Evolution and future of content management systems
History and context Content management systems (CMS) in enterprises have been through a lot of evolution in the last decade or so. Intranet based CMS have gone through from being non-existent to being vital in daily functioning of the organizations. There has been a clear evolution from emails as the primary collaboration tool in late 1990s, along with some state of art file sharing services. The file sharing services were essentially web directories also known as Knowledge management systems.They were a hierarchical directory structure where users could upload files. With WebDav support there was inbuilt version control, conflict management, etc. There was little support for user interaction like tagging, voting, commenting, etc. And then blogs happened to us.
They grew like wild vine and everyone wanted to be a blogger and soon there were tremendous amounts of content being generated. Suddenly masses could participate in conversations with bloggers or other readers. In parallel, and a few years behind the adoption curve another storm was brewing with wikis. These are collaborative publishing tools with markups or WYSIWYG editors. Savvy users installed internal stacks of wikis like Twiki. And companies like Atlassian saw a surge in installations with their products like Confluence wiki. Along with wiki another collaborative tool, discussion forums, which was around for a long time also got (and remains) quite popular. If you have used these technologies, you might have experienced, that there was a growing ability for users to participate in content creation and collaborate with each other. I love wikis since I can have living documents and non contributors can still comment, tag, etc. This was a step forward from blog, where participants can only comment, but not change content collaboratively (at least that is not what blogs are designed for). With the rising proliferation of web 2.0 technologies, web users started to miss the fluidity of the web in the enterprise solutions. There were different implementations for discussion forums, wiki, blogs, and document sharing. In some cases, IT managed to stitch these solutions to make them look homogenous, but there was really ugly plumbing behind the scene, especially since search, user sign in, look and feel and application design was completely different for each of the solutions. This was the wild west of enterprise 2.0 solution suite. What came out as a result of this exercise was that at least the management in companies started to realize the importance of these collaboration solutions. These were not solution for woozy eyed fresh graduates anymore, but really essential tools in global companies where employees need to work together formally and informally.
Enter Jive Software In the middle of this chaos, Jive released and early version of its collaboration platform. This baby had the ability to create wiki, blogs, document sharing, creating friends, etc. I first played with their technology in early 2007 and was quite impressed. They had used open source java libraries and created a truly integrated collaboration platform which was probably the most mature offering of its kind. There has been a good recommendation engine to suggest matching content and people (and this worked surprisingly well). We did internal implementation of Jive's platform. They give the source code and provide hooks for building extensions, theming, etc. There was a great euphoria about the technology and everyone wanted to do everything with Jive, more after their release of Jive SBS. This caused immense pain and expectations are coming crashing down albeit for no fault of jive, but for the simple fact that a startup cannot cope with so much. This is where companies starting hitting a wall. While there is great native support to build extensions in Jive, it was easier said then done. Creating new content type required complex development environment setup which worked if you you could walk on water.
However rich in functionality, it is difficult to satisfy cross the board needs of customers. The pragmatic option is to develop internal expertise or hire external consultants in addition to big $$ licensing fees.
Potential future model:
This is where it gets interesting. In the last few years, quietly but surely, open source technologies like Joomla and Drupal have been gaining ground. Due to the sheer number of contributors, it is hard to compete with the feature set, support model and cost of these solutions. IT IS difficult to compete with FREE. Drupal has thousands of contributed modules (extensions) which are easily deployable. This also makes it versatile. With no coding, the Drupal core can be extended to have rich user profile (integrated with LDAP), Groups with access control. Creating and maintaining relations with other users (creating friends like Facebook or connections like LinkedIn). Recommendations for content and people, activity list for content and people, Multiple content types (like Blogs, wiki, documents, Projects, tasks, ideas, etc) or creating a brand new content type just by clicking and configuring. Standard web 2.0 features like tags, rating, comments, RSS, etc are also integrated seamlessly. There is also integration with external social sites like Facebook and Twitter or anything else one can think of. This is not an exhaustive list but just an example of what is available for free (which is everything from core to all the extensions). Integration with SOLR for search and memcached for DB performance is also easily possible. Support: Even though Drupal is open source, there is excellent support from professional firms. There is a large number of boutique consulting firms which can bend Drupal to the users requirements. There is an open and free market serving different needs. The community is what makes the magic numbers to which everyone can dance. This is usually missing from expensive software like Jive SBS, Lithium, etc.
Summary As the CMS and social interaction platforms for enterprises continue to evolve, the requirements from these platforms will also continue to surge. For proprietary companies it will be difficult to continue providing the width and depth of the solutions required in the future. Moreover, their license and support costs will also be greater than their open source cousins. As someone who has worked on different products during the CMS evolution I would strongly recommend companies and individuals to take Drupal for a spin. If you want help getting started, there are tens of thousands of people willing to help you.