Chunk That Blob

May 15, 2013

By Misty Weaver

403lock.jpgIs Structured Content a New Hope for CMS?

User experience and content management systems seemed to follow to their own paths from development to user interface. Users were always at the center of user experience design. However, when it comes to CMS, a critical user’s needs may not have translated to the WISYWIG interface.

A conversation that started last year merged when Rachel Andrew mentioned Karen McGrane’s work in The Future of Content Management. In her Smashing 2012 presentation, Andrew shares her view from the technical side of CMS development. She describes specific examples that confuse and confound the people who ultimately need to add content to the system. As she points out, when this happens, a client’s most common interaction with a CMS is swearing at it. Instead, developers need to break down boxes and blobs and address lowered expectations to create an authoring and editing experience that truly supports content.  

When it comes to CMS, everyone’s a customer

By reaching out to designers and content strategists like McGrane, Andrew shows a path for developers and designers to rethink the interface for the critical (perhaps forgotten) user, the content editor. The future of CMS is user experience and development working together with clients to listen and instruct, finally building systems that help content editors “make good decisions.”

In hindsight, maybe that wasn’t the best way to interface

How did we get here? In a recent A List Apart column, Karen McGrane explains that we, as a community, haven’t been solving the right problems. WYSIWYG is not the only or even the best solution when it comes to inputting content. The problem was the formatting doesn’t carry over to different browsers and users and it’s never really clear if one is adding style or semantic meaning.

WYSIWYG hides complexity from users. Most content editors are working in a complex, connected ecosystem. Content will be positioned, partitioned, re-used, reassembled, distributed, and tagged and needs to move not only within one CMS but also with the workflow of the organization and the connected channels beyond. It must be nimble as Rachel Lovinger said in 2011. Chunks of content, with the opportunity for discreet, perhaps even flexible, tags offer the opportunity for UX to come to the content editor. 

Say it together now: Metadata will set us free

Structured content, though not a cure-all, will help bridge many areas between development, design and content publication. From the Content Wrangler to Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Future-Ready Content: Semantic mark-up and structured data are so much more than content clay even when we describe them as chunks and blobs. Structured content creates opportunity to more easily respond or adapt to changes in technology or devices. The metadata remains and pieces are more easily re-used, syndicated and accessed.

It’s happening now. CMS Myth’s Joe Eckman showed that WordPress can chunk. From higher ed to accessible web, structured content and semantic mark-up are not new concepts. Neither is CMS. But in a world where content creators and editors are pressured to keep up with the exponential growth of devices and channels, this conversation is creating an opportunity for collaboration that ultimately supports all of us. Even Andrew admits “You Can’t Do Everything,” but as long as we’re working together, we can do a hell of lot about CMS. 


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