You’ve shelled out the money – six figures very likely. You have the license. The wonderful CMS they sold you is yours to use. So, what are you going to do?
In other terms
I am no musician. My fingers do not obey my instructions when it comes to evoking the melody. But, I wanted to learn. The piano is supposed to be a fairly basic instrument; maybe not the easiest, but the notes are all laid out in front of one is a fairly obvious way.
I went into a music store and asked a salesman which piano I should buy. I was honest about not having a clue; not knowing how to play. But I have a good ear for sound. I know if I like the tone of something. All smiles, he took me to one special piano he had; I closed my eyes and listened while he played. The piece was hauntingly beautiful – a minute and a half of lively bounce. Chopin, he told me; Étude Op. 10 n. 5. A piece that demonstrated no lack of skill.
Sold. I handed over my money and awaited delivery.
Was I ever in for a shock? A week later, the very piano the salesman had played me that demo piece on arrived and was set up in my living room. I lifted the lid to see what my new toy sounded like in my home – and discovered that half the keys were missing! On the right half of the keyboard, there was only the single white key; an F.
Appropriate, really. I was F-urious.
It took only a moment to be on the phone to the store, demanding that they give me a piano that actually works.
But what I had bought, they claimed, was the piano that could play Chopin’s wonderful “Black Keys” étude flawlessly. I had experienced that in the store. If I wanted to extend the unit’s capabilities, I would need to customise it myself.
Back to the digital realm
Anyone who experienced the black keys piano sale would kick up quite a fuss; no music store would get away with that practice for long, if at all. Only the foolish would consider trying it. Yet that is exactly what the CMS vendor industry does. They sell us a basic system, that has been extended just enough to allow a wizz-bang demo (you know the one, the “fully-featured” blog you can set up in seven minutes), and then work on the premise that anything further we might want – any functionality that will serve our actual business needs – will require custom development.
And for some reason, we feel this is acceptable.
What’s in the box?
A CMS is, fundamentally, a framework. It provides a mechanism for connecting to a database (which may be as basic as create the tables yourself, and learn SQL), then tells what programming language we must learn. It give us a protocol for how to invoke functions, build data structures, connect services.
While CMS’s may even provide some basic structures around user management (back-end, at least) and blogging, a couple of content entities that allow posting of images and text, the odd tool that looks fancy, they rarely behave as we need it to.
What’s not in the box?
By their very name, CMS’s are supposed to help us manage our content. They should empower us, facilitate information usage. On this basis, there are things that one would expect a CMS to do, yet few do any of them with any competence, and none (that I know of) come anywhere near doing all:
Why do we put up with this?
The reality of the situation is that most CMS’s are redundant. Anything you want built on them needs to be developed from scratch, and the vendor’s framework hinders as much as it helps. Yes, it provides portability of functionality from one installation to another (maybe), but their rules, their ways of doing things stop us from easily implementing features we need in our sites. And when we decide the features are important enough that we must have them, we break some fundamental part of the system, so can no longer upgrade to the next release of the product.
We would never dream of accepting this level of disservice from sellers of other products, but this is considered par for the course when it comes to CMS vendors. What is it they are offering us that the developers who customise their systems could not implement from scratch? Where is the value in a product that hobbles as much as it enables?
There may be a CMS out there that isn’t quite as bad as the black keys implementation, but I have yet to hear of it…
Lang Lang playing Chopin’s Étude Op. 10 n. 5., on YouTube
Maestro, by Chris Shipton – @ChrisShipton
Separating content from presentation
The Quantum of Content Management
Dependency awareness (content’s identity crisis)
How do we manage this Context thing, anyway?