The Four Disciplines of Content Management

By Deane Barker • Posted on November 24, 2007

A lot of stuff gets lumped under the heading “content management.” In my experience, however, all the technical activities under the banner of content management can general be broken out into four disciplines.

  1. Content Modeling: This is the concept of getting your content to “fit” into a structured content management system. It’s the process of defining the content types, their attributes, and their relationships to other content.

    This normally a background, development-type activity. Your average content creator will not be involved in it, and – unlike the other items in this list – it’s a one-time, non-iterative type thing. However, it’s critical and it will affect everything after it.

    (See also: Open vs. Closed Content Management, The Content Tree, Discrete vs. Relational Content Modeling)

  2. Content Creation and Editing: This is the process of actually creating new content – the interfaces and procedures users invoke to make something out of nothing, or to change content already in existence. It naturally subsumes some of the content modeling (how content is modeled will affect how it’s created), but also encompasses things like the quality and capabilities of the WYSIWYG editor and the usability of actually getting a content item into edit mode.

    (See also: A Lack of Basic Text Formatting Skills)

  3. Content Management: This is the everything that happens with a piece of content after its created and until it dies. This includes the permissions, workflows, versioning, check in/out, task management, reporting, archiving, administrative searching, language translation, and any other action involved in keeping this content relevant, current, effective, and general under control.

    This is the real “management” part of content management. This is the stage in which content will live for 99% of its life. Yes, modeling, creating, and publishing it is very excitng, but those are all “point” activities – they generally occur at a single moment in time. At all other times, content falls under the banner of “management.”

    (See also: The Value-Add Side of CMS)

  4. Content Publishing: This is the process by which a piece of content goes from somewhere in your repository to a URL where it can be consumed by an end user. This includes the templating system that generates the HTML (or any other renditions), and the process by which the content is made available at another URL, whether that be as simple as changing one field in a database, or as complex as generating a file and transporting it somewhere.

    (See also: Content Publishing Models, The Site Access Pattern and the Joy of eZ)

Note that these are technical items only. This doesn’t include the basic concept of conceiving, writing, and editing the actual content.

(See also: What Content Management Won’t Do)

To make a really effective content management system, each one of these pieces has to be well-done. Too many times, I see a system do really well at one, and fall down on another.

These are the four central disciplines of content management. Screw one of them up at your own peril.

This is item #193 in a sequence of 353 items.

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