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The CMS Evolution



By Matt Kinsman
03/06/2007

Every publisher defines "content management system" differently, and many define it in multiple ways. "There are two ways to look at it: One is strategic based on delivery;what do we have in print, what do we have online, in gaming communities, etc.," says John Siefert, publisher of CMP's Network Computing. "And from a technical standpoint, how can this system actually organize content in a way that my users want to interact with it?"

National Geographic Traveler developed a CMS to keep track of three things: The content, how much it cost to create, and who created it, according to editor-in-chief Keith Bellows. "On one hand there is a traditional sense of tracking and aggregating the content your staff is generating," says Bellows. "The other is the digital definition of aggregating multimedia iterations of your content."


The Shift To Open Source

Even publishers that were early adopters are upgrading their current CMS, thanks to interactive software being baked into some of the new content management systems, which allow the audience to contribute even as the publishing staff generates content.

CMP uses a system from Interwoven, one of very first publishing-centric content management systems. "It's done a good job, but we're in the process of evaluating some upgraded systems with open source that will enable us to have a development community at networkcomputing.com," says Siefert. "Originally, we liked Interwoven because it allowed us to classify specific content in specific ways. What was a little funky about it was there were some extremely long URLs being tied to content which made it difficult for users to navigate."

Siefert wants to see a CMS that cultivates reader interaction. Network Computing launched a program called Rolling Reviews that solicits feedback from its audience, including IT professionals who help the staff create some of the evaluation criteria. "The biggest value is to engage the user in what they really want to get," says Siefert. "With Rolling Reviews, we're creating a valuation criteria in real time. They can actually help us develop the content we would use to build an entire feature report that could run in the magazine or Web site or behind a gate. That's the biggest driver for us."

But don't forget the hardware component. "It's not just a software system you're buying, you also need a hardware infrastructure that can enable it," says Siefert. "A lot of the time you get really excited about what you can achieve with a CMS, then all of a sudden say, 'Holy smokes, can my Web infrastructure actually support this kind of content management system?'"


Working Across Multiple Groups

The Deal is currently undergoing a redesign for its electronic products with the goal of developing a CMS that can work across multiple groups, including print, online, and events. Currently, The Deal uses K4 for print and Content Server for online, which converts everything out of K4 for the Web. "Everyone is working on print and online at same time along the food chain," says Tom Groppe, executive editor, electronic media. "Someone editing a print story is also applying metadata when they tag a story. We're trying to build this hybrid approach."

The Deal's current CMS is expandable but limited, according to Groppe. "Eight years ago, it was standard to go out and buy a content management system because it was hard to build your own," he says. "It's a lot easier now with open source and there are more people well-versed in those platforms who can build something more customizable. It's hard to customize the CMS systems that come out of a box."

Another priority is buying or building a system that achieves each group's needs, rather than implementing several smaller ones. "There are a lot of non-editorial assets in our CMS, such as marketing pages," Groppe says. "Some content, such as Webinars, are hard to extract right now. Integrating them better would develop them enormously."

Groppe says he'd like a way to do things automatically rather than require manual intervention to provide connections between elements such as video and audio multimedia assets. "Our current system doesn't let you do that easily," he says. "We need a way to create publications and packages on the fly. It's pretty easy to create a new blog and there are some pretty powerful templates you can set up the way you want but in current CMS templates, it's hard."


The Personnel Solution

Keith Bellows describes National Geographic Traveler's current CMS efforts as being in the "horse and buggy stage." The publisher is integrating content elements including the magazine, blogs, newsletters, podcasts, mobile concepts, and photo seminars, as well as lists, e-mails and databases. "We have a lot of versions of our content," says Bellows. "It's not particularly elegant but we're moving toward something more functional that's integrated into a broader initiative. We want to totally aggregate all our content across all our media."

Technology aside, Bellows says people are the key to a successful CMS. "We've gone from one-dimensional media to four-dimensional media," he adds. "You used to hire writers, editors, photographers and designers. Now everybody has to take on the editorial role of thinking in more than one dimension. If I'm getting the rights to this photograph, what rights am I getting? Is it for the podcast, the blog, online? What size? What DPI? Before thinking about systems, you have to think about the content itself and you have to help the staff redefine themselves so they approach content in a much broader, more granulated way."

Content management is also about aggregating all the variables that revolve around a particular word or image. "The page that just had words on it now has sounds embedded in it, images embedded in it, maybe things we haven't even imagined yet," says Bellows. "In the magazine, I can show my version of the Eiffel Tower. But now, I can say exactly where it is on the globe, exactly where it is in Paris. If you want to show a rotating image, we can do that. If you want to know the history, we can show that. If you want to know what other people think about it, we can do that. All of that is about content management."


Developing Your CMS

If you're developing a multimedia content management system, keep this in mind:

  1. Stay flexible. Your CMS needs next year may be very different from what they are today.
  2. Look for compatibility with your back-end infrastructure. Don't get carried away by the capabilities of a system that you can't integrate.
  3. Train your staffers to think like editors. And train editors to use content in multiple ways.

*For suggestions on open-source platforms, look to the January 23rd blog post in the Folio: Forum on Foliomag.com called "Open Source Options for CMS."

By Matt Kinsman
03/06/2007







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