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 database.
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.
Content 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.

Content Management Sampler
Divine
www.divine.com

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com/cmserver/default.aspx

Open Market
www.openmarket.com

Vignette
www.vignette.com

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 themselves.
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.

Portal Pointers

UPortal
www.ja-sig.org

What is a Portal Anyway?
http://www.princeton.edu/%7Erundle/PrincetonPortal.htm

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 Entertainment.
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 marketing.
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?

comments powered by Disqus