Right from the start of the web revolution in the 1990s came what I call the “Sphincter Effect.” Remember, those were the day when websites had Web Masters and if you were some excited person in an organization with a website, and you wanted to participate and get a “page” for your department or brilliant idea, then you had to go to the Web Master to get it done. “Sphincter?” Remember the old joke about all the different parts of the body having an argument about who was the most important? The eyes claimed that if they stayed shut the body wouldn’t see the truck and would get hit crossing the street? The mouth saying if it went on strike the body would starve? Well the winner was the sphincter – the single point of relief.
Webmasters were sphincters. The Tulsa office would ask for a web page promoting its awesome new project to save the Prairie Chicken and the Webmaster would tell them to take a number from the little dispenser at their web deli counter and wait their turn. Well, Tulsa took some inspiration from the old Confucian parable that the “Sky is High and the Emperor is Far Away” and turned to some freebie web tool like Geocities or Microsoft Front Page and before you knew it – as the Web became more and more of a thing – your typical business or institution had a boatload of rogue sites. I know. I watched it happen at Forbes. And soon I came to dread the single scariest question in the world: “Did you know about this?”
The very freedom of the web, the accessibility to anyone in an organization to go to Blogger or WordPress.com and launch their own little piece of digital turf which they can change and play with on their own, without appealing to the Sphincter, meant chaos was inevitable. IDG was out of control when I arrived in 2005. Dear old Pat McGovern, may he rest in peace, made decentralization part of IDG’s DNA when he realized that he was the sphincter and impeding decision making. So he let his country managers and publishers do their own things and they did. Except that came to bite the company on the ass when a big advertiser like IBM expected to make an advertising buy across all of IDG’s publications which ran the gamut from the Industry Standard to InfoWorld to ComputerWorld to PC World – all of which were published in Russian, Tagalog, Portuguese…….
Oh my god the insanity. Anyway, Carrigan fixed the mess, the company federated all of its subscriber databases into one big monster, and before long stopped printing rags like Infoworld and went all in with digital. But the solution was because the content management system and the digital asset management system and the web metrics systems were all centralized.
Lowell Bryan at McKinsey taught me two things in his disarming southern drawl. This is the man who led McKinsey’s Global Strategy Practice. This guy knew a thing or two about strategy and big organizations. The first thing he told me is irrelevant to this screed, but worth repeating:
It takes a brave man to call a baby ugly
And the thing applicable here:
“You have to loosen control without losing control.”
What does that mean for global web management? Simple – give the people on the front lines. The ones who have the content that needs to be updated, the ones who don’t want to wait for the Sphincter to take care of their request, total control over their glass. But do it on a single platform so they won’t go off brand, won’t waste money on stupid software, and won’t break the law by doing some dumb-fuck move. And trust me, people can be counted on to do the wrong thing.
Governing a global web organization doesn’t get any more insane than it did for me at Lenovo. I mean, think about managing “digital experiences” for a company funded in part by the pension fund of the Red Army in a country that blocks Google and Facebook. Even with the Chinese approach to organizational hierarchy and governance, that didn’t stop a country marketing manager in Poland from buying web advertising from some R-rated bikini model site. If you want to break out in a terrifying sweat, try reading an email one morning with the ominous subject line “Did You Know About This?!?!” that contains a screenshot of a Lenovo banner ad on a website campaigning against Tienanmen Square over that famous picture of the dude facing down a tank.
But I sympathize with the marketing manager in the Philippines. He has autonomy over how he spends his budget. He needs to have a homepage that celebrates some weird Filipino national holiday or launch a new campaign around Imelda Marcos Shoe Collection Appreciation Week. Whatever. He needs control locally. Not from the Sphincter and the Committee of No at headquarters. So, piss him off enough and he’s going to launch his own little web pirate ship. Good for him.
Next: You Talk Like a Fag and Your Shit’s All Retarded
The first “electronic content management system” I ever saw was back n 1980 when I had to transcribe a 600-page crappy novel I wrote in college. The school hired a typist who had a Wang word processor – basically a mini-computer with floppy disks the size of Frisbees. I sat at that thing after years of using an electric typewriter and a bottle of Wite-Out and my mind was blown forever when I realized “Cut-and-paste “on that thing was as awesome as a New Guinea cargo cultist seeing a Bic lighter for the first time.
