Choosing the “right” CMS

I’ve spent a couple of hours looking through the wish list items added by users of a well known CMS. What stands out, is how users want more from their CMS. Whereby in days gone by they were happy with a simple editor that allowed them to capture content, now they want (to name just a few trends):

  • A richer editing experience (e.g. indented list items, image / video, and table formatting).
  • The ability to import / export from / to more file formats.
  • Reusable content (e.g. variables and text snippets).
  • Smoother workflows for editing, reviewing, and publishing content.

What strikes me about this list, is how all of these could be achieved with one of the specialist technical writing applications. This begs the question why more content curators aren’t using them.

There’s no simple answer to this. It depends on the requirements and culture of the organisation. Maybe it’s a need to keep all the content in one place, or maybe it is ignorance of what a specialist technical writing application offers.

Whatever the reasons are for mot using one tool or another, there is one question everyone looking at CMS providers needs to ask. And it isn’t, “Can tool a do x, y, and z?”

The classic mistake many make, is to focus on the technology before considering the requirements. To use a slightly crude analogy, there’s little point in buying a family friendly Hyundai saloon car, and then wondering if it is the right car for a trip across the Sahara desert. Instead you should consider what you’d need by way of four wheel drive, storage for water / fuel, and the ability to pull yourself out of a sand dune. Once you’ve done that, then (and only then) you can look around at the vehicles best suited to your needs.

There are a variety of methods to ascertain if a CMS meets your needs. For example:

  • Search the product’s user forums.
  • Look for online user groups, particularly those not controlled by the vendor.
  • Look for wish list items to see what users are wanting that isn’t currently delivered.
  • Attend user group meetings or conferences.
  • Ask your peers.

If after all this you find yourself in a situation where you must host the content in a particular CMS, don’t be fooled into thinking you must author it there too. Look into the CMS’s import / export functionality. Even if this isn’t there out of the box, perhaps there’s an API that can help. Admittedly this normally requires additional resource from elsewhere in your organisation, but if the major stakeholders have the organization’s interest at heart, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Choosing a solution for your content curation needs isn’t easy, but an quick easy decision could prove disastrous and lead to a repeat of the exercise further down the line.

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