Alfresco Links for February 7th, 2010

Alfresco Webcast: What’s New in 3.2?

Alfresco Webcast: WCM Roadmap Webinar – Versions 3.3 and 4.0

Key to Content: Alfresco WCM Roadmap (notes from the presentation)

Philip Kedy at CapTech: Alfresco WCM or DM: What is the best choice for your enterprise portal?

Jeff Potts: Understanding the differences between Alfresco’s repository implementations

Recent related event: Thanks to the folks at zivtech for hosting a great Alfresco lunch & learn event on January 27th.

The case for killing ‘WCM’ (Web Content Management)?

First, a disclaimer. The title refers to the term ‘WCM’, not the functionality implied by it.

WCM (Web Content Management) as defined by Wikipedia is a system that “allows non-technical users to make changes to a website with little training. A WCMS typically requires an experienced coder to set up and add features, but is primarily a Web-site maintenance tool for non-technical administrators.”

Sounds simple, but the definition is crazy expansive.

It’s so generic it enables a wide field of choices to claim they satisfy the need. Check out this list: Bricolage, Alfresco, Interwoven, ez Publish, Texpatten, MovableType, WordPress, Drupal, Jadu, Vignette, Day, Nuxeo, Radiant, typo, Fatwire, Clickability, Plone, SDL Tridion, ektron, it goes on and on. And the costs! From free to millions of dollars!

Couldn’t you consider page creation/site management tools like Dreamweaver in that definition? Sure you could. Many who think they want a CMS, really want one of these or a combination of one of these with a CMS. If you look at Google there are 2,370,000 hits for the combination of Dreamweaver and CMS.

WCM is thought of as a subset of ECM (Enterprise Content Management) concepts. ECM is defined by Wikipedia as “the technologies, strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to an organization and its processes. ECM tools allow the management of an enterprise level organization’s information.”

Among the list above are a few ECMs that have WCM functionality. Commonly mentioned are Alfresco, Interwoven, Vignette.

ECM is then considered a subset of CMS (Content Management System) concepts. A CMS is defined by Wikipedia as “a collection of procedures used to manage work flow in a collaborative environment.”

Referring to the above list, many can be called out as CMSes. In fact, all of them consider themselves such.

And then there are frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Grails, and Django. They just beg you to build your own.

With an alphabet soup like the above, no wonder so many get confused. WCM, in particular, is overloaded. So much so that there are some folks in the industry arguing to eliminate the acronym altogether!

Jon Marks says in “WCM is for Losers”:

I can already see the news headlines: LONDON, 2009 – SHOCK HORROR! WCM Geek Demands Death of term WCM. But it’s true. I’m of the camp that wished the term WCM would cease to exist.

Jon Marks concludes by saying:

But sadly, my prediction it isn’t going to happen. I’m just going to have to keep thinking of a WCMS as a tightly coupled hybrid of a content management system and a delivery framework. On the plus side, I’ll continue to make money out of poor customers that think a “WCM migration/replacement” doesn’t involve a complete site rewrite as they’re throwing the delivery baby out with the content bath water. Losers.

Deep within the comments on Jon Mark’s post, NPR’s Daniel Jacobson added:

In my posts about COPE, I tried to make a distinction between tools that capture content in a presentation-agnostic way and those that capture them for one (or more) specific presentation. I call the latter WPT (web-publishing tool), although Peter Monk’s Presentation Management System is in some ways a better term in that it is broader, covering systems that don’t just apply to the web.

For me, however, the future of the content management systems (CMS, or whatever acronym you want to give it) is in their ability to capture the content in a clean, presentation-independent way. Then, as Pie states, the content should be retrievable through a series of API’s, enabling the content to be distributed to any other platform. If available through an API in a truly portable, presentation-agnostic way, the system can then service any presentation layer.

Alfresco’s consulting lead for North America, Peter Monks, shares on his blog how difficult this is and looks for a new terminology in “The Case for Killing ‘WCM'”:

To start undoing the 15 years of mind share that the term “WCM” has enjoyed, it’s time to start thinking about new terminology that better describes these two functional categories. For several years I’ve been throwing around the terms “Content Production System” (CPS) and “Presentation Management System” (PMS), and in their COPE strategy NPR uses the terms “Content Management System” (CMS) and “Web Publishing Tool” (WPT).

