In the early days of Web Content Management Systems (CMS), there was a nice man on the sales team who’d once asked me: “Jeremy, why do you developers hate every CMS?” The answer was simple but nuanced: at the time, the platforms did not speak to us as developers.
There were plenty of CMS platforms out there, though most would force a developer into using esoteric patterns which were contrary to the way that a problem would be approached if it were a fully custom solution; contrary to what we knew to be the best way. As well, many of them came with large libraries of pre-built controls. At first glance this sounds like a good thing; however, after the world has seen the same control countless times over, something a little different is often required. Hence the problem: primarily, developers found themselves in situations where the pre-built controls–that were supposed to save them time–were of no use. Solutions often had to be built from scratch.
Ultimately, many of the CMS platforms boiled down to frustrating systems with time-savers which saved no time at all. It’s no wonder that the development team cringed every time a new platform came onto the scene.
After a while, we acclimated. We learned the patterns and they became second nature to us. We would play nice in the sandbox with them, but we didn’t have to like them. And then an interesting thing happened: we evaluated Sitecore for the first time. Initially we had a difficult time understanding it; it seemed quite foreign. One was left with the inevitable question: “how do I create a page?”
Following the developer training, it quickly became clear why we were having a difficult time: it did not behave like the CMS platforms to which we were accustomed. It was abstract and followed object-oriented practices. There were a few “ah-ha” moments that lead us to realize exactly how powerful the Sitecore CMS platform was. It would let us do anything as long as it was properly tied back to the CMS API; not to mention that it’s quick to get out of the way when required. Add in a proper inheritance model and you have a platform with far more flexibility and re-usability than any CMS platform that had been evaluated to date.
When explaining something intangible and abstract, I often like to relate it to something tangible. The early page-based CMS platforms were similar to Lincoln Logs®: they gave a pretty good indication as to how they should be assembled and a project could be built quite quickly. An abstract CMS, like Sitecore, is more akin to a ball of clay: it doesn’t tell you what it’s supposed to be or what form it is supposed to take. One thing is undeniable: so much more can be made with a ball of clay than could be built with Lincoln Logs®.
CMS platforms have certainly come a long way.
I had the pleasure to attend the North American Partner Summit for EPiServer in Chicago, Illinois on July 31. The two day event provided a unique opportunity for EPiServer partners to share insight on the latest developments in the market, but more importantly, it offered a preview of the upcoming release of EPiServer 7, set to launch in the fourth quarter of this year.
EPiServer is dropping the “CMS” label when referring to their flagship product, instead choosing to present their products as a platform. There were more than a few technical sessions which laid out these changes to architecture, most of which provided a bundle of new features for developers:
These things all sound great to web developers, but part of our job is to look at these new technical features, and find out exactly what it will mean to our customers as they move in to utilizing these new products.
So, what do these new features mean to content editors?
Content Reuse: Write once, use it where you need it.
One of the notable changes in EPiServer 7 is a concentration on multi-channel. EPiServer had previously supported multi-device options via their Mobile Pack, which was a great offering to quickly build mobile sites off of your existing content.
They’ve gone one step further and built multi-device support right into the interface for content editors. As we write content, we want to ensure that we can reuse that content between traditional web browsers, and via mobile content. Developers will now be able to create multiple templates for each page type, and customize how users see content in these different templates. For editors, this means having the ability to preview content in each channel from within the CMS with a few clicks.
Less Teaching, More Instincts
EPiServer 7 brings a new administrative interface that puts the focus clearly on one thing:
Content on the page.
What does this mean? It means that the interface focuses the editor on the preview of the page at all times. See content you want to edit? Click directly on the content, and an editor slides out to allow that property to be edited. Click Save, and the editor slides back to the side of the screen, revealing the changes in the preview. Forgot to click save? That’s okay – EPiServer has saved it for you. Want to undo/redo your changes? That’s built in as well.
Content is only judged by how it’s seen on the page. There’s no doubt it influences what we publish, and we should work in an interface that helps us think in that mentality when editing content.
Don’t worry: As existing editors, the pieces you are accustomed to are still around: Pages are still managed in the Page Tree, and text is still edited in WYSIWYG editors, but these elements slide out of the way once editing is complete. Don’t like this new contextual interface? Pin these panels to their usual areas, or edit properties all on one page just as you did in EPiServer 6. The best of both worlds.
More Flexibility in Layout
EPiServer 7 introduces a new concept to the base CMS – Blocks. Although this feature is new to the CMS, it previously appeared as an add-on called EPiServer Composer. Blocks allow content editors to define reusable chunks of content that they can place in predefined areas of templates, such as sidebars. In addition, developers can create blocks that allow significant customization in layout. This will provide increased flexibility as content editors can stretch the use of existing templates by supplementing their design with Layout Blocks.
Don’t like the large content area on a landing page? No need to have a developer create an entirely new template – just have them create a Layout Block to customize the existing template. As a result, content editors will have less template overload and more customization.
When Blocks are created, they are done so globally. If you edit a specific instance of a block, it’s updated everywhere you’ve used it. As an added bonus, these blocks also support the multi-channel rendering I mentioned above, allowing them to be adaptive depending on device. Want sidebar content to display differently in your mobile template? That’s baked in.
Hopefully this gives content editors a real insight into how we think at agencyQ in terms of product releases, and we’re excited to see how these new features will benefit our clients in the future. For now, developers can download a preview of EPiServer 7 and see the changes first hand.
By Wyatt Queener, Vice President, Strategy
July was a month full of big announcements for Q partner and WCM leader, Sitecore. While Sitecore continues to follow a flexible size-based model for its CMS solution, the company announced changes to its North American pricing model on July 1. Sitecore also announced the launch of the App Center, an online marketplace of on-demand applications, services, and integration solutions developed for Sitecore’s Customer Engagement Platform. According to Sitecore, the App Center will serve as an “ecosystem of pluggable cloud applications [that] will include email marketing, social media monitoring, Windows Azure hosting, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), translation and web compliance.” These recent changes align with the company’s ongoing push to offer more robust analytic, marketing and customer engagement capabilities in addition to content management, raising the bar in the web content management (WCM) space.
Earlier this month, Q CMS partner Sitecore announced its acquisition of the development team and intellectual property of Pectora. Pectora, previously a long-term Sitecore technology partner, provides web publishing solutions for integration with print-based projects. The new effort combines print and web design teams to deliver more dynamic, personalized, customer-facing print media including brochures, catalogs and magazines.
If you’ve been thoughtful about your social media content strategy, you’re among the lucky marketers out there whose Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and blogs appear to be doing exactly what they’re supposed to – in theory. Click through rates are high and your social media profiles are driving traffic to your organization’s site. All is right with the world right? eMarketer offers some data indicating that might not be the case.