Decoding Content Management jargon

Now that we’ve built content management to reach into the clouds, have we been punished by a confusion of tongues? Sure, there are tangible differences between, say, a page-based or a component-based system. And some labels are rooted in their underlying technology. Still, there’s a couple of archetypes we could at least attempt to label similarly. But while the lingua franca of content technologies is English, vendors aren’t exactly using the same dictionaries.

I was recently advising one of our customers throughout several vendor demos. It was a great reminder of why we spend so much time explaining what each system does exactly. And a substantial part of that is translation from sets of arbitrary lingo to more generically intelligible terms.

Witness one of the vendor’s attempts to explain: “No, in our system, paragraphs are not paragraphs, they’re page elements.” So why not call them that? (And, of course, one of the developers at the other side of the table remarked “but paragraphs are page elements” — “yes, but these pages aren’t pages.” The ensuing confusion took a while to clear up.)

Without knowing a system’s quirks, you’re never quite sure. Is a masterpage a page, or is it a template? Is a content template meant for design or for modeling? Is the design really the layout or the structure? Or is it, maybe, a class? And how about the smallest uniquely identifiable content item in a system. It could be a node, or a post, or an instance, or an item, or a page. Of course, as mentioned, sometimes a page is not a page. And a site doesn’t necessarily represent a site.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But in content management, you’re likely to be cut by a thorn before you’d recognize the stem. Hopefully, eventually, everyone will be able to settle on some kind of content management Esperanto. We’ve suggested some common terminology in our WCM evaluation research and try to apply a kind of thesaurus to each product we assess.  However you accomplish it, find out whether a vendor’s spade really is a spade — before you start shoveling.

This post was previously published on the blog of my former employer, the Real Story Group, an industry analyst firm specializing in vendor neutral reviews and advice. 

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