The webmaster is dead, long live content management systems. Self-serve content. Freedom from the tedium of pee slash pee pee slash pee bee slash bee. Nice idea. But it’s not quite that simple.
See, a few years ago I set up an open source content management system for a small volunteer organization of which I am a fee paying member.
People were complaining about not getting information or not being able to keep all the emails straight or never hearing about the stuff they wanted to hear about.
“PHPNuke to the rescue,” I thought. “Cut paste and post and you’re done.” I’ve learned a few things since then. One of which is not to use PHPNuke. But the most significant lesson came today. And it has nothing to do with technology.
But I should rejoin the narrative before jumping to the moral.
Content management systems: build them and people won’t come
My site stood empty and unused but for the odd tentative exploration from the dweebier elements of the group. No one posted anything. They continued to share information by distribution lists in their email clients.
I gave up on the site and it continued to gather dust. The organization dutifully renewed its domain every year, but ultimately it was a waste of space. I fell behind on my PHPNuke upgrades and I became increasingly anxious about having an old version of the application with Christ knows how many XSS vulnerabilities just sitting out there on my web server.
So I proposed to the organization’s leadership that they set up a listserv instead. They like email. I mean they really like email and I figured a listserv could make that work more efficient. And I figured Mailman’s listinfo pages could handle the amount of markup required to host the documents they did want in a central repository.
Of course they went for it. And I’ve rejigged the site and set up their lists. Ducky.
But then a funny thing happened. People have started flooding me with things they want me to put on the web site for them. Am I the only person surprised by this?
Never mind that it’s only a few seconds to post something to PHPNuke. Never mind that you need to be only slightly smarter than a mouse pad to post to PHPNuke. Don’t matter. What matters is that someone else is going execute those half dozen or so keystrokes.
The need to communicate vs the need to do less work
The need to communicate is driven by the notion that someone else is doing the communication.
A recent Reuters article describes a survey which suggests about half of Internet users post some form of content – be it photos, a blog, message boards whatever. It’s possible that my co-workers are composed entirely of those belonging to the other half of the survey sample.
But I rather think that it’s more about organizational politics and bureaucracy.
Have I changed my mind on CMSs and self-publishing? Absolutely not. If by eliminating the buck passing and by requiring people to lift a finger to publish something, we force some consideration of whether or not report X should get published, then the CMS will have succeeded in ways I didn’t even imagine.