Friday, June 29, 2007

Content Management

Content Management is one the most important categories of software. Two years ago, Microsoft Office was the inevitable choice, with various hosting applications like Sharepoint for the enterprise. But there's been a huge amount of change in the last two years - from OpenOffice to Google Spreadsheets to Youtube.

It's now (just) possible to see what Content Management will be like in future - and it's already clear that no one is near yet.

About Content Management

The first question is, what is content?
  • text (e.g. HTML, doc or xls)
  • raster images (e.g. JPG, PNG)
  • vector images (e.g. SVG)
  • audio (e.g. mp3)
  • video (e.g. mpeg)
  • structured data (e.g. various XML)

The last category is really a miscellaneous bucket, which I don't expect to contain much except for niche applications. Raw XML is great for data crunching and back-end configurations, but I don't see it being used much for content - we have more specific languages (like HTML and SVG) for that.

The second question is, what is management?

  • CRUD (create, read, update, delete)
  • publishing
  • collaboration (CRUD permissions, discussion tools)
  • versioning & audit trail
  • syndication (subscribing to feed)
  • search
  • storage (includes records management)

Web Office Suites

If you look through this list, Microsoft Office only really handles the first option. Sharepoint handles most of the rest, but that's only used in the enterprise - what about other people?

That's why you can't rule out web office suites like Google Apps - they may be very basic at CRUD, but they can be excellent at management functions 2 through 7 - and how many people really want complicated document formatting options anyway?

The most interesting content management technology is, of course, the Wiki. Wikis naturally cater for all seven management functions above. The only problem is, traditionally Wikis have been restricted to plain text and totally open permissions, but there's no reason why that couldn't change.

For example, JotSpot was (until being acquired by Google) selling a Wiki for corporate use that included HTML calendars and spreadsheets as editable pages. And I don't see why you couldn't edit other media collaboratively using a Wiki - especially vector graphics.

Ideas for a Web Office

Google has been suprisingly quiet about the future of JotSpot since acquiring it. If I'm right, their strategy will be to convert Google Apps into a Wiki suite that covers all types of content (1-6 above), and all types of management (1-7 above).

For example, Youtube could become a Wiki, including video editing capability (with permissions settings). Picasa will become a Wiki-based competitor to Photoshop. They could be packaged up with general Wiki website editing functionality, and sold to corporates (or made available to consumers, supported by ads).

To compete, Microsoft will have to cannibalize their existing Office suite, including Sharepoint. I'm still not sure they're ready for this yet.

In summary

The future of content management is Wikis, allowing management of all types of content: web pages, photos, vector diagrams and videos. It'll be based in the browser, using standard web technology like HTML, CSS, javascript and SVG. There'll be a lot more emphasis on collaboration, syndication, and search. And now the future is clear, there will be a race to achieve it - and Google has the head start.

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