The future of content management

A week ago on my French weblog, I was digging around the future of content management, writing that I don't see a bright future to Content Management Systems that are based on browsers and applets that mostly work only on IE/Windows. At best can we expect to see a good cross-platform editor which works with XML and external, custom CSS. To me, those tools are like a webmail access, they are useful in some situations, but will not match a good desktop application.

Macromedia, with Contribute, seems to follow that path, although this software is only a small step from a classical HTML editor towards a complete content management suite.

Olivier Meunier is dreaming about a CMS where OpenOffice would serve as the editor coupled with transformations done on a server. That could actually serve as a rather powerful document management system, open-source and based on open standards.

I wrote then that Microsoft would eventually produce a complete suite combining its proprietary software MS Office + Content Management Server + SharePoint. This is where they are going now. And it makes perfect sense.

You cannot displace office tools in a snap, especially the omnipresent MS Office suite. They are here to stay because they fulfill a real need. In a business, those are the tools that are used, and will continue to be used, by the people who create and manage content (the "knowledge workers" in trendy corporate jargon). By focusing on open standards and remaining open to the proprietary formats of Microsoft, open-source projects such as have the potential to offer a credible alternative and foster a much-needed innovation in the content management field.

Now if the developers would understand how pregnant the office tools are and that the world doesn't need yet another old-school WYSIWYG editor or one that spits out inline style -- which is frankly the same content+presentation tag soup as before, only one that happens to validate against a more "modern" XHTML flavor -- content management would take a leap forward.


Software AG is going down a similar path with Sun StarOffice + Tamino XML Server.

I've been thinking about this more and more, especially since I'm currently working on a contract where the final form of the document(s) I produce is still up in the air (e.g., PDF, HTML). I'd like to author the content in OpenOffice and use an XSL filter to deliver the final form, but it's difficult getting the others in the group to separate form and content.

> it's difficult getting the others in the group to separate form and content.

That's an important point, and I share the pain ;-)

I've seen in several CMS projects that the designers often bet on a form-based input process to constrain the editors to stick to content in a predefined semantic "form" (as opposed to presentation). This is as efficient as inflexible and, with the regular marketing folks, yields to chaos and frustration in no time.

There will always be some friction as soon as you try to prevent those "'creative" folks to mess with the content structure (which they are entitled to adapt to business changes) and the presentation (which, amazingly, is often more important to them than the content itself). I believe that if we can let them manage content through the office tools that they already know and use everyday, they will be more willing to accept some tradeoffs than if we force them through rigid web forms.

And flexible XML is a dream. Why should I need to change a relational database structure just because someone suddenly adds a new content type?

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