Ektron Releases Version 8 of CMS400.NET, Unapologetic About Innovation

The long-awaited and rather-delayed release was prematurely leaked a little while ago, but now it’s all official. Ektron CMS400.NET version 8 is live and brings a slew of new features, including usability enhancements, integrated web analytics, API changes, first attempts at CMIS support and new social media capabilities.

In addition, Ektron (news, site) reports growth this year and plans a takeover of the enterprise-level market.

Going After the “Big Guns”

With the reported 35% growth in overall revenue in 2009, Ektron is planning to expand even further.

As Ektron’s own “big guns” -- Tom Wentworth, VP of business development, David Scalera, director of enterprise Sales, and Eric Darbe, director of marketing -- told us, the vendor is positioning itself as an enterprise-level solution provider. Before you get all confused, what Ektron means here is not turning their Web CMS into an Enterprise CMS, but providing enterprise-level functionality like collaboration and some document management to large organizations.

Ektron plans to exploit new market opportunities in the Enterprise CMS segment, “while addressing the entire CMS spectrum.” We all realize that the product itself may not necessarily be a full-blown ECM product, but Ektron says “the technology is enterprise-ready today.”

Ektron views itself as an out-of-box CMS for the mid-market, as well “not just a software provider, but a solution provider” capable of delivering extensibility, complexity and scalability in the enterprise.

According to the Ektron folks we talked to, they see a stereotype and misconception in the industry in regards to un- and under-deployability of mid-market vendors in the enterprise market. Hence, Ektron wants to dive into that space and help customers understand all the complexities that come with a CMS implementation, while focusing on business applications and large organizations.

It’s not a software problem, but a marketing and messaging problem,” was the conclusion. It will be interesting to see how Ektron does in this new adventure.

In other news, Ektron recently started to deliver Professional Services natively with about 50 people working in PS. In the past, Ektron was known as one of the CMS vendors that deal with customers primarily through an implementation/reseller/SI/partner network. While taking the relationships with customers to this new, direct services level, Ektron says it will supporting channel partners and provide product-level best practices and SME.

Social Media Features in Version 8

Version 8 brings an expanded social media kit in the areas of internal collaboration with tools like activity streams featuring privacy settings and notifications sent via SMS or e-mail.

ektron v8 notifications.png

Activity stream notifications under Edit Profile

Activity streams are, essentially, a micromessaging feature allowing for display and automatic sharing of user activity (such as comments, replies, photo uploads, status updates, blog posts, etc.) on a website. With this form of social messaging, either intranets or public-facing websites can utilize the Facebook/Twitter-like functionality from Ektron’s CMS.

ektron v8 activity stream.png

Ektron v8 activity stream
 

Ektron opened up in this release by allowing customers to build their own agents. In the profile management, users can create various iGoogle like dashboards to personalize specific pages.

Utilizing the widget technology, they can add the existing widgets like to pages. The widget bar is built using .NET controls.

New calendaring functionality allows CMS400.NET users to create events using the WYSIWYG editor and mash up individual calendars into a consolidated one. Each calendar event can be tagged with metadata and taxonomy classifications.

ektron v8 calendar.png

Creating calendar event in Ektron v8

UX Improvements in CMS400.NET Workarea

Referring to it as the new “social navigation paradigm,” Ektron presented “another way to navigate and find information” in the version 8 releases. The most apparent improvements in the product are the UI change in the so-called Workarea.

WorkareaContent ektron v8.jpg

New Workarea look in Ektron v8

The first new thing in the Workarea is the ability to create customizable dashboards for single users, or user groups with similar job tasks and activities. One of the examples could be creating a reporting widget that shows all relevant reports -- refresh reminders, bad link, expiring content -- in one area.

WorkareaDashboard ektron v8.jpg

Workarea dashboards in Ektron v8

Ektron attempted to rehaul the UI (yet, without “dramatically changing the learning curve”) and used AJAX for extending UI functionalities like right clicks and in-context menus, and faster performance. The taxonomy tree is now also available in the UI as a separate tab.

PageBuilder Enhancements

Going from content-centric to page-centric, Ektron added a new page wizard that allows non-technical users to pick a template (created by developers) and use the improved SEO handling by adding page titles and keywords, for example.

In previous versions, the PageBuilder could use more love on the usability front and didn’t have as many widgets or aliasing of the URLs.

