Thoughts on CMS Innovation

April 12, 2007

I have a CMS fetish.

Over the past year, my interest has been wanning as we have a bazillion different implementations. But before, I was the man-in-the-know concerning wikis, content managers, and social applications (before they were labelled social applications). I had even started several unfulfilled projects for niche user contributed content sites.

So what happened? In a nutshell, CMS innovation peeked. If I look at Plone or eZ or any of the Nuke clones, the development community is not innovating. They are continuing to produce new plugins but the enhancements are to include existing, prevalent technologies and mechanisms. CMS systems are now caught in the “me too” mentality.

Here are my thoughts on where CMS solutions can leap frog back to the bleeding edge of user tools.

The application should adapt to the user

stikkit turns the user interface and content creation/identification onto its head. The system learns how the user documents information, not the other way around. Example: to create an event I simply type a note with a date and a location. stikkit can then recognize the content as an event and providing ancillary functions to work specifically for that content type.

With existing CMS solutions, you start with the foreknowledge of what content type you are creating and are presented a concrete form to complete. Input fields are fixed. The form is static.

While stikkit is still in its infancy on possible methods to identify content, the direction is going the right way. Force the application to do the hard work. The system should learn to recognize patterns within content instead of asking the user to learn how to work the system. It’s a constant gripe I have that applications need to evolve past the form based model of inputting information.

The application should be results oriented

Microsoft, not Google, is on the forefront of this aspect. Take a look at the new Office applications. The contextual tabs are ingenious. Everyone who has used an office application has complained about only needing a handful of options to produce content, but they had to learn where in the menu system the functions reside. The tabs bring the most common functions to the fore front based on what the user is working on – the result. A table is selected. Then auto sum functions are listed. Hidden otherwise. Typing content. Then bold, italics, and other formating functions are shown.

Most CMS add visual editing as an after thought. Download the plugin and will give you a wysiwyg editor. Image editing, not the CMS problem. There is an a vast opportunity for CMS solutions to redesign user interactions to focus on the results.

The application should be context aware

Although I disagree on the degree of user distraction, Microformats is pursuing a higher level of contextual awareness. Contact information should be understood by the application. Don’t ask the user to retype all of the information into his address book or into Google maps. The CMS application should support initiatives that decrease the inputting or outputting of information. Give the user a plus symbol that will auto-populate or auto-search in a desktop or web application. The main reason why I don’t create new distribution lists for web based email is because I don’t want to retype them. Nor do I want to re-establish groupings of people.

On another related front, Microsoft (again not Google) has pursued a Live Clipboard. The idea behind this technology is too support cut and pasting of multiple fields from one web app to another. The clipboard understands fields defined in one web application and maps them to corresponding fields in the other. Obviously, this is the utopia of the RDF mantra. Seeing it work in the limited examples available is amazing. Instead of forcing integration between applications ala import/export functionality, the clipboard is contextually aware of address fields (for example) and maps them without the application knowledge. Of course, this requires a lot of upfront knowledge and standards adoption, but innovation is costly!

The application should follow “me-first” philosophy

Stowe Boyd has an excellent argument on turning the tables on collaborative products. Instead of creating secured lists of groups, let the applications let the community establish organization. Put simply, don’t let the group define how content is managed. Management evolves after the content is fully understood.

The application should NOT adhere to the lowest common denominator

User experience matters most! Not technology. That was very hard to type, but the truth remains. AJAX, Flex, or OpenLaslo is jibberish to the user.  What is cool to the user is I did not have to hit submit and wait for you to tell me if my user name was already taken. The user can drag the map around with very little response lag. The application behaves as a cohesive tool and not a collection of pages.

The pendulum is swinging. Having cross browser compliant code can no longer restrict the user experience. Technology and the application have to offer a great user design at no cost to the user. This is why Apple is dominating the market. They understand users are bored with web applications. Complete. Submit. Click. Click. Validate. Submit. It’s common place. The time is now for Apollo/Flex to offer the user better interactions.

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