Skip to main content

Thoughts about WCMS

Originally, my problem defintion was something like:

The development and analysis of a knowledge management system.

Now it turns out that what we are producing at P is purerly a web content management system (WCMS). This might sound rather dull and unsophisticated, but it is important to note that "P Portal" is a general, but customizable WCMS.

I will try to elaborate on these two terms:

A WCMS is often developed inside the organization for use in that organization only, and it satisfies the organizations need for web content. An example is a small business hiring a web-designer that makes a small website, where news can be added on the front page with the help of a simple form. Another example is a larger corporation hiring in CMS consultants to produce a WCMS which is seamed into the existing CMS (also known as ECM-system).

A general WCMS is what is often referred to as a (W)CMS package, something you buy, install and start using the way it is off the self - out of the box.

A general WCMS is not specially developed for an organization to suite that particular organization's needs. A general WCMS has the ability to fit into a set of organizations. The size of this set depends on the customizability and plugability of the WCMS, as well as the organization's requirements.

It is important to note, as corporate websites are becoming more and more critical, that these requirements are increasing. Design, functionality and content are typical features that attract customers. A company can often be judged by its website, altough I will leave out this discussion to marketing theorists and analyzers. The result is that organizations demand WCMS that can produce stylish websites with new functionalities like commenting, news-feeds and online ordering. These modern functionalities are typical aspects of traditional CMS (collaboration, cross-media syndication and process-management, respectfully).

Following this trend, the amount of potential organization that can use one general WCMS rapidly decreases. You simply can not develop one system that will fit in to a larger set of organizations because they want different site-design and functionality.

This is a challenge that P Portal is facing.

There is a pretty straight forward solution to the problem: Make a WCMS that takes all possible requirements into consideration.

This is of course impossible, but what we can do is to:

1. Define the functionalities in an abstract way, so they can be implemented to satisfy a wider set of requirements..
2. Make sure the functionality is extendable to future requirements.

I like to divide requirements into visual and functional.

Many WCMS are turned down because they do not look the way the web-designers want. A WCMS is inclined to standardise content, and this reduced the variety and visual experience of a website.

Following our two guidelines above, it would be natural to seperate the visual face of a website from its content. Seperating view from content is an ancient but still healthy CMS paradigm.


So the webdesigner has to go to work on something which is not content specific, typically several template pages that are used to render content. Depending on the skill of the webdesigner, she enjoys going to work with a wysiwyg/drag'n'drop editor (like MS Frontpage), pure html, css, javascript, flash and so on. Some of these formats do not mix well with middleware-produced content (typically XML). The details on how this is done varies immensly by choice of platform, but sooner or later, the webdesigner's template has to interface against the content produced from middleware.

If the designer has a proper and elegant middleware interface, it is easy and straightforward to insert content into the template page. Evidence of the opposite is the mass of ASP, JSP and PHP pages around on the net that contain programmatical logic, and the HTML is so littered with code-snippets, scriplets and scripts that webdesigner, much less the wysiwyg editor can read the page and make it look the way they want.

There are frameworks that supply interfaces like this. I am (un)fortunately only conversed with the ones that are used in JSP. These frameworks clean up the HTML by keeping programmatical logic inside custom made html-tags. Struts, JSTL and JSF are examples, and it is of course possible to develop custom tags on your own.

With a solid and sufficient interface, a webdesigner can surround the content with as flashy and fancy view as if she was designing a simple HTML page. There are other issues regarding the view of the site, particularly how navigation is handled. Imagine the menu bar on the left or top of a front page. It often reflects how the content is structured. This is mixing of content and view, and should be worked around somehow.



The functional requirements are trickier to sort out. One website needs a forum, another needs a webshop and article-publishing. As stated above, we need a suite of tools that is both (1) abstract and (2) extendable.

A good starting point for predicting future requirements is CMS theory. CMS has been around for a long time, and it is not often websites are imposed to support a feature which was not allready supported in the organization's CMS. Of course it does happen, the weblog being the classic exception of the rule.

CMS theory produces the following typical features:
-Document management (publishing news, papers) - primary input
-Digital asset management (file repository)
-Feedback (comment, forum, survey, blog) - secondary input
-Business process management
-Digital rights management

These belong to document management:
-Versioning
-Collaboration
-Internationalizatioe

So how to we abstract the solution of these? Stay focused, merge similar documents, keep it generic and dynamic. How do we keep the solution extendable? Guess we have to revert to the architecture of the software here...

