One way to Web Content Management (as long as you're big)
By David Walker (Google profile)
As the dot-com boom recedes in memory, Web site managers are turning to away from technological whizz-bangery and towards duller but more crucial work - like the task of simply getting content onto sites and maintaining it as cheaply and simply as possible. This task goes by the name of "Web content management", and texts on it are now belatedly appearing, a tribute to our newly pragmatic times. One of the first volumes, costing an affordable $US28 ($A55), comes from a computer scientist named Russell Nakano.
The term "Web content management" covers a multitude of jobs - everything from figuring out how your pieces of content work with each other (data modelling), to creating content (authoring), to getting it onto a Web server (publication).
Nakano's chosen title - "Web Content Management: A Collaborative Approach" - hits the mark in at least two ways. First, it shows Nakano is most interested in the team aspects of content management - letting several people edit content together (collaboration), letting the right people do the right things to it (workflow), keeping track of how it has changed (versioning and archiving). Second, it hints at the narrowness of Nakano's approach: he knows just One Good Way to do things. His book concentrates on a specific methodology.
That methodology is aimed at large and complex Web sites, typically consisting of more than 10,000 pages, and owned by large organisation who want to strictly enforce content rules. Such sites often need sophisticated workflow systems to move content from idea to carefully-polished corporate product. Nakano gives such sites the useful title of "states", since they require systems of formal responsibilities, rights and privileges. He distinguishes them from "chiefdoms" and "tribes", controlled less by formal structure than by informal agreement and social pressure.
More broad principles like this would be welcome. Most of the time, you read in this book of the One Good Way that's suited to a few big Web sites. Fortunately, in describing his One Good Way, Nakano still manages to illustrate many of the underlying principles of collaboration, workflow and versioning. What's peculiar is that these principles appear almost by accident, when they should be the core of the book. And that Nakano gives no hint that they're long-established principles at all.
Take versioning. Nakano's book describes a "WSE Paradigm", with WSE standing for "work area/staging area/edition". Neologism aside, this appears to be the standard software version-control system that smart developers long ago adopted to Web development. Users "check out" site assets, work on them, commit them back into the system and merge them together if necessary, all in a way that minimises the risk that a team will muck up the existing site or obliterate each other's work on the new one. (A quick Google search will find you a swag of documents on using the open-source Concurrent Versions System, Component Software's CS-RCS, Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe and other versioning tools to build Web sites.) If Nakano's paradigm goes beyond this old approach, he never explains how. Indeed, he takes pains not to mention the traditional version-control practices at all. He also avoids naming any software tools which you might use to implement his paradigm. There are some valuable lessons and examples here; they're just not as accessible as they might be.
A few chapters in, I began to suspect Nakano's book was created as a marketing and customer support tool for CMS vendor Interwoven. More than any other CMS, Interwoven specialises in collaboration, workflow and versioning for large sites. It is in some ways more a CMS component than a complete product. Nakano co-founded the company, and Interwoven's site promotes it heavily. If you're paying the $A500,000 price tag of a typical Interwoven installation, I'd thoroughly recommend "Web Content Management: A Collaborative Approach". If you have a more modest implementation in mind, Nakano still has something to say - he's just not talking right at you.