The Content Management Files

Here are the collected posts about content management from almost 11 years of Gadgetopia.

There’s quite a bit of information architecture and general development stuff thrown in as well. My threshold for inclusion was that it was an original post (not just a link to something else) and that I thought: “If I work with content management, would this interest me?”

In the end, I cast a pretty wide net.

In reading these, please be careful to note the dates. Some of them date to more than a decade ago. Some of them are naive and maybe even a little adorable. My thinking evolved over the years, and I may have changed my perspective about various subjects in later posts.


Deane Barker

The Need for Content Operations

January 27, 2016

We implement content management as a practice.  After 11 years of this, we see the same two patterns over and over again: Organizations not prepared to launch a new CMS because their content is mess Organizations who do not fully use the content management systems they’ve had implemented There are a lot of reasons for […]

The Flying Squirrel Book

July 14, 2015

For the last few months, I’ve been working on a book for O’Reilly: Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices.  It’s a reasonable distillation of everything I’ve learned about web content management in almost two decades of success and failure (hopefully more of the former than the latter…) O’Reilly has an interesting system of […]

What is Content Integration?

April 27, 2015

Since I don’t feel there’s a good, all-encompassing name out there for this, I’m going to attempt to invent one – Content Integration encompasses the philosophy, theories, practices, and tools around the re-use and adaption of content from our core repository into other uses and channels, or vice-versa: the creation and ingestion of content from […]

The “Import and Update” Pattern

November 12, 2014

Often you need to import AND update content, rather that just simply imported it. This makes tasks of content integration so much easier.

You Want Collaboration, Not Workflow

June 1, 2014

When people say they want workflow, they probably don’t.

Never Fall for a Custom CMS. Ever.

May 20, 2014

There is NO benefit to you in being talked into using a custom CMS which is hosted and controlled by a web development shop.

Why I Love to Manage Content

April 7, 2014

The title is accurate.

IA is Not New

March 31, 2014

One of the problems with working in digital is that we tend to think we invented everything. We sit around and imagine we’re breaking amazing new ground, when we’re often just retreading ground that was broken long before. Consider the much-ballyhooed discipline of “content modeling” (a phrase which I admittedly use freely).  This used to […]

Two Versions of the Content Management vs. Marketing Talk

March 19, 2014

When writing about the white paper I wrote for Movable Type, I suddenly realized that I failed to post this, which is the video of the talk I did for the Movable Type Idea Exchange in NYC last fall. This is a recap of the talk I have at Drupalcon in Portland in May 2013.  […]

Movable Type White Paper

March 18, 2014

Late last year, I spoke at the Movable Type Idea Exchange. I was thrilled to do this because I have a long history with Movable Type – this blog ran on it for almost a decade, and I was huge in the MT community back in the early 2000s. After the conference, sitting around over […]

Is Content Geography Just Another Property?

September 12, 2013

Reasons why content geography — meaning the spatial relationship of content to other content — is a proportionately more powerful way to model content then a simple, discrete content property.

Why I Identify as a Content Management Professional

August 29, 2013

Content is a subset of information, and — consequently — content management professionals comprise a subset of information professionals. Here’s why I count myself among them.

The Content Management Strategist

August 13, 2013

The content management strategist slots in neatly between content strategy and a CMS implementation.

Five Practices of the Well-Rounded Content Management Developer

July 12, 2013

Good content management developers constantly work to increase their empathy and perspective. Here are five ways to do that.

Why do too many developers love to build CMS from scratch?

June 24, 2013

CMS gets re-written from scratch more than any other genre of software. Here are three reasons why.

Examining the Separation Between Presentation and Content

June 15, 2013

Separating content from presentation is harder and more murky than you think. Here are some thoughts from a white paper about the topic.

Spanning the Gap from Feature to Conversion: Are We Building the Right Bridges?

February 21, 2013

The development of a CMS tends to get bogged down in the wrong issues. We need to extend CMS along marketing lines, not technical lines. The lack of this painfully evident in the open-source CMS space.

Content Reuse and The Problem of Narrative Flow

January 1, 2013

Reusing content across multiple channels is the Holy Grail of content management. But it’s not that simple. For certain types of content, it’s very hard to do without alienating your audience.