Then I landed in the newsroom at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and was told to figure out the new Hastech editorial system. I mastered that thing and was the unofficial newsroom guru who knew all the keyboard shortcuts and could split a screen into four different windows with a couple ninja moves of my fingers. Then PC Week and Atex came into my life. Then Forbes into more Atex, dialing in with a 1200 bps modem using a command line utility called “Send-Fetch”, Quark for page layout. And on and on until the dawn of the Internet in 1994 when Mitch Kapor showed me his private Internet connection in his Kendall Square office and let me see the wonders of TCP/IP, Gopher, Veronica, WAIS, Pine, Usenet and finally, the World Wide Web.
The Web was pretty obvious. I mean duh-level obvious. The underlying technology wasn’t proprietary (I think TCP/IP is the most important single technology of the 20th century), the network topology was designed to survive a nuke (but not a baby monitor or web cam), and anyone could get into it for low to no money. When Kapor showed me a website with a picture and a blue underlined word that led to another website with another picture and more underlined blue words I instantly saw the future of electronic publishing which had been tempting publishers for over a decade.
I decided to figure it out. I had been messing around with hypertext, using Microsoft’s engine for building its help-pop-ups to turn the rules that governed yacht racing into a hyperlinked, interactive product. But the Web was different so I shifted my reporting away from PCs and multimedia CD-ROMs and mainframes and focused on the commercialization of the Internet. I started reading and that led me into the world of mark up languages and document processing.
I became a serious SGML geek (Standard Generalized Markup Language). I was all over document mark up languages and found myself in deep discussions with Charles Goldfarb, the Father of SGML, the ISO standard for page description formats out of IBM that was the ancestor of HTML. Goldfarb wanted me to ghostwrite a book with him about SGML. I wanted to build a website.
SGML and Goldfarb introduced me to the the late Yuri Rubinsky, who founded a company in Toronto called Softquad that developed the first commercial HTML authoring tool – HoTMetaL. Yuri gave me beta access and I used HoTMetaL to develop the first prototype of Forbes.com in the winter of 1995 – the super crude and ugly version that ran on a ThinkPad and an Iomega Zipdrive which I demoed to the Forbes brothers before being told “Nice job kid, now here’s a ticket to Columbus, go run our CompuServe project.”
Oh the agony, but I wasn’t deterred. Messing around with HoTMetal led me to Charles Ferguson and Randy Forgaard at Vermeer Technologies and a sneak peek at FrontPage, the first wysiwig web building tool which I wrote about in Forbes and kept a close eye on as Microsoft acquired it in 1996 for $133 million. Ferguson went on to write a book about the Vermeer experience called High St@kes, No Prisoners and produce and direct Inside Job which won an Academy Award for best documentary.
While I was losing my soul at CompuServe and also managing Forbes’ Prodigy deal, I was still spending my free time on web stuff. I worked on a DIY content management system for Reel-Time: The Internet Journal of Saltwater Flyfishing. My partner, Thorne Sparkman raised some money to pay some coders in Berkeley to give us the tools to manage a very popular niche community site. We wanted to extend page management capabilities out to the fishing guides who sponsored the site, so they could have their own web presence under our umbrella. It worked. Sort of.
When Forbes.com launched we coded the site by hand (basically using Notepad to write the page source code) – via the webmaster John Moschetto and the graphics department under Dustin Shephard and TK – eventually testing tools like Dreamweaver and other site builders. We looked at Vignette after that CMS was spun out of C-Net, but the requirement to have a TCL coder on staff who could manage and build page templates soured us. Forbes didn’t have the cash to buy a CMS, so in all my time there from 1995 to 2000 we were pretty manual, using some database publishing to automate production, but always wishing for something with workflow and version control and other nice things that were always in reach, but never in house.
