Wednesday, January 30, 2013

CMS deconstructed: is user experience all that remains?

In the last couple of years, more and more functions that are typically part of a bigger product have been "extracted" from such products and released as service available on the web, often for free. Take for example video publishing. No longer is it strictly necessary to have your own infrastructure to publish videos on the web – services like YouTube or Vimeo can be utilized, often for free. The same is true for  much of  the functionality found for example in a content management system or web experience management suite:
  • Video publishing: Youtube, Vimeo…
  • Image editing & publishing: Flickr…
  • Task Manager: Remember the Milk
  • File Sharing: Dropbox
  • Document Management: Google Apps
  • Analytics: Google Analytics
  • Comments:  IntenseDebate
  • Project Management: Basecamp
  • Publishing: tons of hosting providers
  • … uncounted others for every aspect you can imagine
Photo ©Boris Kraft. All rights reserved.

So you could say there is a trend to deconstruct content management (there is also an opposite trend, building suites that try to do everything you ever need, but I'll discuss that in a future blog post).

One very recent example is the real time web. There actually are cloud services that do nothing more than allow your content to be refreshed on the client without the user reloading a page (remember the Push web?). Great for instance for live coverage of events. This functionality clearly should and will be delivered by any good ol' CMS worth its salt sooner or later. Still it apparently is an urgent enough business objective to have spawned companies that do nothing else (not a long term viable business proposition I'd assume, but I digress)

If you take that trend to the extreme, all functionalities that you find in a software like Magnolia could eventually become individual web services provided by a host of companies. Maybe we have a company that offers workflow on the web (been waiting for that for at least 10 years), companies offering JCR storage, services to write rich text snippets and others to publish them. You get the picture: theoretically we could move all the individual bits and pieces of a product into cloud services. 

For the sake of pleasing our imaginative minds, assume that a vendor like Magnolia follows suite and keeps reducing the functionality provided by the product, opting instead to integrate a web service. To some extent, that has already happened – for instance, Magnolia uses CampaignMonitor to run email campaigns, IntenseDebate for commenting (we additionally provide our own commenting module), and Google Analytics for analytics and A/B testing. 

Continue down this road and all that eventually remains is a shell for the various pluggable web services. And what is a shell but a user interface?

So, provided one day a CMS is only a UI on web services, wouldn't that mean that the user interface is the most important part of the product? If every CMS is using the same web services (or allows you to pick from the same such services), the only difference between them will be the user interface.

Not that I believe that will actually happen (otherwise we'd no be developing so much functionality for Magnolia Five), but either way our focus on providing the best looking and best working user interface in the industry certainly allows me to sleep well even if it would.