Content Management Systems: What Editors Should Know
Sept. 21, 2005
Presented by Jeff Freund, Magan Arthur, and Anna van Raaphorst
Organized by Jill Hoffman and Christine Freeman
Notes by Dawn Adams
Words, words, words. They've taken on a life of their own, independent
of their initial published context. As more and more information
becomes available electronically, content management systems (CMS)
will play a vital role in making sense of all of these documents, be
it news articles, technical white papers, e-books, or blogs. The
September Forum brought together a panel of experts to give us the
lowdown on the current state of CMS and some indications of where
this nascent industry might be headed.
Jeff Freund, CTO of Clickability, an application service provider of
on-demand content management applications for news delivery, stressed
that his company provides a service rather than a box of software.
Focusing on Web-based delivery, Clickability offers low overhead,
while turning content into metadata that can then be manipulated.
"Technology is there to support the process," Freund said. "The
world's greatest content management system is a black box with
inputs on one side, and outputs on the other side."
In the Clickability model, there are several roles to play: authors
add and edit content; editors review content for approval; publishers are responsible for overall production of the site; and designers
handle the page layouts and digital design. Content and design are
essentially independent. Content in the digital realm has expanded
beyond words to images, video, and audio. Workflow, however, remains a challenge.
The advantage to customers is that very little technical knowledge is
required in-house. And, according to Freund, this service is not just
of value to large publishers.
"There's a misconception that you need to be a big company to use CM,"
Freund said. "All you need to have are defined and repeatable editorial
and publishing processes to benefit."
Magan Arthur of Infosys, an Indian data integrator, talked about the
practical issues surrounding CMS, including rights restrictions,
repurposing content, and the missing editorial pieces that come with
separating content from editorial and production. For example, he has
run into difficulties in finding editors who understand the concept
of word counts in different contexts (e.g., chunking content for a
short news piece versus a feature, and then making it all fit on a
cell phone or Blackberry).
"The repurposing of content is increasingly a focus," Arthur said. "We
have the means now, and the content to feed it. Metadata is the key
According to Arthur, metadata is becoming as important as data in
the CMS world, and tools such as XML will play a large role. Arthur
also hit on the rich variety of content available digitally. Web
pages have moved far beyond mimicking magazine or book pages,
and as content moves out of its local/regional medium and into
a more global arena, the complexity behind making that information
available will increase tremendously, creating opportunities for
Anna van Raaphorst of VR Communications, an information architect,
stressed the need for content people to participate in the development of CMS, because the emphasis up until recently has been on the
technology. Training, distance learning, and legacy content
conversions are three growth areas for editorial/communications
people, according to van Raaphorst.
"There are financial and economic aspects to this and lots of
pressures to cut costs," van Raaphorst said. "Reusing text and
pictures, summaries and abstracts, that's one way to speed
things up and meet the need of publishing to operate in more
than one channel."
Van Raaphorst suggests that editors who are interested in CMS
consider the following strategies:
- Be a generalist and become grounded in the CMS process.
- Be a specialist and choose an area for tomorrow's
- Get trained by experts.
- Provide additional value, for example, with content
assessments, style guides, legal content conversion, and
writing or editing structured content.
While there are some tools out there, the field is still in flux,
and there is no standard platform. According to van Raaphorst,
many companies have taken the short view of CMS and developed
proprietary tools for one-off projects. Thus, participating in
standards groups or usability organizations is another way to
become involved in CMS and to bring some editorial input. There
are also professional organizations such as CMprofessionals.org
Freund and Arthur concur that CMS is a moving target.
"In five years, we don't know what will happen," Arthur said. "The
bigger problem is, does the client have a digital strategy? It's
not about a specific tool. Look at some of the large universities,
such as Harvard and Stanford, as models."