We knew we wanted dynamic content. We wanted pages that could display real-time stock quotes, charts, pages that would let visitors to Forbes.com sort its list of the Richest People in the World by country or industry. We did it. Bill Gates even used our database of the richest people (which he led by the way ) in his demonstrations of Microsoft’s IIS webserver capabilities (we were early ASP fans).
Then Forbes.com co-founder Om Malik turned me onto WordPress in 2001 after I launched this blog on Pyra Labs’ Blogger, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.
After the bubble popped in 2000 I bailed on Forbes and was on the team at McKinsey that built one of the first global knowledge management systems under Mussie Shore – the former Lotus engineer now at Google. That was pretty effing slick and supported a digital asset management system, streamed audio and video, and pulled together the company’s army of consultants and their Powerpoints into a pretty nifty project called Business Knowledge Services. We were into digital asset management, and multimedia publishing and all that stuff. Search was key.
2005, I went back to media, this time at International Data Group – the late Pat McGovern’s tech publishing empire – where I was on the team that started to “federate” the company’s 300-some publications onto a common platform. I turned off a DIY content management system that was the equivalent of life-time employment for the only person who knew how to work it, and was part of CEO Bob Carrigan’s big move to federate the entire tower of babel under IDG’s CIO Nancy Newkirk on Interwoven Teamsite. The politics were brutal so I left.
I left for Lenovo before IDG’s Interwoven platform was implemented, but I called up Interwoven’s sales engineer – Tom Wentworth – and let him sell me another Teamsite license for the new Lenovo.com as it made the transition from IBM.com/PC to its new home as a serious ecommerce site that could match Dell’s configure-to-order system. The problem there was massive. Global web production for 60 countries over 28 languages and total anarchy and ill-will as the country marketing teams wanted control over their digital identities but headquarters wanted some efficiencies and brand discipline. We were struggling with the concept of a web “Center of Excellence” and a “site factory” before some marketer or “thought leader” decided to coin those words in their marketecture.
Next: The Revolution Against Our Sphincter Overlords
“I can’t tell you the number of times some digital douchebag announced in a meeting that the new website or the new “CMS” was “finally going to be the game changer we’ve been waiting for. This is the ONE.” Hah. Same shit, different day.”
– A former colleague who needs to remain unnamed
Part 1: “All Right You Primitive Screwheads”
I’ve seen a lot of ways to build a website and they all were a massive disappointment. The stuff the CMS industry talks about today: personalization and putting dynamic content in front of the right person at the right time based on their history and preferences was in the dreams of the Web 1.0 pioneers right from the beginning. Targeted advertising. Web sites that act like applications and not static pages ripped from paper and converted for the glass. Database publishing. Dynamic pages. Personalization. All of this stuff was totally and completely obvious and desirable twenty years ago; but good luck making it happen. The only difference is that today a person who is shopping for “web content management” is buying horseshoes in the age of driverless cars. Things are so crazy and confusing that we’ve thrown up our hands in despair and are walking around trying to describe the rash on our asses as “Digital Experience Delivery.”
Digital? That’s the best we can do? When are we going to accept that Digital is a given and at the heart of the matter and stop sticking it in front of our stuff like describing a car as an “Automotive Transportation System” because we don’t want to confuse the market who might be shopping for a one-horse sleigh? “Digital Marketing?” As opposed to what? The “Traditional Marketing Department?”
Content? People who write software are very different from the people who use it. When they want to describe the “stuff” their system processes and manipulates and publishes, they shrug and call it a big generic “Content” which their system “ingests.” Sit down with Marty Barron, the stud editor of the Boston Globe played by Liev Schrieber in Spotlight, and call his reporting “content” and he’ll look you in the eye and tell you that you have no soul when you lump a Pulitzer prize winning series of major journalism and reporting into the generic “Content” bucket.
“I hate the word content, which has infiltrated our profession. You have people who are called chief content officers and things like that. I don’t like the word content. To me, it’s like saying the word “stuff.” It has no meaning, whereas journalism actually does have meaning.” Marty Barron
Experience? Sounds like Austin Powers dancing through London in the 1960s on his way to a “Hippy Happening.” To hell with “experiences” and let’s admit it’s a sign that we don’t know how describe the rash on our butts. It’s red. It itches. It’s on our left buttock and we’re not sure if it’s eczema or psoriasis or an allergy to the cat. So we go to WebMD and we type in “Rash Red Ass” and what we get back for a self-diagnosis is “Digital Experience Delivery” or heaven forbid, “Web Content Management?”
