Content Management: Everything and the Kitchen Sink?
The technology business runs in cycles.
Sometimes, they aren't obvious. One of the more pernicious is the 'vertical
integration' cycle. Here's how it works. A new and simple idea captures peoples'
interest. The value inherent in the idea also brings dollar signs to the eyes of
attentive vendors. The idea is 'extended' through the competitive marketplace,
leading to a slew of products that use the idea's umbrella to introduce a
potpourri of features that 'improve' the original idea. Then someone recognizes
that product differentiation can be accomplished vertically as well as
horizontally—that is, through making features dependent up and down the
application services, not just across different tools.
Let's take Web
portals as an example. A portal initially began life as a way of separating the
user interface of Web pages from the source from which the content of those
pages came. You could select different Web sites you were most interested in to
appear in sections of a single screen on your browser. The portal allowed users
to customize the presentation of information that otherwise would have forced
them to navigate via links to separate Web sites. A classic example of a
commercial portal is Yahoo.com or MSN.com.
Universities have jumped in to
bring the diverse digital information found on campuses together through student
portals or faculty portals. Then portal vendors began introducing products that
made it easier to create information channels to populate the real estate on
your browser's portal window. But a funny thing started to happen. The increase
in presentation flexibility came with a trade-off: The sites required
vendor-specific extensions, such as a proprietary application server or
From the original simple idea of separating the user
interface from the underlying data sources (other Web pages) to bring together
related information as defined by either the user's interests or the portal
designer's interests, we have arrived at the point where the presentation data
depends on proprietary code for delivery. It may be a natural product of
competitive differentiation in the marketplace, but it also makes the choice of
a portal more than a question of desired interface features.
management is following a similar trajectory. The functions served by such
systems are more abstract and, consequently, subject to wider interpretation.
Initially, content management was associated with the task of bringing the tools
required to manage complex Web sites together into one integrated suite.
Borrowing from print publishing
models, the boundaries of where content management software entered the
information life cycle varied. For some, it was assumed that Web pages were
authored and entered into a content management system that thereafter supported
the editorial process, including placing the content on the Web site. Others
extended the model to include version control of defined sections within a Web
site. They looked beyond the here and now to the archival preservation of Web
pages so that past information could be retrieved if desired.
Here's a list of what is often lumped under the rubric of
content management: deployment/publishing; versioning and rollback; site design
and page authoring tools; link checking; access control; change routing and
notification; and site-visualization tools. Some vendors toss in other tools,
including personalization and digital repositories.
I could go on and
on, but you get the idea. Content management is an amalgamation of tools that
operate on Web pages, from birth to archival preservation and just about
anything in between.
Now add to this complicated mess the need for these
tools to work together as an integrated suite and recall where we started this
sojourn about technology cycles often leading to proprietary solutions for
integrating tools. Integrated tool suites for complex information management
call out for separating a higher-order standards framework to foster
best-of-breed tools to work together. Interoperability standards are tough to
achieve, because there are powerful business forces that oppose the perceived
end state of interchangeable and undifferentiated software applications.
As end users of this stuff, we need to make our voices heard. We want
the best, most functional applications we can get for the specific tasks at
hand. And, we want them to work together without having to write more code to
make the integration happen than
is in the component applications
In the end, we vote by our
purchases. Think carefully about yours. Beware of vendors offering a cornucopia
of added functionality when you add the next six servers from their integrated
proprietary family of tools. This may be the simplest and most robust way to go,
but it may hold you back as technology development surges ahead in both
commercial and open source arenas.
What is a Portal Anyway?
Stealth P2P Networking
Here was a bit of breaking
computer news for the month of April 2002: Worried computer users discover
software attached to the popular Kazaa file-trading program could hijack their
machines to become a node in a new network controlled by Brilliant Digital
In early April, it was revealed that Kazaa file-trading
software has components of a stealth network from Brilliant Digital
Entertainment (BDE) for 3D advertising technology. The process had been going on
for several weeks as users of Kazaa software upgraded their clients. The
inclusion of this unannounced networking code in the Kazaa system, downloaded
potentially onto the 20 million machines of those who have installed Kazaa
software, is designed to let network administrators at BDE turn on the computers
remotely to host advertising, movies, or whatever content the company is
BDE claims that it plans to ask the permission of the user to
become a part of its massive peer-to-peer (P2P) advertising network when it
activates the user's machine. Unfortunately, the 'terms of service' boilerplate
that most users don't read, and which you must accept to install the Kazaa
software, includes this provision: 'You hereby grant [BDE] the right to access
and use the unused computing power and storage space on your computer(s) and/or
Internet access or bandwidth for the aggregation of content and use in
distributed computing. The user acknowledges and authorizes this use without the
right of compensation.' Do I have your attention?
Adware, spyware, and now
sleeper P2Pware—it's becoming increasingly important to understand what you're
downloading before you discover you're a local node in a Borg-like global movie
trailer distribution network. You thought your Internet connection was a little
slow? Do you know what bits you're sending?