Content Management Systems: What Editors Should Know

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 driver."

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 freelancers.

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 content needs.
  • 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

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."



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