What is Web Content Management (WCMS)

web content management image
A Web Content Management System is typically a software tool used by both technical and non-technical staff to manage the creation of structured web pages for a web based experience such as an Internet Website, Intranet or Extranet solution.

The history of WCMS

In the modern world, we are all used to the idea that we can create our own documents - but if you go back 15 or so years - the only way you could create a website was by understanding 'HTML' - which few did. Products like Dreamweaver and Frontpage were not around - which meant that pretty much if you wanted to have a website (internet, extranet, intranet) then you needed someone with technical skills to write it - but not only that - once they had written it you still needed someone technical to change it - as it involved reading HTML code to determine where to add content.

As a result of the above - anyone with a website pretty much ran a 'centralised creation process' for web content. The 'norm' would be that if you had information you wanted on a web page you would send it via email to the 'web team' who would then amend an existing page or create a new one (if you were lucky you would get to 'approve' the page before it went live - if not you just accepted the formatting of the web team).

Web Content Management early days

Web Content Management systems were developed to resolve the issue of having highly experienced technical staff adding low level content to a website. From vendors you would (and still do) hear phrases like 'decentralised content creation' or 'separation of layout from content'. In essence, a WCMS was invented to allow non technical staff to create or amend web pages without the need to involve the technical staff (effectively removing the issue that existed with centralised web teams).

Unlike a traditional Document Management System that does not necessarily enforce a structure on the documents being created - a WCMS typically enforces a structure on the pages being created - often referred to as templates. The structure (representing the layout 'code' for the web page) is typically concealed from the editor or author - so that the only task they have to complete is the insertion of content into a 'blank structured web page'.

Whilst products like Dreamweaver, Frontpage and more recently Wordpress have evolved to emulate the above scenario with features such as drag and drop resulting in the generation of code without technical intervention - they should not be confused with WCMS systems. As products it could be argued that they serve a small niche segment of the market for managing web pages. Its hard to put an exact figure on suitability but probably up to 200 pages is the amount of content you could manage via such products (though there are certainly examples of more). It would be more correct to describe such products as 'website builders' than Web Content Management Systems.

    In order to characterise a WCMS we could say the following;

  • It manages small units of information (web pages) - each unit of information is interconnected via a navigation structure or path.
  • Each unit (web page) is defined by its location on the site - hierarchies of information are created by the location of each unit in relation to all the other units of information within the overall web event. Further definition can be created by 'verticals' of navigation that determine the type of information stored under it
  • There is extensive cross-linking between pages - which determines that a visitor can move from one page to another by means other than the navigation (such as taxonomy navigation that uses a classification scheme associated with web content to identify where to display it on a web page).
  • It is focused primarily on page creation and editing - it facilitates content creation, content control, editing, and many essential web maintenance functions by presenting the non technical user with an interface that requires no knowledge of programming languages or markup languages to create and manage content.
  • It provides a publishing engine that allows created or amended content to be made available to a website visitor
  • It often provides an approval process or workflow that ensures that content is validated before it is released or published to a website.

Web Content Management today

There are very few web content management tools on the market today that talk only about the process of creating and managing content. As the web surfers have evolved to demand enhanced user experiences - driven by using tools like ebay and amazon - and the dominace of social tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook in driving what users 'expect' as an enhanced journey - so too have the WCMS tools. Beyond simple web content management you will often hear terms such as 'web experience management' or 'content in context' to signify that web CMS tools have evolved to be able to provide a user experience that is 'personalised' to the visitor.

Whilst 'personalisation' also referred to as 'segmentation' is not new to the online user experience it has until the last few years been typically very expensive to achieve based on the underlying cost of the CMS tools offering this functionality. The last two to three years has seen most of the mid market WCMS tools extend their core functionality to be able to offer a 'managed experience' at a fraction of the cost of their predecessors.

Similarly, WCMS tools now often include a whole array of social tools that are used to create two ways conversations with the visiting audience reflecting the increased desire for users to be able to express opinions freely about a given service or product.

WCMS solutions also continue to make inroads on the Portal marketplace - again largely driven by the fact they provide a lower cost solution relative to the cost of traditional portal solutions. It has been interesting to note how little portal products currently offer up and beyond that which is now achievable with many leading WCMS solutions. Whilst some portal products seek to 'create' technical issues such as compliance with JSR168 as a barrier to the more cost effective alternatives based largely on .NET a number of global organisations are recognising how technology has moved on (especially .NET) and moving away from the steadfast adherence to Java based portal products.

If you are interested in the 'Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management Study then a FREE copy can be obtained via Ektron from here: http://in.ektron.com/analyst-research/gartner-magic-quadrant-for-wcm

If you are interested in purchasing the 'Forrester Wave for Web Content Management, 2011' study then it can be obtained at this address: http://www.forrester.com/rb/Research/wave%26trade%3B_web_content_management_for_online_customer/q/id/58958/t/2