Friday, August 15, 2008

Do you need a blogging platform? Do you only need a blogging platform?

I was reading this post on the definition of a blog and it got me thinking of a conversation that I have with many of my clients. Often companies that are interested in replacing their content management systems have resorted to an intermediate solution of side-stepping their difficult to use, rigid web content management system by using a blogging platform to power a section of their site. They are attracted to the immediacy and ease of use of the blogging platform and conclude that they love blogging. But what do they really love? And could they achieve the same results on their WCM platform?

If you really break it down, a blog could be seen as a website design that can be implemented by most WCM platforms: short-form articles with immediate publishing (no workflow) organized chronologically on the site with an alternative XML (RSS) view and some interactive features like commenting. There is also trackback and pings but most companies don't even know what those things are. What WCM platform can't do that? Probably yours. And the reason is not the technology. It is just that you have designed your implementation around processes that you hate: complicated workflows, overly elaborate content models, lots of metadata, periodic publishing, etc. You may have gone too far down the path with your current WCM platform to introduce the simplicity that you love about the blogs. If you are replacing your core WCM platform, you may consider including a blog-post-like article in your implementation design. You may call it a blog. You may not. It doesn't really matter.

What if you like this blog-like behavior so much that you realize that you can get by without all the features of your classic WCM platform (navigation management, page composition, template selection, multi-step workflows, versioning, etc.)? In that case, a blogging platform may be all you need. Many of the blogging platforms on the market are building in foundational WCM capabilities and are becoming lightweight web content management systems themselves. While not as feature rich as the incumbent WCM platforms, they are typically easy to use and are certainly cheap enough.

So, if you find yourself in the position of happily blogging but want to replace your onerous WCM platform, you should consider the following options:

  • Use a blogging tool to power your whole website. This sounds crazy and may well be but just the act of considering the idea will force you through the exercise of discussing your requirements. It is easier to understand the importance of a requirement if you think through removing it. The discussion can also lead to creative new ideas. I liken this to Edward de Bono's creativity exercise where you put forth a crazy idea and you discuss why it would be good and why it wouldn't work and then try to harvest the good aspects of the crazy idea. If you are familiar with this exercise you know that the proposition of "the plane lands upside down" led to the tilting nose of the Concorde that allowed pilots to see the runway better.
  • Design your new WCM platform and website to be more blog-like. Base your simplicity and usability bars on a blog and only introduce complexity where you absolutely need it. Do not destroy the freedom, spontaneity and casualness that made blogging so fun. You may find that you could get away with a less expensive CMS than you thought you needed.
  • Fix your old WCM platform. Use what blogging taught you about content production and use it to refactor your existing CMS implementation. Simplify your content structure. Streamline your workflows. Hide features that clutter the UI. You might find that the WCM platform you have doesn't have to be as bad as you made it. You could even continue to use the blogging platform contribution interface and feed content into your main CMS.