Jeff Eaton, CMS expert, frequent writer and speaker at web and open source conferences, shares his thoughts on topical real-world content management trends and issues. Currently Jeff works as senior digital strategist at Lullabot in the US.
Jeff is also a highly respected Drupal expert. He is one of the core developers for the Drupal project, specializing in architecture and API development. See “eaton” on drupal.org if you want to see what Jeff works on. We met with Jeff at Content Strategy Forum Helsinki 2013.
Jeff’s key arguments:
- Structured content is the new black in web content management because of increasing amount of different browsing devices
- Web experience management is getting a lot of attention but there is a lack of understanding what this demands of web teams in terms of resources
- Decoupling web delivery systems from management systems is again getting popular
What are the key problems for content producer with CMSs?
“Probably the biggest challenge for everyone is adjusting to the fact that almost any content they produce has got to live in a lot of different contexts. Content has to be published in a lot of different channels and will be viewed by people on a bunch of different devices.”
“Companies are just starting to live with the fact that everyone is using mobile devices to look at their content. But there is a whole series of things coming down such as syndication services or new weird devices that people decide they want to use. It is less about people shifting to a new kind of device than people shifting to a lot of different kinds of devices. We can no longer get away by doing one, two or three versions of a website. We have to make content that can live in a lot of different scenarios.”
What progress has been recently made in the world of CMSs?
“A lot of attention is being paid on structured content. The idea is that you do not simply publish web pages or documents on the web. Instead, each piece of content has some particular kind of information with particular properties and relationships to other types of content inside your system. Examples of these include pages displayed to people, or screens shown to people on a mobile app or cards that get shown when you share your content on a social networking service. These are views into this pool of content you have that can be remixed and repurposed in different ways.”
“A lot of attention has been paid to the concept and some high profile organisations use this approach very well. NPR, the National Public Radio in the US, started down on that path about 10 years ago. I think they have a lot to show for it: in 2011, for example, they were able to roll out several new mobile apps, multiple new web properties, and a full redesign of their primary web site with a small development team. They were able to re-purpose their content very quickly and effectively because their foundation was flexible, and reliable.”
“This path is attractive because of the explosion of number of different devices people want to consume stuff on.”
“Storing structured content and feeding it out through different display channels makes a lot more sense than trying to maintain 5 or 10 different kinds of content for the same story or central message that has to be communicated.”
How has the field of CMSs changed recently?
“Web experience management has definitely garnered a lot of attention in the last several years. The idea that the content of a site can be tailored for the visitor according to their relationship with the organisation is a hot topic.”
“Is the visitor a new arrival? Or has the visitor engaged with the site for weeks, with content displayed tailored to the visitor according to what the company wants to accomplish?”
“I think the biggest danger is that it requires a lot of work to manage, create and tailor all the content that will appear. The content does not just magically write itself. Someone has to figure out how to manage all those different permutations and make sure they are accomplishing their intended goals.”
“The technology to customise what appears to a website visitor is there. Many organisations will experience a rude awakening when they realise the manpower, time and effort needed to build and maintain all this content.”
“The other main thing is probably a greater emphasis on decoupling delivery systems from content management systems.”
“The idea that one single monolithic system can push out the content into all these different channels and publish it while being flexible enough to adapt to new, emerging channels is getting less and less comfortable for a lot of organisations.”
“I think you see this in talk of create-one and publish-everywhere model, with emphasis on providing content feeds and Application Program Interfaces (APIs) in addition to web publishing tools.”
“This revolves around the idea that the tool where your content lives is stable enough so that it does not have to be rebuilt every two years even though all of the places where your content goes could be changing very rapidly.”
JEFF EATON IN HIS OWN WORDS:
“I didn’t get into technology intentionally. I started off writing as a freelance for technology magazines, and then got into a marketing company as a copywriter. Slowly but steadily I became the guy who worked with web pages from mid to late 1990s. Back then clients just started asking for home pages.
Gradually I started learning more heavy computer programming. I had worked with computers recreationally but only really started sinking my teeth into web projects where more dynamic content was needed, databases and all that.
I sort of woke up 10 years later to realise that I have been doing web content management for a long time, this is what I actually do! Around that time, I found Drupal because I was working on a project that needed really rich metadata, different types of content and a lot of flexibility in the way it was displayed — and I never looked back! I’ve been working with Drupal for about eight years now, and I’m not ‘exclusive’ with Drupal anymore, but I still think it’s one of the strongest tools for this kind of structured content.
[Currently Jeff is s senior digital strategist at Lullabot]
BRIEFLY ABOUT LULLABOT AND TYPICAL CLIENTS:
“Content is their business for many of our clients, it is not just used for marketing purposes. They are news organisations, media companies or educational institutions where the content they publish is in the core of their mission, not just something to try to bring in customers.”
“We do work with some companies that build marketing oriented websites but a lot of our perspectives and content management issues are shaped by the kind of organisations we spend a lot of time with.”