With that off my chest, I’m going to pollute this personal blog with a series on how the world of “content management solutions” is missing the boat and deluding itself and the market into believing it knows what the future holds. It doesn’t. This is going to be a multi-post series on the history of web and content management that ends with some thoughts about the state of the market today and where I think it’s going.
Next in the series: Let me dust off my bona fides. Not to brag but I sort of know this stuff and this would be one of my Jeopardy categories. I started out with an electric typewriter in 1974, regressed and ran a letter press right out of Benjamin Frankiln, graduated to the first word processor, mastered the greatest software of all time (XyWrite) was around at the dawn of HTML, learned the first web site building tools, launched one of the planet’s most successful financial web sites, rebuilt the world’s top management consulting firm’s knowledge management system, did ecommerce for a Fortune Global 100 company and wound up where I am today marketing the world’s best CMS solution for mega-brands and governments that need to build and deliver websites on the scale of nuclear powered aircraft carriers.
Acquia — (Ah-kwee-ah, from the Navajo word for locate, or spot) — is where I do my thing and have been doing that thing for the past year. We’re about the next big thing in web site development — “digital experiences — and built on top of Drupal, the open source content management framework that was invented by Acquia’s co-founder Dries Buytaert in 2001.
I first built with Drupal in 2005 at IDG — driven to open source out of desperation with a customer of CIO.com needed a microsite with a community in less than two weeks time. The commercial content management solutions were too expensive and unwieldy, so with a sense of piratical naughtiness a few of us downloaded the source code and had a Drupal site up and running in a few days.
I remember the whole experience was a little brutal — but hey, fast-forward to 2011, I’m doing web consulting in NYC for big brands and musicians, and I start recommending Drupal again because this Boston-area company — Acquia — is offering it on a platform-as-a-service model from the cloud and kind of blowing up past points of webmaster hell like the dreaded “slashdot” effect coined at Forbes.com when a stiff wind would knock down our anemic home-made infrastructure.
Drupal has been on version 7 since 2011. Some massive sites run on the system (best described as a framework for building custom content management systems), including big brands, government agencies, big media and more. In the spring of 2011 the Drupal community — the largest open source community in the world with more than 1 million registered users — kicked off the process of building Drupal 8.
I’ve been around content management way too long but D8 is one of the more impressive advances because of its architecture approach to what Dries is calling the post-browser web. The reality for modern site builders and digital types today is that the concept of the “site” is being replaced by a far more complicated set of different distribution channels ranging from different devices to aggregators such as Facebook, Apple News, Flipboard and online merchants like Amazon and eBay. In short — the art and science of making stuff and publishing it on the Internet has gone far beyond the days when I started out in 1994 writing HTML with a text editor and worrying about launching Forbes.com or this blog in the days of the command-line driven Internet.
Today Acquia sucked it up and declared it’s ready for its customers to start planning and building with Drupal 8 on the Acquia Platform right now, even though the code is still in beta and declared to “be ready when it’s ready.” I admire the grit it took for Acquia’s CEO Tom Erickson and CTO Dries Buytaert to go out on the diving board and tell their customers and the digital agencies that serve them that now is the time to take the plunge and make the move to the next big thing in delivering amazing digital experiences to a world that has declared in a very big way that online is the first place they go.
The time came in college where I had to foot the bill and as part of my tuition plan I needed to work a campus job. The usual scholarship gig was washing dishes in the dining hall — one of those hair-netted jobs that seemed embarrassing because you cleaned up after your friends, but when I went to the campus employment agency to fill out a form I happened to be there as a courtly looking professor kind of man was posting a job in the Sterling Memorial Library’s print shop for a printer’s devil.
