The Boye & Company CMS Experts Group always provides lively debate and thought-provoking presentations. At the organization’s annual CMS Kickoff on January 17-18 in St. Petersburg, Florida, the event went to script.
One of the lines of thought particularly intriguing to me was put forth by Optimizely's Deane Barker in his opening presentation. He talked about the creation of content – where content begins – and the idea that the “first 85% of content exists outside of a CMS.”
I had never considered this but had learned from my own experiences – and nightmares – why this is the case.
I have had the opportunity in my varied roles as a journalist, consultant, project manager, search engine optimizer, and content producer to interact with more than 15 different content management systems. Whether proprietary, mass appeal, enterprise license-based, low-code, no-code, or HTML-code, they all essentially do the same thing. An interface exists to push content to the web, and this interface is more user-friendly, organized, and manageable than doing so in code. A CMS enables many more users within an organization to publish to the web and (should) limit the old bottleneck that was created by content creators (often many) sending their written content “over the wall” to developers (often few) to bring those “artifacts” to life digitally.
While publishing to the web might have become an action to be handled by many more hands, the fact that content creation itself doesn’t happen in a CMS – Barker’s “85%” comment – is still the general law of cyberspace. A CMS – even when it features a WYSIWYG or visual editor – has never felt like a great place to begin the content journey. For me, it has never provided a better toolset than word processing software, like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, or notes applications, like Evernote, Apple’s Notes, or Microsoft OneNote. In addition, I am sure we have all experienced the nightmare of trying to develop content in a CMS, and then some reboot or login script automatically triggers and wipes away your potential masterpiece.
Barker noted that people are hesitant to create content within a CMS because of an anxiety of potentially being judged while a kernel of an idea is gestating. “Psychological Safety” is important for healthy content development. Barker himself negotiates “keyboard time” into his agreements with his employer, Optimizely. This is an acknowledgment that to create, you often need to “go dark” for at least a bit and be trusted to create. It also got me thinking that while content editing, queueing, moderation, and publishing can feel like a virtual supply chain, content creation feels more like product development or innovation.
Some enterprise organizations, like Boye & Company event presenter Michael Spenceley’s team at Johnson & Johnson, can build a high-performing content team that aligns impeccable customer-centric content creation into a kind of content conveyer belt, but most still need inspiration from the mind of a creator to kick things into gear. Could this – should this – be accounted for in the CMS? Is it good for content operations, from conception to commercialization, to be commoditized? Should we still leave and trust some parts of the process to serendipity?
Carrie Hane, principal evangelist at Sanity.io, talked at the Boye & Company CMS Kickoff about how content technology impacts business. Her own research and vantage of the market note that “CMS users still think their CMS sucks, and that’s just how it is,” and that “most organizations don’t have a content strategy.” She also noted that composable technologies are being embraced by early-adopting IT teams and are better for content management.
This made me further think about the best use cases and philosophical aspirations of a content management system.
How do we square all these competing elements?
Most importantly, is there a specific problem in all this that is hankering to be solved?
In times of yore – let’s say the late 2000s – when selling the virtues of the then-nascent CMS to a prospective customer, we would often say that the technology allows you to manage and publish content on the web as simply as you can within Microsoft Word. Back then, it felt like the CMS would make Microsoft Word redundant, or worse, anachronistic!
This is a funny notion now in 2023. Microsoft has made quite a resurgence, up to its current perch as the third-largest company in the world by market capitalization. And just this past Monday (January 23), it announced a multibillion-dollar investment in ChatGPT, via its maker OpenAI. Many are frenziedly anointing ChatGPT as the holy grail of content creation and production. It will undoubtedly become tightly integrated with Microsoft’s products.
Is it possible in the future that a CMS could just become a way to deliver generative AI-enhanced, Microsoft Word content directly to the web for publishing? What if Microsoft can swoop in and own Barker’s “85% of content” happening outside of the CMS and make a moot point of whether CMS users think their CMS sucks or not (per Hanes’ presentation)?
What happens in the CMS might not stay in the CMS much longer. It's a gamble to be sure, but the bets are already on the table that AI will change everything. We'll have to wait and see.
Matthew McQueeny is part of the leadership team at Konabos, a global agency that specializes in digital experience platform implementation. Matt's role as the relationships and community lead is powered by over 15 years of digital marketing and web project management experience. He has worked with clients ranging from Fortune 500 to startups across a wide range of industries including healthcare, publishing, technology, telecommunications, education, retail, entertainment, manufacturing, and transportation.
Matt loves the intersection of technology, marketing, and communications. Throughout his career, he has worked with many licensed and open-source content management systems, in editorial, social media strategy and advertising, search engine marketing, lead generation, analytics, and podcasting. You can follow Matt on LinkedIn and Twitter.