A decade ago, when Dartmouth selected the web content management system (CMS) OmniUpdate, the criteria and choices were quite different. In the early 2000s, some of the sophisticated CMSes familiar today (OmniUpdate, WordPress, Dot.Net.Nuke, Drupal, Expression Engine) were just getting off the ground. In this Paleozoic era of the web*, higher ed institutions, if they were using a CMS, probably had a home-grown solution with functionality for delivering the basic information needed to operate on a daily basis.
- An editing interface—the beloved WYSIWYG
- Core organizational functionality—to create content for publishing and later locate it for editing
- Version control—to provide back-ups and facilitate multiple user editing
- Permissions and roles—to manage and control work flows
- Search function—if you were lucky!
Driven by our use patterns, the web is an evolving organism that we want more from, more than a list of courses or a place to find locations for our seasonal flu shot. No longer just sitting there as a storage facility for utilitarian information, today it reaches out, grabs us, engages, and connects us in a complex network of shared social interests and collaborative opportunities.
Modern CMSes can help us tell our stories, engage with people around the world, syndicate news, and shout out all the fascinating things to do—every minute of the day! Behind all of this sits communication goals and robust technology platforms. CMSes, which are shifting from management to delivery and experience, meet the higher expectations we have for how a digital publishing platform must function.
- Can it scale to support hundreds of micro-sites and sub-sites?
- Can we easily add functionality as the needs of web publishing change? Think about how the pressures of mobile devices has impacted web publishing.
- Is it easy for a non-technical user to create and publish content? Ease-of-use has allowed people of all ages, nationalities, and skill sets to create blogs and engage in social networks, adding texture to our collective experience.
- Can it translate content into multiple languages? Our audience is increasingly a global one.
- Does it play well with others to collect and deliver from existing technology systems?
- Can it facilitate publishing to multiple channels, social networks, and blogs?
- How does it manage and integrate user-generated content?
- Does it provide analytics? Observing how people engage with our web presence allows us to adapt to needs and desires.
Recently a group of communicators and IT professionals from across the institution began evaluating our needs for an improved web publishing system. With these questions answered, we have drawn a tight circle around leaders in the CMS field out of the hundreds of systems available today.
As a companion project to the web redesign project, this fall Computing Services will begin the exciting process of specifying, customizing, building, and deploying the best choice for campus digital publishing that plants us firmly in the future.
* On April 30, 1993, CERN announced that the World Wide Web would be free to anyone, with no fees due.