Architecture and Functionality in Content Management

The more I work with content management, the more I find that major architectural considerations are big indicators of how happy you’re going to be developing with any given CMS.

These are not specific, detailed functional questions (“does the system automatically generate RSS”). While those are important as well (see below the list for more on that), a system begins with its grand architecture, and I’ve found that this foundation really drives everything else.

So, at the risk of trying to sound all wise and sage, here is my battle-tested list of the most important architectural questions you need to ask of a CMS:

In writing this post, I’m struck by the difference between (1) an architectural concern, and (2) a functional concern.

Consider my example from above: “Does the CMS automatically generate RSS?” This is a functional question, defined as one which can be easily programmed around. If the CMS doesn’t generate RSS, but it has an architectural foundation sufficient to retrieve content in a neutral, “manipulable” format, then I can generate the RSS myself.

As a developer with the capability to write code, I find myself much more concerned with architectural matters. Functionality can be programmed, but I’m at the mercy of architecture. Put another way, give me the right tools and materials, and I can build anything. But give me nothing but a pile of sand and a toothbrush, and I’m pretty much screwed.

Someone who isn’t a developer, and who is buying a “boxed” CMS and just wants to plug it in, has to be much more concerned about functional issues. If they want RSS, they better be sure the CMS they’re buying supports it, because they have no way to program around that limitation if it doesn’t.

And that’s were functional stuff sells well, and why a lot of CMSs hype their specific, functional capabilities. As for me, I don’t care one way or another if your system automatically generates RSS. If it does, great, but if it doesn’t, I’ll write it myself.

Just don’t hype your RSS generator as the single, greatest benefit to your CMS and blow off the core architecture because problems there will make me much more bitter in the long run.

This is item #214 in a sequence of 357 items.

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