I interrupted his conversation with the clerk and introduced myself. He was Professor Dale Roylance, the curator of the library’s typography collection and its Arts of the Book department, a room on the ground floor that displayed the art and science of typography from Gutenberg through the modern era. He questioned my qualifications, he was looking for an experienced printer’s devil with some time in one of the many letterpresses around the residential colleges; and realizing there was no bullshitting the man I was honest and admitted to having no experience or even interest in bibliography and letterpresses. I was a writer and wanted to experience the mechanics of book making first hand and appreciated the craft from having run my high school newspaper and the agony of producing that every week. He was skeptical, but agreed to give me a chance. He warned me the work was tedious and messy — largely consisting of cleaning up after him, wiping up ink, cleaning platens, and putting type back in its proper cases. He’d teach me anything I wanted to learn, but only after I took care of the boxes of scrambled or “pi’d” type and various chores such as cutting mats for exhibits, and being his errand boy around the other presses on campus.
Every afternoon from one to three, I’d walk to the library, step behind the main library call desk, walk down stairs to the vast basement and unlock the door to the Yale Bibliographic Press. On the main bench would be a list of things Professor Roylance wanted done. Go crosstown to the plate maker and pick up some copper engravings. Un-ink and then unlock two chases — the iron rectangles where the type was set, spaced and locked down with quoins — and return the type to the right job box. Set and print six copies of the new library hours and mount in the wrought iron frames at the entrances. Run over to the Beinecke Rare Book Library and get a few rare botanical woodcuts for some forthcoming exhibit. Pop up to the fifth floor map collection and ask the curator for a list of maps for a forthcoming exhibition on Colonial cartography.
I’d turn on the campus FM radio station and play jazz in the subterranean press room while I put on an apron, folded a sheet of the New Haven Register into a pressman’s cap, and pushed around a pushbroom for a while. The press had to be kept clean. Dust ruined print runs and Roylance was a little OCD — which I came to learn was a requisite character trait in a good printer. The worst part of the job was breaking down the chases he’d left behind — he was nearly never there when I was there, preferring long lunches at the Faculty Club to managing me — full pages of type for some special project he was working on. Type setting (and un-setting) is done using a wooden tray criss-crossed with dividers known as a California job box. This is like a QWERTY keyboard of sorts — every letter had its own special compartment, and each box comprised the totality of that type face in one specific point size. The Bibliographic had full sets of Times New Roman, Goudy, Baskerville and Garamond in every size from 6 to 96 point in bold as well as italic versions. There were other fonts as well, but just the main four typefaces occupied a huge storage space, each job box weighing over 25 pounds.
The brilliance of the job box was the size of each letter’s compartment was proportional to the frequency of each letter’s use in the English language. Hence “E” had the biggest compartment and “Q” one of the smallest. One learns to “touch-type” and work a case without looking at it, and with practice the task of returning type to the box gets fairly automated. Setting type, the act of composing a line of text, was far more fun and challenging. A tool called a “composing stick” is used, set to the appropriate width of the text and held in one hand while the other hunts through the job box for the next letter or spacer.
Composing backwards and upside down takes some getting used to, and I was slow and sloppy with my leading, hyphenation and never had the patience to do justified margins.
There were three presses in the Bibliographic Press, but the prize was the 1830-era Albion drop press. I loved that press. It was one of the old Benjamin Franklin style presses, with a big lever one would grab with both hands and swing to drop the platen and make the impression. This is the Albion from the Bibliongraphic Press. It’s since been pulled out of the basement and put on display. I worshiped this thing.
While placards and exhibit note cards were the stuff I was mainly asked to print, occasionally Professor Roylance would pop in and teach me some new aspect of the craft. One month he taught me how to make marbled end papers, a cool process like a Grateful Dead light show at the Fillmore where a solution is prepared, inks are “floated” and swirled into amazing patterns, and a sheet of paper is pulled up to lift the inks from the carrying solution. I remember the recipe called for carrageenan, a gelatin derived from a particular kind of Irish seaweed. Roylance also taught me binding, leather work, embossing, the fine points of spacing and of course the amazing glossary of specialized terms known to printers as part of the craft.
