we move into the future we should be focused less on how to construct Web experiences for our customers -- but rather in opening our content and interfaces so our consumers are ultimately able to create their own. Rather than designing the experience, we should be designing FOR the OPPORTUNITY of experience. And the insight that is derived shouldn’t inform the interface construct -- but rather should help authors and editors create BETTER content. That is context-aware content management.

Ultimately this means that designs, search, and “look and feel” more generally will be something that we pay less and less attention to -- and we will instead put our focus on how to deliver better quality content in an increasingly relevant way. This means developing systems that understand how, what and when to deliver content given an astounding number of parameters. Interfaces will be separate, and unique to the devices, the situations and the platforms that consumers choose. But, this will be less relevant to the content producer -- because the logic to deliver which content will be handled by our Web content management systems. In short, we will no longer be managing Web sites, we will be managing a contextually aware content platform.

Context Aware Content Management In Practice

Gartner has been releasing research and thought leadership about Context Aware Computing for a couple of years now. In fact, they estimate that “by 2012, the typical Global 2000 company will be managing between two and 10 business relationships with context providers, and that by 2015, context will be as influential in mobile consumer services and relationships as search engines are to the Web.”

From a content management perspective, that’s extraordinarily powerful. If context and content used together is as big a shift as search engines were to the online consumer experience, then it provides enterprise WCM providers with an unprecedented opportunity to be the ones to deliver these experiences.

This goes well beyond “managing Web experiences” and traditional “personalization” -- and digs deep into how we will enable clients to open their repositories so that things like location, environmental data, history, social attributes, online behavior and other information can be utilized to deliver a more relevant contextual experience in real time.

If Web Engagement Management solution providers want to continue on their focus of empowering business users to create content more effectively for better web sites -- that’s fine. However, this challenge is largely solved. Rather the more interesting, and bigger challenge is in empowering our audiences to create their own experiences -- and give us REAL insight into how to deliver a truly contextually relevant web experience.