The Future of Content Management – Rachel Andrew at Smashing Conference

In The Future of Content Management, Rachel Andrew, creator of Perch CMS, explains the need for our content management systems to evolve. Here are my notes:

The Elephant in the Room

  • Nobody talks about content management systems. Everyone hates them.
  • Clients love to do a little bit of web designing. It’s the designer’s job to establish best practices and help them avoid common problems.
  • We should not be giving content editors the opportunity to destroy their websites.
  • Provide something better than the Word experience of website content-editing. Your clients will stop asking for Word.
  • Your CMS should be entirely focused around great creating quality content.

Death to WYSIWYG

  • A CMS is not a website design tool. If you wouldn’t give your client Dreamweaver, then why give them a CMS that mimics that behavior?
  • A lot of effort is being put into making WYSIWYG editors. We’re trying to solve the wrong problems.
  • We cannot expect non-developers and designers to make sane decisions about document semantics.
  • Clients make decisions based on how easy it is for them to update content.
  • The CMS

A New Way Forward

  • The CMS helps content editors make good decisions. A CMS is often as much an enemy of good content as it is of good design. Make the CMS provide information inline to help guide the editors in the right direction.
  • The CMS should allow the designer to make semantic decisions so the editor doesn’t have to.
  • Instead of giving instructions and guidelines, just simply remove unnecessary fields so they don’t have the ability to make an incorrect decision
  • The CMS protects the design and architecture decisions made for the site. This keeps things consistent. We move away from controlling how something looks in the CMS because we’ve already decided that in the design
  • When we stop trying to give content editors a web design tool, we can help them focus on editing content.
  • If content editors are not worrying about how it looks.
  • Separating the content from the style and semantics, it’s stored on what it means rather than how it looks.
  • Structured content can be easily repurposed: e-mails, RSS, social media, and much much more.

Greenbelt Media Server

  • Greenbelt.org.uk archive site image management problem
  • It’s normal to have just a few images that just get reused throughout the site. It takes effort to upload more images
  • Requirements: make it easy for editors to explore the image archive, Don’t duplicate images, provide a browsable asset library, consider responsive image solutions in the future
  • The Greenbelt Media Server allows editors to upload full sized images and also pull in images from Flickr directly from photographers. From there editors can sort by date and time and edit photo metadata
  • Structured Content is not a silver bullet. We still have to deal with strong, emphasis, links, blockquotes, inline images and files throw a monkey wrench in.
  • Avoid inserting raw HTML into your content at all costs.
  • Store things clean and sane in the database, and add a transformation layer that allows conversion into the proper final language

Solving the Wrong Porblems

  • We are solving the wrong problems. Clients still want the Microsoft Word emulating solutions they’re used to. Our customers are asking for faster horses.
  • Putting effort towards solutions that tie the content to presentation is solving the wrong problem.
  • Content Management Systems and site building tool are separate things. We need to separate them in our minds.
  • Use structured content wherever possible. Avoid directly inserting HTML into content.
  • Craft better experiences for content editors within the tools you use.
  • If your CMS falls short, tell the maker. They need to know the right direction to move in. Light a fire under their asses.

Questions to be Answered?

  • How can we create a more elegant layer on top of structured content?
  • Can we enable offline editing?
  • How do we handle multilingual content and internationalized sites?
  • How do we facilitate constructive discussion around content management systems

One Comment

  1. Thanks for your hard work today Brad. We need more discussions about content management – content is the living organism in our products and we need to ensure it thrives in the right conditions long after we put down our tools.

    Relevant reading: http://contentsmagazine.com/articles/made-to-measure/