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What is Content Management?

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Slide Guide

What is Content Management?

First, let's ask: what is content?

When most people refer to content, they mean stuff that resides on web servers. What do people put on web servers? Everything! We put web pages, documents, programs, audio files, movie trailers, and more on the web.

Content management, therefore, is the process of managing stuff on web servers:

  • adding stuff to web servers
  • removing stuff from web servers when it's no longer needed
  • organizing (and reorganizing) that stuff in some meaningful way, and
  • keeping track of enough information about the stuff to figure out if it's still useful.

Next question: how does one manage content? That's a hard question, because different people will want to manage content different ways:

  • An average person keeping a home page might not care about anything except for the ability to get the latest version of her home page on the web.
  • A dot com company may want to keep a copy of the most recent versions of the application code that runs their online store, so they can figure out what changes caused bugs to appear.
  • A group of open source developers may be collaborating on some HTML documentation; they need to be able to communicate who is working on which page when, so they don't overwrite each other's changes, but they don't really want to keep a copy of all the different versions.
  • A large corporation might want to make the legal department responsible for all the legal inforamtion, the marketing people responsible for the product descriptions, and the graphic designers responsible for the look and feel. What's more, they want a reviewer to look at all new additions to the web site before it gets seen by the public.
  • A large insurance company or bank might additionally be legally required to keep a copy of certain web page for several years!

This diversity of needs has lead us to a diverse set of technologies and products that support putting content on the web. At the same time, as people's needs evolve in different directions, they don't want to completely replace their content management environments; what they need, then, is some technology standards that can allow people to mix and match their existing tools.

WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) is one of the key technology standards that can bridge today's diverse environment.

State of the Content Management Universe

The Giga Information Group is an industry analyst group that tracks product and technology trends. When they talk about the Content Management, they note that there are four content management niches that are all on a path toward overlapping and converging:

Source Code Management Tools Document Management Tools Web Publishing Tools "Electronic Store in a Box" Products
These products traditionally supported program source code (e.g. CVS). For environments that produced lots of documents -- legal offices, newspapers, and insurance companies. A new industry to support people creating simple pages on the web. These products often offered some type of workflow, and some tools to put HTML to a web server. These products had to provide tools that allowed users to specify new items to a catalog or to, say, change the description of those items. Also, this industry was one of the first industries to offer personalization technologies

More and more, these distinctions are appearing arbitrary. I mean, a Source Code Management tool needs to track versions of code, allow programmers to find and retrieve source code and, ideally, integrate with development tools. A document management tool needs to track versions of documents, allow business people to search for and retrieve documents and, ideally, integrate with common document authoring software. It doesn't seem to me like those requirements are very different. What differs, really, is the type of audience that uses the tools.

In the past, the makers of source code management tools and development tools agreed to support a common interface called the Source Code Control API (SCC API). That way, anyone could make a development tool that could speak to anyone else's source code management repository (Actually, the SCC API wasn't universal because it was pretty much limited to the Windows operating system). But it was a step toward recognizing that sometimes people wanted to mix and match development tools and repositories from different vendors.

Similarly, in the document management world, there was an interface called the Document Management API (DMA). People who made document authoring tools could support this interface, and hence integrate with any document management repository that supports DMA.

Now, with the web, people are being forced to question the fundamental dichotomy of "source code" and "documents". HTML introduces us to a really profound question: is HTML source code or is it a document? What about HTML with a bit of JavaScript? Or what about JavaServer Pages? Today, different people are coming up with different answers to that question. Some people say that HTML is source code, and some people say that it's a document.

Thus the importance of WebDAV: it is a standard interface that is being adopted in all of these niches. With a common WebDAV interface, it doesn't matter wether or not the repository is a source code repository or a document management repository.

There are still, however, a number of products that haven't supported WebDAV as quickly as we might like. Thus the importance of Slide: Slide provides a framework for implementing content management features on already available repositories.

Copyright © 2000 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated: June 24th, 2000
Slide Guide logo © by B.C. Holmes and Siobhan NiLoughlin.
Slide is a project by the Apache Software Foundation.

Windows is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corp. Sun, Sun Microsystems, Java and JavaServer Pages are trademarks or registered trademarks of Sun Microsystems.