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Web Content Management is in a state of flux. It was traditionally aimed at the web. But now, with the rapidly increasing number of channels that are only partly "web" related from a technological and conceptual viewpoint (Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Mobile apps), Web CMS vendors are moving to try to cram all channel specific possibilities into one WCM system.

Systems that were traditionally built for only one channel are now being used across numerous channels with completely different requirements, technology, customer expectancies and processes.

From a high level this looks exactly like what customers want: reuse the existing, already in place, Web CMS and all the knowledge, processes and people using it, to manage all their existing web channels AND manage the new digital channels like mobile and social. However, this will not work in the long run.

Traditional WCM functions

WCM systems traditionally have various functions, for example:

  • Content Creation: the possibility to create and edit a webpage.
  • Content Delivery: high traffic cacheable delivery of HTML pages, with personalization features and handling of form submits.
  • Content Indexing: indexing content for search and retrieval purposes.
  • Integrated Web Analytics: to see the effectiveness of content; is it being read or not, how do visitors find the content, etc.
  • Personalization Options: where parts of the page are customized per customer (the obligatory "Hello Mister van Berkum" example).
  • Customization Options: like a Java, PHP or .NET based Software Development Kit to extend the base WCM with extra features.

All these functions are aimed squarely at the web and the technology paradigm that belongs to the web channel. With new channels, with other technologies and other uses, this spells trouble.

Multichannel Challenge

With the rise of the multichannel approach and the rapidly increasing number of channels, all these functions of a WCM system will have fundamental problems in the future. Channels that use technologies other than the technology used on web-based channels will in particular not fit into the Web CMS model. A few examples:

  • What if a channel doesn't use the concept of URLs (for example mobile apps)? How do you index it? How do you do personalization? What if a channel doesn't even use HTML (for example twitter)? How do you display a HTML table in such a channel?
  • Inline and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editing, a feature that customers demand from a WCM, bring back a fundamental problem that WCM should have solved years ago: separating content and presentation. WYSIWYG and the other holy grail of a Web CMS, providing a Word like interface, is exactly the opposite of separation of content and presentation. Both try to present to the editor an environment where he or she works directly in the webpage where the content will be used, including the presentation. But if you reuse content across all kinds of channels in all kinds of presentation you don't even know yet, then how do you do WYSIWYG?
  • Web Analytics: the name itself displays the problem -- it's called Web because most of them are based on the always available URL. Click path analysis, a common feature in web analytics, is very convenient, but how do you do that on a mobile app that doesn't have URLs? How do you measure the effectiveness of a tweet? Or even communication in a physical store?
  • Customizations: when channels other than the Web Channel have their own technology, a Java or .NET SDK just doesn't cut it. For example, if you want to build an iPhone app, your mobile developer needs to develop your app in Objective C. Of what use is a Java or .NET SDK in that situation? You need another way to get content from A to B, for example a formalized API based on RSS or equivalent standards, where you can manipulate all the content you want.

It’s Time to Face the Brutal Facts

I could go on and on, but it's time to face the brutal facts: with the rise of the multichannel challenge, Web CMSs, as they have been built in the last ten years, could face toppling down because of their own functional weight in the Web channel world.

A new kind of Content Management System will be needed: cloud ready with a delivery mechanism completely separated from the content indexing and creation. Extensible using APIs across programming languages, not deeply connected to one technology. Systems where content is not combined into Web pages, but into small snippets of content, a kind of marketing material that can be (re)used on all channels to engage the customer.

So, a revolution in Web CMS is coming -- the market is moving from WCM to Content Snippet Management! :) What do you think?

Title Image courtesy of Rikard Stadler (Shutterstock).

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