Maybe It’s Not Content Management Anymore. Maybe It’s Context Management.

Content management systems are losing some of their innovation luster, in part because our needs are changing. Your CMS still matters, but the context for your content has to extend beyond the web.

Has the idea of the content management system become passé, or at least no longer innovative?

You might think so, based on a recent decision by Gartner, the famed tech-trend predictor that had long kept an eye on the space through something it calls the Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. Well, until now: After publishing the report for roughly two decades, Gartner decided to drop it this year.

Those 20 or so years encompassed a lot of trends—the explosion of blogging, the growing influence of open-source software on online publishing (particularly WordPress and Drupal), the emergence of Web 2.0 and responsive design, and more recent content management approaches like JAMstack and the “headless CMS.” In 2020, however, Gartner has decided we need another term for the digital content space that better matches the market. As CMSWire notes, the firm is taking a broader approach with its new report, ‌Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms [registration].

To put this another way, content presented on the web is no longer the end point of the digital experience.

“Because now it’s not only the web, obviously, that we need to tackle when you have Alexa, chatbots, and different devices, modalities, and channels,” Gartner Lead Analyst Irina Guseva told CMSWire. “Content is not dying. It’s just turning into an original idea of a content management system that’s intended for different content types and now for different channels.”

Content, and Context, Everywhere

In many ways, the rescoping of Magic Quadrant leans heavily on established players like Drupal lead developer Acquia and the highly diversified Adobe, which has purchased both Magento and Marketo in recent years to boost its digital marketing presence.

The new report mostly sidesteps questions about the role of open source in modern content management—Automattic, which runs the incredibly popular WordPress, is nowhere to be found here, though it was mentioned in the Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management report last fall. But the rebranding hints at what seems to be Gartner’s view that it’s increasingly important to have a big company’s support infrastructure at your back.

I’m admittedly skeptical about that. You can get pretty great support from hosts that manage open-source CMS platforms. But I do think that Gartner has a point here: If we only frame our need for content management around the web, it’s going to limit our opportunities. We live in a world where content distribution matters more than ever. Artificial intelligence and voice assistants, tools that weren’t a factor a decade ago, are now common. And your association has to account for them strategically at some point—if not now, soon.

Most associations have the content part of content management down. The problem is that content has to live everywhere—or if not everywhere, certainly in multiple places. It might need to show up in apps, on smart watches, in inboxes, on social media, and potentially even on internet-of-things devices. We can’t just build for what we know is there anymore—we need to build our tools for contexts we haven’t even considered yet. Our contexts are changing along with our content, and we need to manage them.

If it helps: The next time you hear the term CMS, think of it as a “context management system.” Does the tool allow you to simplify your distribution through, say, an application programming interface (API)? Or are you simply going to be doing a lot of juggling?

That’s going to be the differentiator for the next generation of tech tools designed for distributing content, and the less flexible they are, the more frustrated you’re going to feel about them down the line.

Context matters more than ever.

Can your content live in all these places? (Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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