Why Categorizing, Comparing, Rating, and Evaluating a CMS is Really, Really Hard

December 13, 2012

Comparing different systems in the CMS space is far more complicated than it seems at first glance. Here’s some reasons why.

The Great Folder vs. Search Debate

December 12, 2012

Does organizing content in some larger geography have value? Do users want it organized this way? Does it have any inherent value over “standard” metadata?

An Oft-Overlooked CMS Feature: The Community

December 12, 2012

You’re not just buying a CMS, you’re buying into the community around it. Buyers (and vendors) need to pay attention to the state of their community a lot more than they usually do.

Why Django and Rails CMS Are So Rare

November 29, 2012

Django and Rails are notably absent from the boxed CMS space. There are specific reasons why, and — in a larger sense — why platforms with strong frameworks tend to limit this growth.

The Art and Practice of Content Assembly: Where IA and CMS Meet

October 1, 2012

Making your content strategy work with your CMS is tricky. Often it comes down to issues of content assembly. Capabilities in this space vary greatly.

The Necessity of a Content Index

September 10, 2012

Having a comprehensive index of content is a base requirement of a CMS. This limits what can really be considered a “CMS” and what can’t.

What is a “Page Based” CMS?

August 27, 2012

The label of “page-based” is normally used as a pejorative in the world of CMS. Here’s why it matters less than you might think it does.

What You Owe Vendors Who Respond to Your RFP

August 23, 2012

When you send out an RFP, you are asking something of the people who respond. It’s good manners to fulfill your end of the bargain.

The Unique Challenges of CMS Support, Part II

August 22, 2012

The support required of a CMS varies greatly, and there’s a blurry line between “support” and “consulting.”

The Myth of the Hourly Rate

August 22, 2012

Hourly rates for integrators are largely a pointless metric on which to evaluate them.

CMS Partnerships Revisited: Badge Collectors and Dragon Slayers

August 18, 2012

Here’s why firms that strike up partnerships with every vendor are probably not the firms you want to work on your project.

Everyone Wants a Number

August 17, 2012

Bidding CMS projects is hard. Doing it honestly is even harder.

Files are the Currency of Web Development

August 16, 2012

Some CMS try to remove or limit the use of files in their development. This is corrupting one of the basic tenets of web development, and it will make developers hate you.

“Migration” Might be the Most Dangerous Word in CMS

July 7, 2012

When someone says “migration” in the context of a CMS project, stop everything and make them define exactly what they’re talking about.

Rivers, Not Trees: The Challenge to Organizational IA

June 17, 2012

Organizational communication is about dynamic rivers of content, not static trees.

The Non-Future of Multi-Tenant SaaS CMS

June 15, 2012

The idea of SaaS CMS is largely obsolete. Whether a CMS is SaaS or not is largely a question of business model.

The Great Platform vs Product Debate

June 7, 2012

CMS falls into a spectrum of what is a “product” and what is a “platform.” This debate has been going on for a decade now, and will likely never be resolved.

Use Canonical URLs, Please

May 12, 2012

URLs are not absolute. There are a million shades of gray, and canonicals were invented to resolve this. Use them.

Intra-link Management in Content Management

February 25, 2012

Linking pages in a CMS to each other can be more complicated than you think. You have to ensure you’re link to content, not URLs, and you have to maintain a record of these links, for a variety of reasons.

Supplemental Indexing in Content Management

February 21, 2012

Having a separate index of CMS content, structured for optimal querying, can help you solve a lot of sticky problems.

Checking the Box: How CMS Feature Support Is Not a Binary Question

November 26, 2011

The classic “feature matrix” of RFPs is a terrible way to measure a capabilities of a CMS. The support of a particular feature in a CMS is rarely a yes/no question.

Varying Levels of Content Structure

August 22, 2011

Content structure is achieved at a variety of levels — structure within a property, structure withing a content object, structure between different content objects, etc.

The Unique Challenges of CMS Support, Part I

August 14, 2011

Vendors support of content management is hard because each boxed CMS is coupled with a custom integration, and it’s difficult to assign blame when something goes wrong.

Five Tips to Getting a Good Response to a Content Management RFP

July 28, 2011

The common patterns of writing RFPs is especially poor when it comes to content management. There are several specific things you can do to get better responses.