//TODO finish this up



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Open source CMS evaluations

I have now seen three more or less serious open source CMS reviews. First guy to hit the field was Matt Raible ( 1 2 3 4 ), ending up with Drupal , Joomla , Magnolia , OpenCms and MeshCMS being runner-ups. Then there is OpenAdvantage that tries out a handful ( Drupal , Exponent CMS , Lenya , Mambo , and Silva ), including Plone which they use for their own site (funny/annoying that the entire site has no RSS-feeds, nor is it possible to comment on the articles), following Matt's approach by exluding many CMS that seem not to fit the criteria. It is somewhat strange that OpenAdvantage cuts away Magnolia because it "Requires J2EE server; difficult to install and configure; more of a framework than CMS", and proceed to include Apache Lenya in the full evaluation. Magnolia does not require a J2EE server. It runs on Tomcat just like Lenya does (maybe it's an idea to bundle Magnolia with Jetty to make it seem more lightweight). I'm still sure that OpenAdvant

Managing dot-files with vcsh and myrepos

Say I want to get my dot-files out on a new computer. Here's what I do: # install vcsh & myrepos via apt/brew/etc vcsh clone https://github.com/tfnico/config-mr.git mr mr update Done! All dot-files are ready to use and in place. No deploy command, no linking up symlinks to the files . No checking/out in my entire home directory as a Git repository. Yet, all my dot-files are neatly kept in fine-grained repositories, and any changes I make are immediately ready to be committed: config-atom.git     -> ~/.atom/* config-mr.git     -> ~/.mrconfig     -> ~/.config/mr/* config-tmuxinator.git       -> ~/.tmuxinator/* config-vim.git     -> ~/.vimrc     -> ~/.vim/* config-bin.git        -> ~/bin/* config-git.git               -> ~/.gitconfig config-tmux.git       -> ~/.tmux.conf     config-zsh.git     -> ~/.zshrc How can this be? The key here is to use vcsh to keep track of your dot-files, and its partner myrepos/mr for o

Leaving eyeo

Thirteen blog posts later, this one notes my departure from eyeo after 4 years and 3 months. I joined eyeo around the headcount of 80 employees, and now I think there's just over 250 people there. My role coming in was as operations manager, doing a mix of infrastructure engineering and technical project management. I later on took on organizational development to help the company deal with its growing pains . We introduced cross-functional teams, departments (kind of like guilds), new leadership structures, goal-setting frameworks, onboarding processes and career frameworks.  And all of this in a rapidly growing distributed company. I'm proud and happy that for a long time I knew every employee by name and got to meet every single new-hire through training them on company structure and processes.  At some point, we had enough experienced leaders and organizational developers that I could zoom back in on working in one team, consulting them on  Git and continuous integration

Joining eyeo: A Year in Review

It's been well over a year since I  joined eyeo . And 'tis the season for yearly reviews, so... It's been pretty wild. So many times I thought "this stuff really deserves a bloggin", but then it was too inviting to grab onto the next thing and get that rolling. Instead of taking a deep dive into some topic already, I want to scan through that year in review and think for myself, what were the big things, the important things, the things I achieved, and the things I learned. And then later on, if I ever get around to it, grab one of these topics and elaborate in a dedicated blog-post. Like a bucket-list of the blog posts that I should have written. Here goes: How given no other structures, silos will grow by themselves This was my initial shock after joining the company. Only a few years after taking off as a startup, the hedges began growing, seemingly almost by themselves, and against the will of the founders. I've worked in silos, and in companies wit

Using Voice-Chat for Gamers in Distributed Teams

This is a post going into the usefulness of live voice-chat tools in distributed teams. If you've ever seen the Leeeeeroooooyy Jeeeenkiiins video of World of Warcraft fame, you've heard this kind of tool in action. It's how the participants in the video are speaking with each other - this is not a feature built into the World of Warcraft game - it's a separate team-oriented VoIP software, and it's all about letting gamers communicate orally while gaming.  Since these tools are for gamers, they have to be fast (low latency) light (as not to steal CPU-cycles from heavy games graphics)  moderate in bandwidth usage (as not to affect the game server connection) There are several options around: TeamSpeak , Ventrilo , more recently the massively grown Discord , and finally Mumble , which is the open-source alternative of the gang. A few years ago, when I joined eyeo (a distributed company), several of the operations team were avid gamers, and had a TeamSp