Focus on Analytics and Optimization

The buzzword of this release is probably the integrated website analytics. While Ektron is not providing a standalone analytics package in their CMS, they allow customers to integrate with their existing analytics software, bring that data into the CMS and put data into the context. The first pass was done for Google Analytics, with Omniture’s SiteCatalyst coming next.

The analytics information like traffic and clicks can be exposed in a dashboard, providing a single source for marketers to access standard reports. Ektron used Google Analytics APIs to grab the data, so that it can then be exposed in Ektron.

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MultiVariate Testing in Ektron v8

The PageBuilder features a built-in MVT functionality. It’s “not just a simple A/B testing,’’ says the vendor. Using MVT capabilities, users can test different combinations of content and functionalities on pages and promote the winning combinations automatically (or after a certain amount of transactions) to champions. The goal here is, of course, to optimize web content and improve conversions in the least time-consuming and painful way for end-users.

Versioning and rollback are also part of the offering with all data stored in XML. So, even if you cannot compare two versions side by side in version 8, you could use the data available to create a custom view.

API Changes and CMIS Support

From the developer perspective, one of the noticeable changes in CMS400.NET v8, is the release of the source code for server controls, so it is possible to decompile it other than having to go into the APIs. Server controls go on top of the APIs and are also available as user controls, so Ektron says it’s going an extra step in extensibility for the customer.

In the wake of the popularity of interoperability, Ektron announced they will be doing some CMIS support work, but the details are scarce as of now. All we know at the moment is that there hasn’t been a reference implementation done yet.

The APIs changes were governed by the “focus on consistency, intuitiveness and more flexibility. The APIs change actually started with eCommerce in version 7.6.” All of the new APIs since then have followed the same pattern.

In version 8.0, Ektron started migrating some of the legacy APIs to the new API. Right now, only the basic APIs for Content, Folders and Users have been moved over. Several new namespace were created for the new API called Ektron.Cms.Framework.

So, while there’s a mix of the old and new on the APIs front, Ektron says they wanted a clear split from the old to avoid any confusion. “The old APIs will eventually be deprecated, but will remain in the product so that we don’t break any sites using them.’’

The basics of the new API are that all APIs will have the same 5 basic methods (most will have more, but they all need at least these 5 as appropriate):

  1. void Add(ContentData contentData)
  2. void Update(ContentData contentData)
  3. void Delete(long id)
  4. ContentData GetItem(long id)
  5. List<ContentData> GetList(Criteria<ContentProperty> criteria)

The GetList API takes a criteria object that allows developers to build up custom filters defining what content they would like to retrieve. For example:

ContentApi contentApi = new ContentApi(ApiAccessMode.Admin);
Criteria<ContentProperty> criteria = new Criteria<ContentProperty>();
criteria.OrderByField = ContentProperty.Title;
criteria.OrderByDirection = EkEnumeration.OrderByDirection.Ascending;
criteria.AddFilter(ContentProperty.FolderId, CriteriaFilterOperator.EqualTo, 12);
criteria.AddFilter(ContentProperty.Title, CriteriaFilterOperator.StartsWith, "Ab");
List<ContentData> contentList = contentApi.GetList(criteria);

One of the examples of how the migration from the old to the new is happening is the ApiAccessMode argument above. In the old APIs, there were two different approaches: one for running in the context of a logged-in user and another one for running in the context of an admin. In the new model, there is only one API, but you can still switch from one context to the other.

Unapologetic Innovation

If you ever heard a complaint that Ektron’s APIs change drastically, the documentation is lacking and the bugs just keep piling up, here’s what Ektron had to say about that.

Although some may think “Ektron CMS400.NET keeps getting worse with each upgrade,” Ektron insists that they are working hard on not only adding new features, but also fixing bugs and improving documentation. To those of you not being quite happy with Ektron’s eSync, the company’s response is to consider the power of this tool alongside with its implementation complexities.

Only you, the users, can share with us your experience about, as Ektron puts it, the improved customer support work that involves the engineering team and Ektron’s commitment to follow up on feedback coming from current implementations, as well as from Twitter and other forms of social media. Twitter got great marks from customer, According to Ektron, they “sit there [Twitter] and monitor and fix [reported bugs] in minutes.”

In the same vein, Ektron did say they “unapologetically do release new features” and are committed to innovation.

It’s only a matter of time before we should see how the Ektron customer base is responding to version 8. If you’re one of them, do share your thoughts with us in the comments below.