Content Management in Three Courses: Taste, Snack, and Meal

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The Taste
The "Taste" page is the top-level home page for the site. This page frequently changes, so it's critical that a flexible template allow the site content managers to modify content components. The content management technology to support this site should allow each section of this page to be managed by a separate content specialist, a specialist that can focus on the actual content and his or her writing talents, not HTML or javascript programming talents. So, key to any CM strategy is to separate the content formatting from the technology. It's essential to enable non-technical personnel to create/manage (take ownership of) the consumer rendering of the content.

With that objective met, content specialists and editors, if Web-savvy, can then focus their efforts in creating compelling titles and abstracts, and assume the consumer's perspective. With the right CM tools, they can implement the taste-snack-meal approach, since the complex technologies do not create a barrier whereby a layer of programming personnel must become intermediaries to the content submission process. If you're in the market for a CM solution, insist that the vendor demonstrate, during an evaluation period, how non-technical personnel both submit content and manage and evolve the Web consumer interface.

The Snack
The "snack" is the second level of content displayed if we were successful enough to induce the consumer to navigate through the site. This second level delivers on the promise from the previous page (get the recipe), generating a bit of consumer trust.

I've incorporated some additional information on this site that I think might be valuable to the consumer. The right column features several wine recommendations. I don't know about you, but recommendations without substantiation are at best dubious, so I've suggested that this site acquire premium external research from the most trusted sources in the wine industry (the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator). This content will need to be syndicated, then integrated regularly into your site. You'll notice I also included the price (by bottle and case), and a link to purchase and to email this suggestion to a friend.

Below the recipe, I've included a composite "rating" that the consumer community used to score the recipe, showing the number of folks (26) that created the rating. And right below that, I've invited consumers to rate the recipe and submit their own recipe. The final link on the left column is a subscription offer to an email-based, subject-specific newsletter all about potatoes and for "potato lovers." It would be clever if this newsletter featured stories and information contained in consumer submissions. This newsletter would require its own CM subsystem and would also need an archives area that consumers could use to browse for back issues. Besides the cost of the CM technologies, the labor involved to maintain this subsite could be appreciable. I'm wondering if the CM technologies were made simple enough, if the consumers could elect from their ranks-volunteers to maintain the newsletter subsite.

The Meal
CM solutions that call themselves portals incorporate a complete CM development and publishing platform. Portals offer the promise of aggregating and integrating disparate content into a single HTML interface. I've come to view the portal as an extremely complex development platform that requires considerable technology efforts and significant dollars to implement, and has many hidden costs to maintain. Most of these costs are a result of the immaturity of the technology, since current versions of portal technology suffer from:

  • Previously mentioned inabilities to allow non-technical personnel to take ownership of the consumer interface
  • Technical obstacles in creating and/or maintaining connectors to other repositories, or external content feeds
  • Lack of support for many feature sets needed by CM personnel, specifically:
  1. Automated content classification. Used to improve information retrieval, what's in vogue now is the creation of browse by taxonomies, then having a software crawler automatically classify the site's content in that taxonomy. Niche third-party companies like Autonomy, Semio, and Inxight have solutions which address these needs. Your portal vendor should support third-party integration of these and other tools.
  2. Content personalization. My business objective is to retain my most valuable customers. When they log in to my site, I want to provide them with content and services that exceed their expectations. At the same time, I want my site to render a different value proposition to those less-valuable customers. Vendors such as Broadvision, Art Technology Group, Blue Martini, and Vignette offer rules-based personalization. These vendors even promise that non-technical business personnel can operate these systems.

 It's very clear that with big investments and a world-class staff of Web developers, an organization can implement complex CM solutions. What's becoming clear is that these solutions are extremely expensive to maintain, and difficult to enhance. Many purchasers of CM systems have had to hire vendor "swat" teams to successfully figure out how to implement what the product promised "out-of-the-box." Take the time to perform small-scale prototyping of these systems, and make sure you expose your non-technical personnel to these systems, letting them take the systems through a complete content cycle and site content revision.

Make sure that your Content Management team has site change management tools to support their efforts. I'm speaking to the technical group here, the group that creates and maintains the server-side middleware scripts, the database-stored procedures, and the COM and/or CORBA portal components and the various XML parsers and connectors. This team needs a development platform to test and roll out new versions of the components that "power" the site. They also need the ability to roll back and recover if a new release causes problems. Site change management vendors include Interwoven's TeamSite and Vignette.

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