The library became a home – a monastery away from classes, my social life, my daily rowing practices. It was one of three jobs I held down. The first was delivering the New York Times every morning to 300 campus subscribers — a dark o’clock job that involved running up lots of dorm stairs on the eastern side of the campus and which got me warmed up for the morning crew practice at the Payne-Whitney gymnasium where running a dozen flights of stairs a dozen times every day was the worst part of the off-season training regimen. In the evening, after the crew team returned from Derby and the Housatonic Rover, I’d put in two hours at the Chapel Street Wine Shop, delivering kegs of beer around campus in the store’s incredibly abused delivery van (more running of stairs, only this time with full kegs of Heineken or Michelob). But the library was the best. It smelled … like a grandfather. It was an amazing stack of precious knowledge made even more cool by the glowing alabaster walls of the Beinecke Rare Book library, a cube rumored to have a Halon fire extinguisher system that could suck all the oxygen out, kill the patrons and staff, but save the rarest books on the planet. Walking past a Gutenberg bible, getting to hold the original palimpsest of Lord Jim with Conrad’s corrections and notes, checking out Captain John Smith of Virginia’s map of the New England coast — the same map he gave to Prince Charles to do the honors of naming the places on it (hence the future King named the Charles River after himself). Beinecke was the library to end all libraries, but Sterling was my favorite.
The library was, for me, the best part of the last Indiana Jones movie. Sterling is the setting of the end of the motorcycle chase through the Yale campus at the 2:44 mark.
Cartography was, and still is, a happy thing for me, especially staring at antique nautical charts. One of the best classes I took in college was taught in the Sterling Memorial Library’s map collection by the map collection curator, Alexander Vietor. The only assignment I remember was to use the university’s computer lab to develop a computer generated map using quantitative inputs. The whole thing was done on punch cards which were submitted for a batch processing run and then output onto a big graphics plotter. I did a map of New England ports with each proportionally sized according to the numbers of barrels of whale oil landed in each in 1824. Between that class and my daily duties in the press, I got to handle some amazing maps, stuff that has come back to the public consciousness thanks to E. Forbes Smiley — the map thief chronicled in an excellent book published last spring by a Boston author, Michael Blanding: The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps.
E. Forbes Smiley III was a well known dealer in rare maps who served a select set of private collectors (one of whom, Norman B. Leventhal, owns some homes here in Cotuit and donated his collection to the Boston Public Library). Smiley, an over-extended, suave self-taught expert in colonial American maps, resorted to theft from a half-dozen university libraries, stealing hundreds of one-of-a-kind maps over the years by simply ripping them out of atlases. His undoing was when he dropped an X-Acto knife on the rug at the Beinecke in 2004 and was arrested and investigated by the FBI. His impact on Yale, Harvard, the New York and Boston Public Libraries is incalculable. I read the book with keen interest, realizing I had personally handled some of the materials Smiley stole. There were a lot of scholars and collectors who passed through the Sterling and Beinecke stacks in the late 70s when I was a student at Yale and Smiley was still a student at Hampshire College. Some wealthy student bibliophiles were renowned for their dorm room collections. One, the scion of a Manhattan real estate empire, was operating a thriving business on campus as an undergrad, and another went on to be Smiley’s more vocal critic, W. Graham Arader III, who was dealing rare maps from a Yale dorm room during my time in New Haven. The New York Times said of Arader at the time of Smiley’s arrest: “At Yale, he [Arader] said, he focused on “blondes and squash,” but became interested in maps after he met Alexander Orr Vietor, the curator of Yale’s map collection. Before long, Mr. Arader was selling maps from his dormitory room. “I love maps, and when you get hooked, you get hooked,” he said.
