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Archive for December 26th, 2006

Content Versus Community?¬†Dries Buytaert (mister Drupal, so to speak)¬†introduced me to the term ‘Community Management System’. It’s true: when a system integrates web pages, forums, faqs, blogs, wikis, and more, like SharePoint or Drupal, you have a collaboration system for a community. But I don’t feel that this makes the term ‘content management’ less important or less appropriate, as long as we know what we mean by it! Currently, the acronym CMS is used almost exclusively for ‘Website Content Management Systems”, but that is a bit shallow. Documentum and Alfresco, to name just two of them, mostly do something different: Content Management (be it for enterprises or individuals) deals with the storage, accessibility, versioning, archiving and ‘publication’ of content. WCMS is a subdomain of CMS, that deals with content destined for publication in websites. Blogs, like wikis, edit and present ‘content’ in a website, and thus they are parts of the WCMS domain. ‘Document Management’ is another part of CMS, electronically handling paper documents like letters, contracts, etc. that are usually scanned in before being dealt with in the DMS.

Now where do ‘communities’ enter the picture? Let’s be clear about one thing: if you just want to store your digital photographs and emails so as not to lose them, any filing system will do – even a closet with printouts. Once you want to capture and support “conversations” within “communities” you need tools to support that. E-mail is one way of doing that; ‘news groups’ or forums are another; chatting may well become another major medium in the same group. And what about telephone conversations, or just plain speech? Audio-annotated slide presentations? These conversations may (or may not) talk about ‘content’ in a WCMS or DMS, and at the same time the conversation itself is another type of ‘content’ to be handled. Do the existing CMS solutions have all it takes to take that new content into account? Mostly not, and that’s not entirely illogical given the vastness of the terrain.

What we will need in the (near) future are systems that can integrate specific solutions for specific content types, each of whom may well have specific requirements in terms of how, how long and for whom they have to be stored. The integration part will have to take into account that it makes not much sense to keep an e-mail that references a paper document that is no longer available – or does it? Anyway, it’s the integration of specific separate ‘content systems’ that makes for a collaborative environment, tailored to the community in question. When talking about integration, some kind of standard will be required to couple these systems to the base functions of a true generic ‘content store’. I don’t think any single provider will have such an encompassing solution ready in the short term; I do think that the classic ‘content management’ systems have the best chance to build the ‘content’ equivalent of relational database systems, probably around an API like JSR-170 or an extension thereof. Does that make SharePoint and Drupal bad solutions? Of course not. But if their functionality does not exactly match your requirements, you’ll soon find out whether and how they can be integrated into the system you need – not just now, but also in say ten or twenty years. SharePoint e.g. is a strong contender when it comes to collaboration on MS Office documents, but is certainly far from the ‘best of breed’ solutions for web site management. How will you “integrate” a better WCMS into Sharepoint when you need it?

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