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Bloated content management tools on the slide

by Edd Dumbill -- 2000/07/06

Jimmy Guterman writes in Inside that large media publishers are dropping monolithic systems like Vignette StoryServer and going for home-grown content management instead.

Any developer who has worked in web publishing for even a short while could have told these guys this a long time ago. Here's a a quote from the story from a chicagotribune.com editor:

We used the official Vignette system in their custom application and it was just terrible. Then our staff put a huge amount of effort into customizing it so it would work the way we needed it to, right inside a Web browser. That worked much better. Now they're extending that effort, just not with StoryServer underneath it.

It beats me how Vignette could ever have been seen as a logical choice. Here's the proposition: throw out everything you know (Perl, Python, shell scripting, ASPs, SQL server, whatever...) and start again with Tcl. OK, well, that's open source. Not the most elegant of languages, but. Oh, and some proprietary libraries. Then buy Oracle. And throw in a couple of million dollars for training. Not to mention the extra Sparc boxes you'll need for serving the darn stuff.

Perhaps the best reason I can find is that Vignette StoryServer is "reassuringly expensive", and the marketing is done well. It's the kind of investment that a board of directors can feel happy about.

It seems now, though, that the penny is finally dropping. In a previous life I developed several content management solutions that were lightweight and suited the tasks in hand. The time spent on them would have been comparable or less than developing the same thing on the Vignette platform, and the cost was significantly less. Guterman's conclusion hits the nail on the head:

In the long run, it's likely that more and more media sites will build (or contract out and supervise) their own solutions, built around standards like Java Server Pages that aren't dependent on one company for development and support. Since all the packaged systems need so much customization, you might as well build your system in your own idiosyncratic image from the start. It's where you're going to end up anyway.

It's great to see this kind of overwhelmingly sensible assessment of content management, sure to elicit choruses of approval from any developer who has grown their own CMS. Ironically, it appears that Guterman's article was published via... Vignette StoryServer!