I was hooked but more on the book making side of things and less on collecting stuff. After all I was paying my through school and my earnings from the library went right to the bursar to off-set my tuition. My masterpiece was the printing of a full chapter of Moby Dick — Chapter 23, “The Lee Shore” — made famous in the great baseball novel, The Art of Fielding. After graduation, when I applied for a internship at the Boston publishing house of David Godine (publisher of Andre Dubus among others), Godine himself, a bit of a prickly man, was ready to blow me off as just another Yale grad dishwasher looking for a publishing job when I pulled my manuscript out and handed it over for his inspection. He pulled out a loupe and started examining my kerning and inking very carefully, criticizing the descenders on my “P’s” and generally ripping apart my work before looking up, smiling and saying, “I started out with a letterpress in my barn. It gets in your blood. The ink I mean. Doesn’t it?” I landed the internship (unpaid of course) but the best memory of my eleemosonary employment at Godine was when he handed back the Melville manuscript and told me it was “nice work.”
It’s sad what Smiley did to some irreplaceable maps but he also changed the way libraries operate and from the book’s account, ruined forever a sense of trust they had in the scholars who depend on them. Extensive security, new rules, and a general climate of mistrust has crept in behind the damage Smiley’s done. Whatever undergrad is lucky enough be the Sterling Memorial Library’s printer devil probably doesn’t get the keys to the kingdom like I felt I had.
I offer this because I started musing about my career in “content management” and my place as the last of the “typewriter generation” — those 50-somethings who didn’t have computers in college but did their work on Olivettis, Smith Coronas and IBM Selectrics. As I finished my first novel the final semester of my senior year (unpublished but proudly sitting on a shelf in the Scholar of the House collection inside the Sterling), the college’s Scholar of the House program arranged for me to hire a professional typist to produce the final manuscript. Due to the deadline I would drive to her home in Orange, Connecticut and spend hours transcribing onto her new Wang word processor, the first of it’s kind with big floppy discs the size of album covers. Those green letters on the black screen. The ability to move paragraphs, to cut and paste …. it marked the beginning of three decades working with words on computers. That summer, as a cub reporter at the Cape Cod Times, I worked on a typewriter, glued my pages together with a pot of rubber cement, and moved stuff around by cutting it out with scissors and pasting it back manually. By the end of the summer the Times was going computerized, and at my next newspaper job at the Lawrence Eagle Tribune I worked at a Hastech terminal, and was given a Tandy T100 with rubber suction cup modem for filing from the State House press room on Beacon Hill at 300bps. I haven’t seen a typewriter, let alone an Albion drop press and California job box since. Now I’m all about cloud-hosted Drupal and “content.” Somehow I don’t imagine anyone who has ever set a page of type by hand has ever called the result a piece of “content.”
Disclosure: I am on Interwoven’s customer advisory board
I’ve known Tom Wentworth at Interwoven since 2005 when I was part of the team bringing Interwoven Teamsite (a very capable enterprise level content management system) into CXO Media at IDG.
I’ve posted in the past on the impact of WordPress — the leading open blogging environment — as a free CMS alternative. I was happy to see Tom tackle this topic in a Dec 30 post:
“As a blogging platform, it’s amazing. Having been in the CMS space at Interwoven for roughly 8 years I really appreciate it any time I see innovation in or around the CMS market. WordPress is one of the most innovative and impressive applications I’ve used in quite some time- WordPress changed the game for blogging. I’ve spent a lot of time with WordPress and although I’m not an expert- I’ve spent enough time with it to get a good feel for what it can (and can’t) do.
So- is WordPress a CMS? Well, no. Although Matt Mullenweg might disagree, WordPress is not a CMS- at least not an enterprise CMS. I won’t get into the limitations in this post but suffice it to say that WordPress isn’t ready to tackle the content challenges faced by Interwoven customers. But as a blogging platform, WordPress does many things well. Here are four things I think CMS vendors can learn from WordPress: …
Hat’s off to Tom for tackling the elephant in the room. I need to post in the future from the point of view of a global enterprise customer concerned with expense challenges and asked, on a regular basis, if there is an open (read “free”) alternative to things like metrics and analytics engines and content management systems. Right now, open isn’t ready for prime time, but for SMB and mid-market, the open allure is undeniable.
I’ve been blogging on WordPress since 2004, when Om Malik suggested I get back into blogging after a brief, but discontinued foray on Blogger back in 2002. I have my own host — Churbuck.com — at Cape.com (now Meganet) and had been running a simple Frontpage-built set of static pages for a couple years, primarily tending to the domain so I could enable the churbuck.com email address.
