WordPress vs. an army of clunky content management systems

Summary:Updated below: There's a good discussion on the line between journalism and blogging, but it's also worth noting the technology gulf between media companies and their content minions. In Scott Karp's overall discussion asking whether blogs can do journalism--I think it's all the same and chances are techies don't care anyway--he touches on blogs partially being a function of their Web-native content management systems.

Updated below: There's a good discussion on the line between journalism and blogging, but it's also worth noting the technology gulf between media companies and their content minions.

In Scott Karp's overall discussion asking whether blogs can do journalism--I think it's all the same and chances are techies don't care anyway--he touches on blogs partially being a function of their Web-native content management systems. Blogs, often delivered via WordPress, have built-in advantages over content management systems such as RSS feeds, comments, trackbacks and inline links.

And when it comes to ease of use, a blog platform beats or average CMS hands down. So why have I been stuck with so many clunky CMS systems over the years? There's a host of reasons, but most of these afflictions come from strange IT management practices.

At ZDNet we use WordPress for blogs, but in previous positions I've almost always had some custom built creation that usually stinks. Sure, these CMS systems may have started out as standard, but sooner or later they turn into this Frankenstein creation. And lookout below if the guy that cooked up the code ever leaves. If there's an open source option that has rich features why would you spend time building the same thing?

One theory I have is that there's some secret "developer full-time employment act" that means these programmers have to do something even if it's just replicating work that's already been done. Kind of like New Jersey where every gas station is full serve (that had to be some full employment gambit back in the day).

Part of this "let's build our own CMS" disease comes from your typical not-invented-here management practices. Here's how this plays out: Geeks get together with media folks that like to pretend they know technology. Then they haggle over requirements, which typically resemble things already out there. But these folks enjoy reinventing the wheel. Then they miss deadlines. In the end, they only to build something that you could get via WordPress--if you're lucky.

Granted, I'm oversimplifying a bit, but not by much.

The conversations go like this:

Geek: What are your requirements?

Media manager: We'd like to have RSS feeds, ease of use, inline links and other stuff.

Geek: I can build that.

Never once does anyone say, "Umm. This stuff exists why don't we just use that?" Enter the Frankenstein content system.

That abbreviated conversation plays out over and over at media companies. Most media companies have numerous CMS systems. One platform? That's just crazy talk--it makes too much sense. Use something that has an army of developers already cooking stuff up--for free? No way we like doing things the hard way.

Will media types ever figure this out? I doubt it. While bloggers are debating the line between journalism and blogging big media companies are still building custom CMS monsters. I was having a few beers the other day with one of the people responsible for building these things--he's a build don't buy it type (even if the technology is open source). His company is a media behemoth that is trying to roll out a CMS to dozens of brands that don't want the new system anyway. So far, the CMS has one or two converts and dozens to go. Silly things like RSS feeds are probably coming--in some future feature list that will be years behind the curve.

Update: Dennis Howlett pinged me about this post to point out that WordPress isn't a CMS and is stretched beyond its capability. He's right, but that doesn't mean that this custom CMS rat's nest at media companies isn't an epidemic. You should sit in on some of these CMS conversations I've been in on. Root canal is a vacation. Also note: We're not perfect by any means and we have a separate CMS to ride shotgun with WordPress so we're as guilty as the rest of the gang.

Topics: Software, Enterprise Software

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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