CMS stands for ‘Causes Matt Stress’

In October 2001 – almost 10 years to the day – I launched the first ESRC website to use a ‘content management system’. It was a new experience for both them and I. Until then I had managed websites through a combination of Notepad, Frontpage, Dreamweaver and luck.

I had looked at a couple of CMSs before then – something from Vignette and also Spectra I think – but budgets and if I am honest fear of the unknown had prevented us pulling the trigger in my previous job/s.

The CMS we used was Microsoft Site Server 3.0 – it was already 2 or 3 years old and would turn out to be the last version as well. It was heavily integrated with other M$ products (to the extent pages were authored in Word) and had pretty limited flexibility but with a certain amount of care and coaxing it worked (in a fashion).

I was a big evangelist for the CMS – I felt they were going to empower users throughout organisations to take ownership of content and make the web central to everyones work. Well I got that one wrong didn’t I 🙂

I went on to use bespoke CMS built on ColdFusion and PHP, .Net systems like Sitecore, open source tools like Drupal, Plone and WordPress and most recently monolithic, enterprise systems like Stellent. To one extent or another they all resembled my first experience – they all worked ‘after a fashion’ but never quite in the way I wanted or expected.

Here I am 10 years later and about to undertake another major CMS project and really very little has changed. If you strip out the social media & embedding functions from the requirements document I am looking at most of it could have been written at any point in the ‘noughties’.

I do wonder whether Mike Nolan at Edge Hill University has the right idea with his ‘Anti-CMS’ concept. Certainly the problems he identifies (slide 15) are all too familiar and the idea of building publishing tools led by actual ‘domain experts’ rather than generic needs would be amazing. It would require having development skills in house probably and that just seems unlikely these days. The fact the ‘Departments’ bit of the Betagov project is being custom built for similar reasons I think does lend some weight to the idea but I can’t see a way of implementing it closer to home.

So here I am going down that same old road again – hoping not to repeat the mistakes of the past (nor add too many new ones) and keeping my fingers crossed that this time it will be different!

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