I installed WordPress and after some serious stumbling and fumbling, figured out MySQL, Php, and the old days spent in front of IPswitch’s FTP client transferring files and building directory structures on my host.
I love WordPress — indeed I would go so far as to claim it is the most significant and beloved piece of software in my life over the past twenty years — and it just got better.
While I was in my admin dashboard this morning I saw the suggestion that I “automatically” upgrade to the latest version. In the past, any time I attempted a maintenance upgrade of my blog I would usually kill it, requiring the intervention of more capable minds, such as Mark Cahill to get thing sorted out and running again. Mark told me when he last upgraded me in July that the auto-update would be coming, and well, yes it is.
About one minute, a simple, straightforward set of questions, and ta-da, I am up to date with the latest verison. Gratitude aside, this auto update is a big step towards making WordPress the defacto opensource content management system for the world, taking out the technical/sysadmin barrier to entry that makes self-hosting so challenging for people like myself, who don’t have the time or cause to get good at the essentials of open source LAMP based hosting.
Since Churbuck.com points to this old post and not a home page, I wanted to set a pointer to the main page of this blog – churbuck.com
I’ve been a massive fan of the software that drives this blog — WordPress — since first installing it in the fall of 2004 at the recommendation of Om Malik. As I’ve blogged in the past, this open source tool has the potential to disrupt the content management system market, as I believe it is now capable for most any content publisher to use and adapt WordPress to provide CMS services at a level that would have easily cost $100,000 in site licenses a year ago.
Full disclosure, I am a major Interwoven Teamsite fan as well. I’ve advocated Teamsite into two big implementations and believe it, and other enterprise strength CMSs will always have a role in the large global enterprise. Put simply, the probability of a site as complex and critical as Lenovo.com converting to WordPress or Drupal is nil at this point in time.
But WordPress — the list of sites that have adopted the software as their primary CMS backs up my contention that the power of the “blog movement” is not the trackback/RSS/notification environment, nor the citizen journalist side, but that it opens the realm of dynamic and frictionless content management to the masses. Indeed, not only the countless numbers blogging for free on hosted servives like WordPress.com and Blogger, but serious sites such as AllThingsD (Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg at the WSJ), and CNN’s main politics blog (which doesn’t feel so much a blog as a really crisp site.)
Anyway, Mark Cahill upgraded me this morning to the latest and greatest version –2.6– and as he notes, the power of this version is not only it’s CMS capabilities (he formally annoints the version as a CMS and he should know coming out of Atex), but it’s auto-update capabilities for self-hosted morons like myself.
The single biggest feature though, is one that will come in handy for the lone gunman blogger: they will now be able to do an automatic (single click) update for WordPress when a new version comes out. That’s a huge feature, and will help the less technical stay up to date and secure
I’ve been arguing for three years that blogs are, at their fundamental heart, open-source content management systems for everyman; easy ways for the you’s and me’s of the world to quickly publish, format, and monetize content. In a post I made earlier this year, recapping some advice made to a friend who had assumed the editor-in-chief position at a regional business magazine, I argued that an editorial enterprise that invested big money in an expensive content management system was investing in the wrong things. Publishers don’t need ornate Content Management structures, but should be investing in quality editorial material — writing, photography, video, audio — and putting their production infrastructure down on the strategic ladder with telephones and electricity.
Alas, my friend was outshouted by a moron who insisted the publication’s web presence wasn’t worth squat unless it was constructed on the back of a $500,000 commercial publishing system.
Well, along comes the Wall Street Journal, and its two best tech reporters, and what do they use?
WordPress. The same free CMS/blog software that runs Churbuck.com. The big difference? They designed and implemented an awesome template that supports advertising, looks like a “magazine” (whatever that means), yet which supports the essential functions generally associated with a “blog”, commenting, tagging, permalinking, etc.
Me, I’d say this is hands down the best implementation of open source publishing technology I have ever seen, one that should serve as a wake up for any online publisher wondering if they should invest $1,000,000 in web publishing technology.