Content Geography: The CMS Feature You Take for Granted

July 17, 2011

One of the highest manifestations of content structure is the overhead “geography” that content gets organized into.

Web Content Management is Losing Its Competitive Advantage

July 7, 2011

Once considered a competitive advantage, content management has largely become the normal. The idea of not using a CMS is almost archaic, so discussion of “the benefits of content management” are increasingly irrelevant.

Virtual Staging vs. True Staging Environments

May 15, 2011

Once considered a norm, the concept of a separate “content staging environment” has slipped into disuse. It still has some advantages, but the alternative — a live, “virtual” staging environment — probably has more.

The Bifurcation of Content Management and Delivery

May 10, 2011

Content “management” and content “delivery” have diverged into two separate concepts. The disciplines used are different, and I argue that it won’t be long before vendors start splitting off their delivery suites from their management suites.

Chasing the Ideal: Relational Content Modeling in Content Management

April 11, 2011

Every CMS tries, in some extent, to duplicate the classic model of the relational database. Some come closer than others to this “ideal.”

Decoupled Content Management 101

March 26, 2011

Originally, content management repositories were separated from the publishing layer. This line has blurred over the years, and there are numerous models that combine aspects of both decoupled and “active” delivery tiers.

The Utility of Drag-and-Drop Page Composition in Content Management

March 9, 2011

Drag-and-drop page composition has become a key selling feature of content management in recent years. It’s impressive, certainly, but useful is it, in reality?

The Psychology of Repository Permanence

March 4, 2011

One of the biggest problems in implement content management inside an organization is getting employees to accept that this is the “one true solution” in which they should put their faith.

How do you operationalize knowledge?

November 18, 2010

Knowledge management requires you to ask some very basic question about how you plan to turn knowledge into content in which to be managed.

Your CMS as Bad Cop

October 16, 2010

Content management systems thrive on consistency, which gives you a very roundabout benefit — you can use it as a “bad cop” to force people in your organization to be more consistent about their content.

WCM Vendors: It’s Time to Abstract Your Repository

September 5, 2010

Over the last decade, content management has become increasingly focused on the web. However, in this world of true multi-channel publishing, the web is just one of many channels, and its time CMS vendors made their repositories less web-specific.

Why “WEM” Worries Me

September 4, 2010

“Web Experiement/Engagement Management” is the latest trend in content management, but I have a fear that vendors will focus on it to the detriment of another, equally important parts of their systems.

Enter the Content Developer

August 21, 2010

With all the channel options available for content publishers, the “web developer” may be giving way to a more general “content developer.”

The Problem of Context

August 14, 2010

Content is not isolated in its presentation — it’s often presented with other information that is somehow related to it. Modeling and managing these relationships can be harder than you think.

Editors Live in the Holes

July 24, 2010

We tend to develop templates with a “hole” for where “the content will go.” However, we ignore what happens in that hole — what specific tools editors will be given to manage what happens in their “hole.”

The Dawn of the Web Content Delivery System (WCDS)

June 13, 2010

Web content delivery is becoming so complex and important that it’s deserving of a system all its own that aggregates, harmonizes, and enhances content for delivery.

Using Proxy Content Objects for Non-CMS Content

May 19, 2010

Incorporating applications and other non-content functionality in your website in easier when you use a proxy content object to represent it.

CMS Admin Interface Customization: An Example

May 16, 2010

A graphical look at all the different ways the EPiServer admin interface can be customized. A good example of customization options you might want or need for your installation

Abstract your Crumbtrails

May 14, 2010

When you have a “pure” crumbtrail — one that is based on a page’s position in the larger content geography and nothing — problems can result. It’s easier if you abstract this, and other navigation, away from the content structure.

Attention CMS Vendors: The Web Root is Sacred

May 7, 2010

There are a few things that CMS vendors do that make some systems very hard to develop with, including the confusion of content files with code files.

What is Metadata in WCM?

January 24, 2010

The term “metadata” is abused when it comes to web content management. In most cases, metadata does not actually exists apparently from “first order” data, and thus the term has lost all relevancy.

The Fallacy of “The Best CMS”

January 3, 2010

Concepts of “the best CMS” are only valid in the face of actual requirements.

