Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reconsidering Email

While Microsoft Word is undeniably a poor content production tool for all the obvious reasons (poor separation of content and presentation, non standard formats, instability, etc.), it is amazing how much textual content starts out in Word. Even content management gurus and purists can't resist the automatic impulse to fire up Word before they start typing even for things like blogs (as an aside, I am loving MarsEdit as an offline blogging tool). They accept the effort that it takes to strip out all the MS Word cruft for the convenience of working in a familiar word processing tool. As much as I hate to admit it, Word is everywhere.

But there is another little text editor that everyone likes to use and that is an email client. Many of my colleagues just start typing in an email as the most convenient way to capture information. After they are done, they can decide whether to turn it into an email or paste it in another application to manage it as content. Email clients usually have basic word processing functionality like a spell checker and simple formatting.

Readers of this blog know that I have been very critical of email as a collaboration tool. My complaints of email center on email's failure as a repository (what you get is a lot of duplication but very little retention). But as a text editor, I actually like email because it is focused around a standard. Email editors, even the WYSIWYG HTML kind, try to limit the amount of non-standard formats that they produce because they have no idea what kind of reader will be accessing the message. Of course, many users undermine this benefit by writing Word documents and then emailing them.

Some CMS have tapped into email as an authoring tool and probably many more have been customized to extend the native functionality to incorporate email for content entry. The functionality is most commonly found in blogging tools. For example, WordPress has a commonly used blog-by-email configuration. One of the better out of the box implementations from a full blown WCM that I have seen is GOSS's iCM product which allows users to mail in their articles. The iCM processes the article based on who it is from and puts in a workflow to be prepared for publication. Some users can have the rights to publish directly from email (or an SMS). You don't see GOSS outside of the UK as they are a regional vendor specializing in government clients. The knowledge management product Intraspect (acquired by Vignette) had a nice feature where every folder in the repository had its own unique email address.

I would like to see this feature implemented more frequently. It would be especially useful for simple, article based content types where the subject field maps to the title, the "from" field is translated to a byline, body == body, and attachments could be treated like related images or files. Anyone else know of WCM products that do this particularly well? I know Drupal has a configuration to enable this.