October 5, 1998

Intranet Advisor

Steven L. Telleen

Making Sense of Content Management

Q: We seem to be overloaded with choices for content management tools, and all seem to have different approaches. Do you have any suggestions on how to make sense of this? 

A: Content management is perhaps the most crowded and most confused space in Intranet software. The first wave of confusion happened because web standards dissolved the boundaries among content types, bringing vendors who were previously in distinct markets into direct competition with each other. More recently we are seeing competition from products designed specifically for the new medium. You might find the following categories useful in classifying the various products and matching them to your requirements.

Extended authoring tools: These started as HTML editors with extensions to manage sets of related pages, often called “sites.” Their functionality has been extended over time, but they are generally limited in the size and robustness that they can support. Examples are Microsoft’s FrontPage, Adobe’s SiteMill and  Claris’ Home Page.

Web application servers: Many of these started as standard database application servers supporting three-tier client-server architectures. They were modified to generate database query and report forms as web pages. Two major considerations with web application servers are the robustness of their transaction management capabilities and the ease of building applications using business rules.

Web document servers: These servers manage web pages as if they were traditional documents and document complexes, providing version management, indexing and search capabilities. Many are web-enabled versions of pre-web products. Most will manage and index multiple document types in their native format and translate them to HTML on the fly. Other features to look for are author check-out/check-in management for multiple authors, collaboration support and workflow support for review and approval.

Dynamic page servers: These servers create pages dynamically, pulling content "objects" from multiple sources. This capability is used to personalize the pages. There are two basic approaches to personalization (1) use of historical profiles and session "click" history, i.e. doing the personalization for the visitor, or (2) allowing the visitor to interact directly with the dynamic server, i.e. the visitor manages her/his own profile. Dynamic page servers tend to focus on managing and developing the templates used to present the dynamic pages. They all claim to manage the component content as well, but this generally is not a very robust feature. Look for how pages are personalized, support for multiple independent creators of component content using other vendors’ applications and the kind of collaboration and workflow features provided.

Web environment managers: This is a new class of web-based application, designed to manage large, distributed, heterogeneous web-sites. Based on web principles of "managing after the fact," they find objects using spiders (as opposed to requiring people to explicitly enter the objects or pages into a management system), then keep track of versions of objects, templates, and the whole site. They also manage multiple author issues after the fact. Instead of locking out one author until another is finished, they let both modify, then check for conflicts after both copies are returned, updating any non-conflicting changes and notifying both authors of conflicts. They allow authors to use any authoring tool they want. They allow parts of the site development and delivery to be managed by web application servers, document servers and dynamic page servers, versioning the output. I am aware of only two products that exemplify this class today: Interwoven's TeamSite and Platinum's Raveler.

Date: 19981005
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