The Third Wave of Content Management

When we were searching around for a new content system to power the next version of our main website, we were amazed at the selection of open source offerings that has brought the kinds of slick capabilities traditionally associated with the Interwovens and Vignettes of the world down to bite-sized packages that SMBs like us could get our arms around. Although this blog site is on WordPress, will we shortly be debuting our flagship site courtesy of the open source content management system Joomla.

In effect, we were a beneficiary of what we’d term the third wave of content management. Jeff Whatcott, a veteran of Adobe/Macromedia and Allaire, briefed us on Acquia, on a startup founded by the creator of the Drupal open source web content management (WCM) offering. The new company intends to play a Red Hat/Zend type of role, which is to offer a commercially-supported distribution of an open source technology.

Announcing itself this week, Acquia will be opening two open source projects: Carbon, which will be the commercial distro of Drupal, and Spokes, which will be the distribution mechanism for updates. The company expects to release both in the second half.

The first two waves of history are well known – it’s the transformation of forms-driven document management to web content management. Whereas wave 2 adapted workflows to web authoring, the third wave takes advantage of Web 2.0, and more specifically, social computing. That is, the goal is to encompass everyday WCM with the interactive tools such as Wikis, blogs, email, instant messaging, social network services, and social bookmarking.

It’s a tall order, given that content management tends to be a sequential process, whereas social computing interactions are highly dynamic, and more collaborative and real-time than sequential. It also implies the ability to take advantage of mashing up content that tends to happen when you have multiple authors, and content that tends to evolve almost like a chameleon. In place of files, you have streams, which makes the idea of categorization difficult, and navigation nonlinear (search engines become the only practical means of deciphering what appears, where, and when it appeared).

What’s neat about the third wave is that it has made commodity what used to require tens of thousands of dollars just to get to entry level. For the cost of development, an SMB can get a content system that provides the kind of thoroughly professional, slick engine that you used to have to pay through the nose for. Instead, the rough edges of the third wave will be making sense of all the social computing capabilities – there’s certainly plenty of standalone Wiki, forum, and messaging tools out there, but the trick will be to put them together under a content umbrella. For now, what Acquia’s Whatcott terms “social content management” is anything but commodity.