Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Digging deeper into CMS requirements (#5: The last one)

This is the fifth post about digging deeper into content management requirements. See also

I know I was going to rant about agile development and Scrum soon, but what the heck; I'm inspired! Today I'm gonna finish off the CMS Requirements thread and describe THE most important requirement of all. And hopefully on sunday I will explain how all these requirements are interconnected by two key principles:
  • Open Source
  • Open Standards
Now writing about the other requirements has been quite a booring affair. They have just been sort of basic explanations that can lead up to sunday's post.

However
, this requirement is no ordinairy rabbit! It's not measurable, you can't actually describe it, and it's darn hard to implement! It is a utopical state software, an *ility of the highest degree.

2 years of CMS research, coffee drinking, chocolate-chip cookie eating and hard thinking made me believe that the most important requirement of a content management system is...

Extensibility

There ye have it. The number one thing that comes back to kick me in the head after having delivered a top-notch user friendly CMS is this:

Customer: "Oh, the new homepage looks great. Can we put our boat/customer/shop/weather/blog/forum/registry/directory/services up there?"

Extensibility. The quality of software that allows you to extend basic functionality with new custom tailored stuff. The last 20 or 10% that you need to get the perfect CMS.

There are many factors that multiply into this one. Stuff like plugins, portlets, parts and widgets are implementations where people have tried to put extensions. Modularity is factor, as is simplicity in the code base.

But the most common factor in extensibility is openness and agreements. Standards.

If I can understand my CMS, I know how to extend it.

This is actually a quality in most software! In fact lower level software like programming languages and operating systems are based on the very possibility of extension.

But we are talking about CMS'es here. And they deal with content. Content is historically not a very extensible format. You define your SQL schema or file-format, and you stick to it. Once you start using it you can forget anything about extending the use of your content, translating it, exporting it in a usable format, or importing other kinds of content. At least not for anything less than a fortune in developer costs. There are no content standards (well, some are appearing, like RDF and JCR).

If we do settle on a content standard that offers us the possibility to extend the use of our content we can start developing CMS'es that can realise the potential of extensible content.

Yes, you can extend your CMS for user registration and profile editing. You can expose your content as blog-posts. You can create articles of content that are either news, weather-forecasts, image-libraries, data-sheets, documents, and so on and so forth. You just need the content format to do so.

Let us stop hammering content into relational databases! Stop pushing maps and references into flat tables. Stop creating portlets, widgets, plugins and templates just to display your table-relational data a certain way.

Instead store your content in a generic way, and expose it a generic way. These are the principles the Internet is built around; standard storage format and standard transport format. We seem to have come a long way on the transport format, but are still way behind on the storage format because of greedy, properitary vendors that have not sooner come together to standardize content storage.

Well, I think that rant was a bit of a head start on sunday's post, but I'll hold on to the rest of it for now. In the future I'm gonna slide in on a track which focuses more on the field of open source and open standards, and let me add that I haven't been reading up on my Open Source Journal recently, so if I am obviously repeating any ideas that others have published, let me know.

Need to write invitations for the upcoming St. Patrick's day party :)