The Next Generation Web CMS, Has Modera Got Answers?
 Web Content Management 1.0 is dead! So says Forrester Senior Analyst, Stephen Powers. There are few that would disagree with him -- I mean hey, there's like "2.0" all over the place these days. We need some for CMS too, right?

But more importantly, what's next? That is indeed the question.

And so when we saw Modera (news, site) take a £1.3 million (roughly US$ 1.8 mil.) investment and announce intentions to build its next generation web application framework, we were intrigued.

Have they got the secret sauce for generation deux-point-zero content management? We went to Siim Vips (great name!), CEO of Modera, for the answer to that question. Here's what we learned.

A Modera Backgrounder

In operation since 2000, Modera started life in Estonia, but has since spread its wings. They currently operate two legal entities: Modera USA Inc. in North America and South America, and Modera Consulting, Ltd. in Europe and other regions worldwide.

They have a wide range of customers that include players in real estate and publishing, and automotive giants like Nissan. Their product line includes:

  • Modera Webmaster: A Web CMS solution for public-facing websites
  • Modera Intranet: A Web CMS solution for intranets
  • Modera Extranet: A Web CMS solution for extranets
  • Modera Relations: A Customer Relationship Management solution

Products Built on a Common Framework

All of these offerings are built upon the Modera.Net Web Application Framework. The framework itself is built using the LAMP stack of open source technologies. But it also takes advantage of some commercial components.

Competition-wise, Modera sits somewhere in the middle of the market, according to Vips, with clients in the mid-range up to the enterprise level. Their pricing seems to agree with this -- there are Standard, Professional and Enterprise versions on offer.

Standard LAMP Competition

When talking about competing products, Vips mentioned that they've seen Drupal in the same spaces several times. That doesn't tell us a whole lot though -- Drupal seems to be gaining steam about as fast as anything out there. It's a rather common sight these days. We're sure that Joomla is also bumped into here and there. And for the Intranet solutions, it would not surprise us if vendors like Alfresco, Liferay, Nuxeo and perhaps SharePoint compete for Modera's business.

[Editor's Note: See recent Drupal news: Commercial Drupal Firm Acquia Lands $8 Million More Funding.]

Built on Open Source, But Not

Despite the fancy ".Net" suffix of their framework's name, Modera is built on an open source stack of technologies. But with that said, they are not an open source solution.

Vips indicated that while the stack is primarily LAMP-based, they do take advantage of some technologies and features that commercially available products have. The core of Modera.Net is closed, but Modera offers an API and a Modera Module Development Kit (MMDK) that enables organizations to develop their own modules in-house.

While they don't, as a company, contribute back to the open source community, Vips says that some of their developers are involved in the community.

On the "Web CMS 1.0 is Dead" Message

Forrester has been recently making noise about how the first generation of web content management ("1.0") is dead. We asked Vips what he thought about this. He agreed, saying that it is not just about managing content online, it's not just about content management. It's about managing business processes and having a vibrant and functional content lifecycle.

According to Vips, this requires integration with other business systems -- something that is a priority for Modera. Their focus here is most apparent with their CRM integration, but there are other areas were they put their money where their mouth is.

Vips says they see evidence of the next generation needs, reshaping how we think of web content management. For example, with Nissan the Product Information Database is a critical component of the content management processes as it feeds multiple content delivery channels.

The Modera team claims that their products and solutions are designed to help organizations replace tired legacy systems with more innovative technology that will keep them competitive.

Now that sounds a bit cliché, but there's a bit of reality there too.

Modera's Next Gen Technology

The Modera technology of today is, according to the company, both solid and competitive. They offer a number of functional solutions that have both user interfaces and APIs for extensibility. But there's a future to consider, and their R&D is taking to the hunt.

US$ 1.8 million ought to pay for a decent bit of creativity, but just how much and will this cause any waves in the sector? These were our original curiosities.

Modera's Future Vision

Modera sees the future of web content management as being about more than just managing web content. They are anticipating syndication and communication enhancements that will change the way we work with documents and other information.

They also believe that Web CM will no longer be business function-driven. Instead it will become tightly integrated with a range of business processes.

ModeraNet2, a New Foundation

Modera is rebuilding their foundation, aiming to deliver the next generation of content management technology. ModeraNet2 is the working name for this project. It is, the company says, a universal software platform that takes Modera's current business model and approach even further -- specifically into the realm of business systems integration. A key goal is providing a scalable solution that is both simple and quick to develop on.

Modera's idea of scalability is notable. By scalable, they mean able to scale horizontally. Even more importantly, they think a platform ought to enable you to add on capabilities as the requirements increase.

The vision, says Vips, is to develop solid, friendly APIs and provide an extensibility architecture that is able to integrate other third party APIs -- including things like Google Wave. This will be done via a dependency injection (DI) design pattern, where the behavior of the platform can be modified by plugging-in new functionality providers.

Dependency Injection is also known as inversion of control. It is a software development pattern that enables developers to build a flexible architecture that includes a low level coupling of components, reducing the amount of code that needs to be written.

Like many CMS vendors, Modera is also keyed into emerging standards. New means of enabling content interoperability, like supporting CMIS interfaces, will also be part of the next generation platform.

Web Content Management 2.0

It's clear that the Modera team is working hard on their future platform, and this idea of business function scalability is intriguing. But our bottom line question remains: Is this  project really a new generation WCM or just a new version?

Yes, for vendors to be successful in web content management their platforms need to be extensible and scalable. That's a given. Yes, they should support open standards and enable the integration of third party solutions and business systems. But, that's also mostly a given.

Forrester Says Customer Experience is Driving Investment

In a recent Forrester presentation, the firm reported that 72% of organizations surveyed were planning to increase their investment in web content management in the next year. In this group, 63% ranked customer experience as the number one driver -- up from 37% reporting this in 2007. The second place driver was lowering operational costs. Tied for third place were the expansion of electronic business and improving internal communications.

Does Modera Have the Answers?

Will Modera's new platform improve the customer experience or lower operational costs?

As a platform, improving customer experience may not be its most obvious strong point. But if you consider that Modera offers both WCM and CRM applications on top of the platform, then this evaluation may change.

Other vendors like Bridgeline Software are making similar architectural plays -- building a rich platform, adding business applications on top and then arguing that there is money to be made and saved via the inter-application interactions and analytics. Modera could also make this argument. It strikes us as plausible.  

As for lowering operational costs, yes, the platform will likely be helpful in this area. The catch is that you'll have to go hook, line and sinker with them and centralize much of your interactive applications on the platform. Only then will you achieve real savings in terms of license, maintenance and staffing costs.

Platform Not the Answer, but is a Key Element

We don't believe a software platform in itself is the answer to the future of the web content management. But how a platform supports the development of business solutions is a critical element of what's coming.

In our opinion, the vendors and projects that pull ahead in the next generation are going to be the ones that best enable developers, partners and business managers to do their jobs. The definition of a high quality customer experience is going to evolve. Tools, standards, interoperability and extensibility are all significant factors for business agility.

Modera's Dependency Injector Pattern is a keystone of their platform. It may just be their key differentiator, and their path to success.