The Most Basic Questions Asked of a CMS

December 24, 2009

When learning a new CMS, there are a set of core questions I ask of it. Vendors should concentrate on those questions and being able to provide quick wins for new adopters.

Just what is metadata, anyway?

June 21, 2009

With structured content, concepts of “metadata” can be confusing and irrelevant.

Beyond Web-Centricity in Content Management

April 11, 2009

As content moves “beyond the web page,” we need to start handling it in such a way that it lends itself better to multi-channel publishing.

How Sales Prospects View CMS Platforms vs CMS Implementations

April 5, 2009

In the platform vs. product debate, different people see different things. In order to successfully sell CMS, you have to understand how the prospect is looking at it.

The Why and How of CMS Vendor Partnerships

April 4, 2009

Content management vendors like having partnerships with integrators. Here’s why it works (or doesn’t work) for either side.

EPiServer’s Custom Page Providers

February 20, 2009

Discussion of an example of content aggregation, or the ability to raw in content from disparate sources and present it as part of a unified system.

Give Me My Friggin’ Content! Or, why methods that start with “Get” are a good thing.

February 17, 2009

Getting content out of a system is just as imporant as putting it in — a truth that gets sadly neglected by a lot of CMS vendors.

My Obsession with Content Trees and Subcontent

February 15, 2009

A discussion of how an obsession with a certain form of CMS architecture can make us blind to alternative forms.

Give Me an API for Filtering Content

November 1, 2008

Content management systems should include an API for filtering a bucket of content, obtained through any means

Content Management as a Practice

August 15, 2008

Content management should be treated as a practice, transcendent of any particular language or platform.

Half-Assed Content Management

August 15, 2008

Some content management situations don’t require a full-blown CMS. Rather, they required “content-oriented” management of data, which integrates into a larger system.

Uber-Text Pages and the Lack of Inheritance in Content Management

April 21, 2008

In any CMS implementation, you invariably end up with a generic “text page” other, more structured, pages. What is the dividing line between these pages, and how could it be more effectively handled?

Menuing in Content Management: Implicit vs. Explicit

April 5, 2008

Menuing and navigation in content management can be handled explicitly, where navigation is its own subsystem, or implicitly, where navigation is built based on the content structure. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Composite Pages and Embeddable Content

March 27, 2008

Handling structured, one-off pages in a CMS can be complicated. This is a discussion of two of the common patterns — composite pages and embeddable content — and the pros and cons of each.

To Structure or Not to Structure

December 7, 2007

The decision of when to structure content or not can be subjective. This is an example of one such situation, and the pros and cons of the various methods.

The Four Disciplines of Content Management

November 24, 2007

All of the disciplines put under the “content management” moniker can actually be split into four distinct groups.

Content Management as an API

October 2, 2007

A good CMS is built from the API out, not the interface in.

What Makes a Content Management System?

June 30, 2007

Comprehensive post discussing the most common features found in content management systems today.

File and Image Handling in Content Management

June 21, 2007

Often, a binary file needs to be bound to a specific content item, and needs to “live” in the context of that item.

The Necessity of Subcontent

May 20, 2007

The ability to organize content into trees consistent of parent-child relationshps is a core feature of content modeling, and resolves so many modeling patterns

Architecture and Functionality in Content Management

November 28, 2006

Some content management features are “out of the box,” while some are developed during integration. Which pattern is better than the other, and why?

What Content Management Won’t Do

October 15, 2006

Content management can do a lot, but there’s a lot that it won’t do, and you need to understand this before you implement. This is a reality check on the problems content management is not going to solve for you.

Content Publishing Models

June 30, 2006

Different content management systems publish content in different ways. This is a discussion of the three major patterns.

Channeled Interfaces: Hiding the Big Picture

June 24, 2006

Not every CMS editor needs access to all CMS functionality, and often this access can be confusing. In many cases, to pays to “channel” the interface down to just the functionality a particular role needs to see.

The “Named Content Views” Pattern

June 10, 2006

By concentrating on the different “views” a content object may have, you can simplify your content templating considerably.

Discrete vs. Relational Content Modeling

May 31, 2006

Content modeling “inside” a single content object is generally quite simple. What’s trickier is content modeling between multiple content objects.

Your Interface is NOT Your Application

May 23, 2006

The interface you interact with when using your CMS is only part of the picture. You need to be concerned with the API that lies under that interface as well.

