By Susan Dart

Although the Web content management (WCM) market is not clearly defined yet, there are tools that are being used for large-scale Web development. Currently, the WCM tools have little configuration management (CM) support, perhaps only version control. There is no notion of a configuration item. In fact, the term “configuration management” is not a familiar one to WCM vendors. WCM tools rely on complete site rollback in the case of a problem or downtime, rather than reinstalling the previous release of the site. DynaBase, from Boston-based Inso, is the only vendor claiming that it provides CM facilities.
In this article, you’ll learn about Web content management tools and read the author’s advice for using configuration management. Earlier articles in this series included:Part 1:” Inability to maintain”Part 2: “Configuration management meets the needs of the Web”This content originally appeared in Wiesner Publishing’s Software Magazine and appears on TechRepublic under a special arrangement with the publisher.
Looking at the functionality in the tools, some of the team collaboration and workflow features found in CM tools are evident in WCM tools. For instance, TeamSite, from Interwoven , Sunnyvale, CA, provides visual differencing for examining two versions of content side by side. Tasks can be assigned to authors via notifications as well as when content is published on the Web. Content can be moved to a staging area each time it is changed or receives approval to be published. Macromedia’s Drumbeat 2000 (a result of Macromedia’s recent acquisition of Elemental Software) gives developers guidance on targeting code to specific browsers that support variant creation. In Raveler, from Computer Associates , Islandia, NY, (acquired with Platinum Technology) teams can be set up with pre-configured workflows.

Many companies are starting to use one of these tools for their Web development, realizing that simple HTML editors are not enough for large-scale Web production. In the future, more CM support will be introduced as the problems become better understood and as the CM vendors start merging their products with WCM vendors. Such merging is already evident in Macromedia’s licensing agreement with StarBase . Some WCM vendors realize they do not want to compete with CM vendors; rather, they need to collaborate with them. Merrill Lynch predicts that by the year 2002, the revenue from WCM tools will reach $5 billion.

Some Advice
Here is how to be proactive in putting your insurance policy in place via CM:

  1. Find out what CM is all about. The author has published several papers on the subject. (For a detailed description of operational aspects, see .) There are several books on software CM, but they mostly focus on a heavy-handed, governmental approach to CM. Books on Web publishing only focus on version control. CM vendors can provide a good overview of CM, but it will be from their products’ perspectives.
  2. Try out evaluation copies. Not all CM tools provide the same functionality. Some are version-control oriented (the “lite” end of the spectrum), some are developer-oriented, and some are full-functioned, process-oriented (the “heavy” end of the spectrum). Most vendors provide demos that can be downloaded for a trial period.
  3. If you aren’t already doing version control of your files, then start!
  4. Understand your CM requirements for Web programming. If you aren’t sure how to do this, talk to a CM consultant or a vendor.
  5. Understand that several crucial factors that affect your Web-CM requirements are: the CM corporate infrastructure strategy you will follow, along with the nature of changes—the rate of change, urgency, and priority, and volume of content to be changed.
  6. Due to the temporary nature of some Web content, decide what is important content, and hence, what needs to go under CM control.
  7. Don’t build your own CM functionality or tool; there are plenty of CM tools that will suit your needs. The Web technology tools will eventually have CM support in them either through mergers, integrations, or enhancements. In the meantime, approach the CM vendors for a solution, or demand that Web vendors provide more CM.
  8. Develop a good strategic approach to tool evaluation and deployment. Remember that good tool adoption boils down to people, process, and technology. Don’t forget that the people and process issues require attention.
  9. Keep asking the vendors to improve their tools by providing CM in the Web tools and creating HTML editors and generators that can check for, and help ensure, quality HTML code.
  10. When making strategic decisions about tool integration or APIs, consider using XML as the data format. It’s a standard, and many companies (such as Oracle, Microsoft, Netscape, IBM, and Sun) are providing significant support for it via browsers, parsers, and extensions to Java.
  11. Create guidelines for Web developers concerning structure of pages and links; for example, design a page as though the back button of the browser is nonexistent; links should not go deeper than five levels.
  12. Provide a “lite” version of CM for non-software content authors.
  13. Determine what constitutes a quality Web application. What should the criteria be and how would you measure them? Then, teach your developers these benchmarks.
  14. Prepare for redesign of your Web applications. It will happen. There are good reasons for it (such as attracting returning visitors to your Web site) and bad causes of it (such as limited scalability and poor site construction). You will want to reuse portions, so encapsulate well.
  15. Ensure that the mindset of Web developers is not that of document presentation, but rather, that of application development.

Susan Dart is a strategic consultant for configuration management and author of the forthcoming book Containing the Web Crisis with Configuration Management (Artech House, U.K).