Future of Content Management for News Media for Web sites

Content on Web sites should be managed using systems that were designed from the ground up for the Web. Traditional content management systems with a legacy of features and workflows used for paper-based print products like newspapers and magazines are unsuitable for Web sites. The future of news media content management for Web sites is in:

  • simple & quick workflows
  • blogs & wikis as the main content types for text
  • social networking & community publishing

simple & quick workflows

Complex editorial workflows make sense for print products (on paper) , where once the edition is done, the content and presentation state is “locked” and sent to the presses. Working with Web content writers and editors over the past decade, I have learned that simple, quick workflows are preferable for Web sites. Many Web site producers who hail from print backgrounds now share the same conclusion that complex content management is a hindrance to successful Web site production.

The concept of an edition of the entire product is not necessary for a content Web site. The atomic unit that can be managed and published together can be a package of articles and multimedia or even just one article. A Web site is a living, dynamic, ever changing collection of content where individual items can be updated whenever required or desired or even automatically based on usage.

To be competitive, content needs to be updated and published quickly. Corrections can be made anytime. Thus for Web sites, the editing and approval process should be streamlined and quick all the way from authoring to posting on the site.

A new concept

The ability of online word processors like Google Docs or WriteWith to enable multiple people to edit a document simultaneously and collaboratively is different paradigm from traditional check-in/check-out access control.

blogs & wikis as the main content types for text

Content management system (CMS) which offers the simplicity of blogs and are extensible via plug-ins to add functionality like WordPress or MovableType, make good foundations of a CMS for a news media Web site.

For revisions, editing history and access control, wiki software works well. WikiPedia and WikiNews, which are powered by the MediaWiki software are two good examples.

The concept of content management systems that combine the agility of blogs and editorial control of wikis is interesting to follow. The term bliki seems to be the leading classification of such products.

In many newsrooms, writers are increasingly using blog posts to publish news articles instead of their enterprise-class content management systems. When asked why, they reply because it is simpler and quicker and they don’t need the overhead of things like complex approvals, advanced version tracking and access controls.

social networking & community publishing

Managing content using a blog or wiki is social networking and community publishing activity. On the readership side, successful social news sites like Digg and Reddit have accelerated the evolution of journalism and readership habits towards the social/community model. The distinction between authors and readers itself is blurring with wikis and comments on blogs.

Social networking features are being added to a variety of Web sites. Going forward, expect to see social networking and community features in content management systems.

Conclusion

Media companies should move to using CMS products that prefer simplicity over complex editorial workflows which were a legacy of writing and editing for print products. A news item, story or blog post should be the same content type. It is likely that blogging products that have proven so successful in empowering talented individuals in competing with large companies will evolve into content management systems with the addition of wiki functionality.

Sometimes extra steps in workflows are good

When implementing a content management system or other product, customers often ask for workflows that require the least number of steps required to any given complete task. At first, this seems to make perfect sense; however consider this example of a car:

Before you can get inside your car and start driving you have to perform the following steps:

  1. unlock the car door
  2. pull the door handle
  3. open the door
  4. get inside the car
  5. close the door

Steps 1, 2, 3, and 5 seem to add unnecessary actions to the workflow. The goal here is to be able to start driving to get to the destination. Over the course multiple car trips over a day, these steps seem to “waste” a lot time. An easier and “better” workflow may be for cars not to have a door at all. Then you’d save the steps of having to open and close the door.

However, with the current level of commonly available technologies, it makes sense for a car to have a door and require these steps before you can start driving.

Extra steps are often required to provide security, maintainability, reuse, reliability, scalability and performance.

Shortcuts aren’t always the best solution. You may save steps and thus cost now with shortcuts, but as a result you may pay much more later in other costs.

As technology advances, some necessary steps can be automated or eliminated. For example, some cars now have keyless entry that eliminates some of these steps. In the future, an advanced version of keyless entry may even open and close the door for you. However, expecting those in a car of today would be impractical.

Similarly in content management and other software extra steps aren’t always a bad thing. A good content management system isn’t one that allows web site producers to complete their tasks in the least number of steps. It is one that enables completion of the task in an optimal number of steps balanced with other factors like reuse, maintainability, flexibility and security.