Daniel Jacobson and Peter Monks are onto something. Jacobson wrote a piece for Programmable Web (“COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere”) I’ve linked to previously. The section “Build CMS, not WPT” makes some important distinctions:

COPE is the key difference between content management systems and web publishing tools, although these terms are often used interchangeably in our industry. The goal of any CMS should be to gather enough information to present the content on any platform, in any presentation, at any time. WPT’s capture content with the primary purpose of publishing web pages. As a result, they tend to manage the content in ways focused on delivering it to the web. Plug-ins are often available for distribution to other platforms, but applying tools on top of the native functions to manipulate the content for alternate destinations makes the system inherently unscalable. That is, for each new platform, WPT’s will need a new plug-in to tailor the presentation markup to that platform. CMS’s, on the other hand, store the content cleanly, enabling the presentation layers to worry about how to display the content not on how to transform the markup embedded within it.

True CMS’s are really just content capturing tools that are completely agnostic as to how or where the content will be viewed, whether it is a web page, mobile app, TV or radio display, etc. Additionally, platforms that don’t yet exist are able to be served by a true CMS in ways that WPT’s may not be able to (even with plug-ins).

COPE is an ecosystem and strategy. It is not an uber-CMS. Many of the vendors above claim their systems can provide you this almost-mythical beast. Indeed, many of them can, but it calls back to the point Jon Marks was making and a common mistake many trip into.

De-couple, break it down into separate systems systems (Presentation, API/Mashup/Data, and CMS) as Daniel Jacobson and Peter Monks suggest, and you gain much in flexibility. The trade off is flexibility’s evil twin – complexity. You have to be able to accept some complexity for the gains you draw in flexibility.

Lets take a look at a diagram Jacobson provided on NPR’s COPE:

Look at where the ‘CMS’ is in what NPR calls its Content Management Pipeline (what I call an ecosystem). Look at where the Presentation Layer is. Notice what feeds it. The API Layer capable of delivering content from multiple sources, including what the CMS feeds into, the Data Management Layer.

Take another look. This is an inkblot test.

Some see a diagram like this and see the whole thing as CMS or WCM. When these say ‘Content Management System’ or ‘Web Content Management System’ they are thinking of a singular application that performs all of the duties of all of the layers detailed in the diagram. In NPR’s case, this diagram shows the ‘Content Management System’ is part of a tier on the backend – where content is consumed, stored, maintained for reuse. It’s goals are as Jacobson points out. The CMS’s role constrained to a set of responsibilities and in order to do them it must integrate into a larger set of cooperating systems.

You might not need a system as comprehensive as NPR’s but you won’t know until you answer a few questions: “Where is it you want your business to go?”, “What is the Content Strategy?”, and importantly, “Show me how you do things now.” and “Let’s figure out a better way of getting this done.”. Starting from the simplest thing that can possibly work and allowing for evolution towards your end goal is always the way. For example, you could start with a combined Data Layer, API Layer, and Filtering Layer (what I call a “3 Box Content Management Ecosystem” below), and then decompose that into separate systems down the line. If you do have answers to these questions, and they resemble what NPR’s are, Jacobson has provided a great high level view of what this looks like. He deserves thanks for sharing it.


A friend at work passed along a great link, Blend Interactive’s “Thoughts on Content Management & Information Architecture”. I’ve linked to, the official blog of Blend Interactive before, but this index is, as he suggests, “quite possibly the best single source of CMS-related questions, insights, etc. that I’ve ever found.” Bookmark it. Their “What Makes a Content Management System”? piece provides you with the best checklist of functionality to consider when looking at CMSes.

And lastly:

Sometimes I think I want to publish a series that describes the various layouts that define CMS systems in really, really simple terms because of the confusion. Here’s a first pass:

The ‘2 Box Content Management System’ – Presentation and content maintenance functionality using same software, with shared storage. (WordPress, Drupal)

The ‘3 Box Content Management Ecosystem’ – Presentation running its own software, content maintenance running its own software, with shared storage. (MovableType, WordPress and Drupal, ez Publish, Bricolage, Alfresco in some implementations)

The ‘4 Box Content Management Ecosystem’ – Presentation running its own software, content maintenance running its own software, a data tier for presentation, a data tier for content storage. (Alfresco in some implementations)

The ‘5 Box Content Management Ecosystem’ – Presentation running its own software, API/Mashup running its own software, data tier for presentation, content maintenance running its own software, a data tier for content storage. (Alfresco in some implementations, NPR’s COPE content pipeline).

And so on. Someday I might get around to it. The terminology soup is so oppressive and obscuring.