Theoretical vs. Actual Functionality

May 19, 2006

Theoretical functionality is all the things a CMS can do. Actual functionality is the stuff you’re actually going to use. There’s a big difference.

A Lack of Basic Text Formatting Skills

April 28, 2006

Most content creators have a lack of basic formatting skills, making it difficult to have them create well-rendered content.

Image Abstractions and Implementations in Content Management

January 30, 2006

Image handling in content management can be complicated, but the first step is abstracting the image that appears in your finished content from the file that it’s based on.

Your CMS Isn’t Too Good for Static HTML

January 20, 2006

Content management system often deride static HTML. However, static files are necessary in some cases, and we discuss some patterns for integrating them into an otherwise content-managed site.

The Empty House Syndrome

January 6, 2006

When you migrate content into your new CMS, you go through an awkward period much like building a house with no furniture in it. It pays to minimize this period by testing some furniture out as soon as possible.

The Quandary of the Single Table Web Site

December 15, 2005

Many smaller projects need a single table of managed data in an otherwise static website. What’s the best way to handle these situations?

Moving from Content Management to Information Management

December 7, 2005

We tend to think of content management as being used to manage content that will be consumed by people outside our organization. However, it can be used for purely internal content as well.

The Problem with Custom Fields

December 3, 2005

This is an explanation of why just adding “custom fields” to a blogging platform doesn’t necessarily turn it into a CMS.

Open and Closed Content Management Re-visited

November 27, 2005

A CMS should be able to solve content-related problems without me having to write code to support it.

Middle Ground: Content Management using Static HTML

November 23, 2005

There needs to be a way to reconcile content management and static HTML.

Coming Soon: Guided Content Maps

October 28, 2005

Disparate content ideas need to be drawn together into a cohesive whole through topic pages.

The Site Access Pattern and the Joy of eZ

August 19, 2005

A case study example on the seperation of content and presentation channels.

The Envelope Pattern of Content Management

August 4, 2005

CMS don’t need to have an intimate knowledge of the content they’re managing. Rather, they just need to know that they’re managing content in general, and leave the specifics to the implementation.

Tagging: The Happy Guy in the Hawaiian Shirt

July 21, 2005

Tagging is simply categorization under a different name with a simpler interface.

The Benefit of Having Context in URLs

June 28, 2005

An intelligent URL scheme has usability and technical benefits.

A Problem with Tagging

June 13, 2005

Tagging invariably leads to problems with standardization and hierarchical classification. A tagging structure can slowly morph into a taxonomy, with the same inherent problems.

My Querystring Argument Neurosis

March 19, 2005

I get irrationally stressed out about querystring arguments. Here’s why.

Of Taxonomies and Crumbtrails

August 15, 2004

When content can be assigned to more than one taxonomy node presents a logical crumbtrail issue.

Preventing Data Corruption Due to User Interface Bugs

July 24, 2004

In a non-versioning system (CMS or otherwise), user interface bugs can lead to data loss more easily than you think.

CMS Administation vs. Presentation Languages

July 17, 2004

You don’t have to display content in the same architecture in which you manage it.

CMS’s Should Manage Content, Not Display It

February 18, 2004

A CMS that interferes too much with the display and rendering of content can drive you nuts.

Thoughts on Posts and Articles

September 22, 2003

Content can be temporal or permanent. Which type it is has impact on how it’s handled.

Do Yourself a Favor and Stop Learning

September 19, 2003

We have enough platforms and enough technology. Let’s use what we have to build things.

Content Usability in RSS

September 1, 2003

When it comes to RSS, many people think that content usability just doesn’t matter anymore.

Content Management as a Marriage

July 14, 2003

An absurd analogy: content management is like a marriage in so many ways.

Keyword Categorization: Thinking Out Loud

July 1, 2003

Gadgetopia struggled for years with IA and content organization. This post is a good representation of how I was trying to think through the problem.

Open and Closed Content Management

June 20, 2003

Different CMS allow you to define your content in different ways.

The Value-Add Side of CMS

June 19, 2003

Managing content is hard. Templating it is not. Which side of the equation is delivering the value?

CMS URL and HTML Signatures

June 5, 2003

In the past, CMS had very obvious URL signatures.