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Managing Web Content Can Be Grueling

Publishing a few pages on the Web is embarrassingly easy. Getting a group of people to do so effectively is difficult. And getting many groups to create a combination of static and dynamic pages, tracking revisions, setting up workflow, and making the framework scalable and secure is nearly impossible without the right tools.

cmThis is illustrated only too well at Gannett Co. Inc., which publishes USA TODAY, USA Weekend and dozens of regional publications. Recently at Gannett headquarters in Arlington, Va., I examined Web content management packages that could enable easier and more consistent publishing and design of Gannett’s intranet content.

Gannett’s early experiments with designing and maintaining departmental intranet sites used readily available Web authoring software that lacked the ability to apply standard design templates.

Gannett is considering standardizing on a set of styles so that all its business units can function similarly. The goal is a more efficient Web structure and a better user experience, said Gannett IT architect Gary Gunnerson.

Although many companies’ sites will not be as complex as Gannett’s, and many others will be more so, every company’s Web publishing system should allow designers to maintain a consistent look and feel across company sites without restricting the freedom to produce innovative content.

During a three-day Shoot-Out,  Gunner son, Gannett IT staff and representatives from USA TODAY put six Web content management packages to the test using Gan nett’s intranet content and requirements. Tested were Cyber Teams Inc.’s Web Site Director 1.3, Dyna Base 3.12 from eBusiness Technologies (a division of Inso Corp.), Future Tense Inc.’s Internet Publishing System 2.1, Info square Corp.’s OpenShare 2.01, Mortice Kern Systems Inc.’s Web Integrity 2.4 and NCompass Labs Inc.’s Resolution 2.1.

Each package met some of Gannett’s requirements, but none was up to snuff on handling them all.

Notably absent were Interwoven Inc. and Vignette Corp., both of which typically do not allow their products to be reviewed.

The term “content management” has been adopted by almost every vendor of a software product that has something to do with HTML. Vendors are increasingly taking their older technologies, adding support for Extensible Markup Language and then repositioning them as content management systems. This holds true for companies ranging from object database vendors such as Poet Software Corp., to large-scale database vendors such as Oracle Corp., to Microsoft Corp. with Office 2000.

None of these companies’ products have much to do with content management, however, because they fail to accomplish a major task of a true content management system-distributing the management of Web development. Control over content is fairly routine when one person or a small group creates content for an entire site. But as more people are involved, the difficulty of managing the flow of data is magnified.

In their most basic form, Web content management systems should allow each content producer to create pages and feed them to the publishing system. The system should have customized and automated checks and balances to ensure that pages get placed correctly, that navigation trees are created and maintained, and that the appropriate people control the process along the way.

To make this happen, good Web content management packages separate content (written material, images, streaming audio and anything else that makes up Web pages) from presentation of content, and they include strong workflow capabilities.

Most of the packages evaluated lacked strong workflow capability, a detriment considering Gannett’s-and most companies’-need for such structure. One of Gannett’s top requirements sent to Web content management vendors prior to the Shoot-Out event was extensive workflow capabilities.

But workflow is only one of a long list of features Gannett is looking for in a Web content management solution. These items, which define how Gannett works today and where it wants to be, include the ability to handle multiple site views, a search engine and support for multiple open platforms.

Gannett now must codify its internal workflows, then adopt a system and hope it will grow with the company or integrate a tool as a first step toward a better fit in the future.

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