Alfresco API: RESTful API Links

Trying to find one reference that links to the entire Alfresco REST API? The following pages are all on the AlfrescoWiki, but its a bit hard to navigate. Note that the 3.1 REST API page does not include the items mentioned in the 3.0 REST API page, or the Deployment REST API page, the 3.0 REST API page and so on. You need *all* these pages, plus others listed below, for a complete picture (I think):

Deployment REST API
Repository RESTful API Reference
2.0 RESTful API
REST Design Guidelines
CMIS RESTful API Reference

On the future of CMS (is NPR actually there already?) – CMS Links for October 18th, 2009 –

Justin Cormack recently completed a three part series on the future of CMS that I think nails it. I might be biased because it’s what we’ve been building towards at CIM for the past few years. Go read: “CMS technology choices”, “Content Enabled Vertical Applications and taking the CMS apart”, and “Content enabled vertical applications (composite content applications) – executive briefing” – quote from the second link:

At the application layer, as Stéphane says, everything is a mashup, content from different systems, content from other APIs, this is the we application layer. It needs to be content aware, very much so, but it needs to be an application development environment. This is where most people will see the value added in the content management business, although in fact the value here is in implementation, design and integration services, not the technology itself. Application development environments no longer make a lot of money, and again they are dominated by open source (think Java, Eclipse, JBoss, Django).

Once you take out content infrastructure and application development, and the other tools like search, workflow, there is a core of tools for working with content, to support reuse, refactoring, cleaning, import and export, that one might call a Content Workbench. There is a lot of potential value if these types of tools are the value added end of the business, as they can differentiate vendors and add value. Interfaces for merging changes and so on would be part of this type of toolkit. This is the stuff where good UX means timesaving for content workers, but it is difficult to build on a customized per-project basis, so this still offers value from a particular vendor.

Overall then we see a picture where the monolithic CMS starts to break apart into infrastructure, application and toolkit layers, that can perhaps gradually be mixed and matched together to build content applications. We are just seeing the beginnings of this now.

Peter Monks had a reply to his pieces here: The Future of CMS Technologies.

Meanwhile, NPR is live with a CMS solution that resembles this. Read NPR’s Daniel Jacobson’s guest post on Programmable Web: “COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere”.

Content Here’s Seth Gottlieb explains how this approach might be too much for those who need less capability still, he concludes:

…at the very least, every publisher needs to start thinking on this level: creating and storing content in presentation neutral way to keep options open.

This conversation was kicked off by Julian Wraith. Check there for more.

I plan on doing my own round-up, as there are many, many interesting posts worthy of sharing. In addition, I think I’ll share some of my own thoughts as well. Would be great to contribute to the discussion Julian Wraith started instead of staying meta for once 🙂

Who said conversation doesn’t happen across bloggers anymore ?

And on another note, the CMS Myth just had its second anniversary: Two Years On: Still Puncturing Myths & Taking Names

CMS links for September 19th, 2009

I don’t agree entirely with the first first link from Sunlight Labs – blanket statements like ‘x is dead – use y’ – are poor generalizations – however it raises strong points about frameworks and CMSes.

I just wish organizations and individuals would realize that there is not an either/or choice here – as projects such as Alfresco-Django and Alfresco-Drupal show.

Sunlight Labs: Content Management Systems just don’t work.

fiercecontentmanagement: Rolling your own CMS just doesn’t make sense

CMS Myth: Is interest in content management declining?

Stop looking for golden hammers.

What is ECM-SOA?

EdLovesJava: ECM-SOA With Agile Attitude:

The first challenge is to think of our tooling as not a custom application, but more as a set of adaptable services, applications and integrations. This requires a change of thought.

Our previous efforts were to drop a monolithic application called a Content Manager into the middle of things, and then propose to change the business process around this application, ostensibly obsoleting the existing applications and ad-hoc processing to customizations within this new application.

During our previous attempt, we underwent a lengthy analysis phase and generated a 500 page requirements document detailing taxonomies, content types, work flows and templates that would solve our content management (web content management) needs. We then spent lots of time and treasure implementing these requirements. In the end, we built some of the requirements taking far longer and far more resources than anticipated, and we found that most the requirements and subsequently most of the customizations we built were wrong. The heroic content managers and brand managers made it work anyway, developing more ad-hoc, complicated and time consuming steps around yet another application that was supposed to help them. This story is not unique.

We must shift our processes as much as our technology. We are focusing on smaller efforts, more agility and more feedback and move away from 500 page requirements documents. To do this successfully, our architecture also needs to be agile and amenable to change. Our architecture must be a framework to grow on: to grow useful services, and to grow and integrate with useful applications. It must follow user demand that learns from using and refining our processes and tools.