Blogs as a content management system

I’ve been blogging for a number of years now, going at it hand-to-hand combat style until about a month ago, when I took the bold leap to using WordPress.

The decision to switch was made for two reasons. First, I was having major problems trying to keep up with the level of content. I was writing entries that were on average 2,000 words a shot (with some up over 10,000). Try writing an essay like that every few days. Sure, you can write about what you know, but it still takes time.

And the content was rarely what I’ve been wanting to focus on. It was mostly events in my life — boring and dreary to most. What I was wanting to do more of was the ranting about things that I’d only had a chance to do once in a while. Such a change requires a complete break from the old.

The second reason for going to WordPress was a desire to get away entirely from the creation and management of files, and more to the creation and management of content. I couldn’t care less for the structure of the directory system, so long as people are able to find and use the content.

It was about then that I had the epiphany, something echoed by Molly Holzschlag during a conversation we’d had during our run to lunch at Web Design World, and again in her “The How and Why of Blogging” session. So at least I know I’m not on crack.

Here’s the simple version: Blogs and CMS (content management systems) have far more in common than people even realize.

Here’s the more complex version: Blogs are CMS. For those of you who’ve been using tools such as TypePad, WordPress, and Movable Type, you already know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you, there’s a little something to be learned.

There are three tiers that classify most content management systems. (CMS Watch classifies them as Enterprise, Upper Tier, Mid-Market, Low-Priced, Hosted, and Open Source.) Many in the CMS field generally ignore the blog software as being too much of a point solution to do anything particularly useful.

The Tier 1 systems are the 800 pound gorillas of the industry. They include Vignette, Interwoven, and Documentum. Licences start at US$300k and go up … fast. Unless you’re dealing with huge amounts of content and have staff whose sole responsibility is the creation and maintenance of that content, chances are this is something you can skip right over.

Divisions between Tier 2 and 3 I don’t fully understand, nor do I pretend to. I’ve read materials and talked with representatives from companies that place their products in both categories, but the product set isn’t comparable. Microsoft’s Content Management Server seems to usually fall into Tier 2, as does Hot Banana. Yet Hot Banana is very close to Marqui, which seems to be Tier 3. Not to mention the near-countless other applications that get thrown into the mix.

What about blogs? Tier 4, if such a thing exists. I don’t put them in the same class for one basic reason: a lack of workflow. Blogs are meant to post information, though they’re often personal in nature. In a proper CMS, there is an approval process, where the creator is rarely the one who approves the final version for public consumption. In a blog, the author is also the approver.

Aside from that key distinction, the two systems are very similar: an interface for handling content, a repository for storing that content, and a mechanism for retrieving that content. Vastly simplified, blogs and Tier 1 systems are almost the same.

And that’s where I’ll stop the comparison. Because blogs are not Tier 1, nor will they ever be. If WordPress (my blog engine) were to move to that level of functionality, it would cease to be blog software, and become something else. And it’s the simple nature that makes blogging not only attractive, but powerful.

For large corporations, blogs are a novelty. Even though GM and Boeing have high-profile blogs by high-ranking executives, they are marketing tools. Smaller companies, though, could take advantage of the simpler nature of the blog tools by using them to publish their websites.

The benefits are clear: centralized data management, simple interfaces, control over presentation, easy setup and maintenance, and next to no cost. Forget the US$300k licence fee: WordPress is free. You pay for the bandwidth.

Versioning? No. Approval chain? Uh uh. Editorial control? Only if you show the content to an editor first. Does a small company or organization even need all that, though? Chances are, not. Most small institutions have simple needs, nothing even remotely close to what Tier 1, 2, or 3 systems provide.

The next wave of CMS is just about to roll in: blogs as a serious content management system. You won’t just see it sending out interesting comments. You’ll see it managing content in small, simple, and highly effective ways. Those who master the blog CMS will find site updates much easier, and will adapt to changing business requirements much more readily.

If you are a solutions provider looking to help a client with CMS, consider your friendly neighbourhood blog. You might be surprised what you can do.

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