Managing your content

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For many sites, managing Web site content with homegrown tools has become impossible.

The variables are numerous: Anyone involved with your business is supposed to contribute to the site, but how do you control approvals? All sorts of file types should go on the site, but how do you maintain look and feel? All sorts of devices, such as wireless or interactive TV, want to connect to the site, but how do you make it useful to them?

There are many software choices for managing your Web site content, but each option brings its own questions. The decision to implement products of current content management market leaders, such as Vignette Corp.’s StoryServer and Interwoven Inc.’s TeamSite, can cost $1 million or more.

Personalization engines such as BroadVision Inc.’s One-To-One and document management solutions such as Documentum 4i have added content management features. But if you’re not tied to those vendors, should you switch for one feature?

A new wave of products, including EasyWeb from Top Floor Technologies Inc., Revize from Idetix Inc. and Mediasurface from Mediasurface Ltd., offer to do the job for less money, but they’re unproven.

IBM Corp. expects to release a Web content management product this fall and analysts expect Microsoft Corp. to eventually enter the market, but can you afford to wait for those releases?

Extensible markup language and Java are behind most new Web content management products. ‘‘XML is totally critical,’’ said Hadley Reynolds, research director for The Delphi Group, a Boston-based market research firm.

Guy Creese, a senior analyst for data knowledge with Aberdeen Group Inc., another Boston-based market research firm, said XML is becoming the new required architecture for two reasons: ‘‘The techno geeks thought it was neat . . . [and] the marketing folks recognized the platform was important.’’

Additional standards based on Java and XML are also important, said Jeff Jones, a senior program manager with IBM Data Management Solutions in San Jose. ‘‘There are Java standards for accessing data, JDBC and SQL J [structured query language for Java]. If the source of information is a data warehouse, there are standards for that based on XML [and] the Common Warehouse Data Interchange, which we worked on with Oracle and others.’’

Who’s got what

IBM currently offers content management features through its IBM Enterprise Information Portal, Jones said, and it partners with dozens of content management firms. A stand-alone Web content management product should be announced this fall.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Interwoven Inc., a provider of content management solutions, has grown 750% in its last fiscal year. To extend that success, Frank Florence, the company’s VP of b-to-b strategy, is pushing a framework called Content Interchange for B2B to sales sites, hubs and internal networks.

‘‘Today we have companies with as many as 2,200 people contributing to their Web site content,’’ he said. ‘‘As those sites are enabled for commerce, you need to handle the convergence of commerce and transaction data.’’

Application service providers can bring the most sophisticated content management applications within reach of modest budgets, said Brian Wick, director of whole product solutions for Documentum Inc., a Pleasanton, Calif.-based document management firm now entering the content management arena.

An ASP ‘‘lets customers capture the benefits of our system with minimal cost and time,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re really targeting our ASP program to those mid-tier markets.’’

Lower prices would also make content management more widespread, said George Cameron, president of Idetix, whose content management offering is called Revize.

‘‘I’m targeting a total cost of ownership per site of $300 per server and maintenance of $60 per year,’’ plus a ‘‘channel’’ charge per public site, he said. This compares with $1 million or more to buy, install and manage an Interwoven or Vignette installation, he said.

General Motors Corp., for instance, might be able to afford a sophisticated system, but car dealers need something simpler, Cameron said. ‘‘Anyone not pricing the way we are is missing the lion’s share of the market.’’

Newer competitors focused solely on Web content management based on XML and Java are convinced the market and technology are moving their way, said Gordon Kent, director of product marketing for eBusiness Technologies, Providence, R.I.

‘‘Soup-to-nuts content management companies’ suppliers like Vignette are based on older, often proprietary technology. The world is going to standards,’’ Kent said.

Technology standards are good, but standards universally accepted throughout the market may be better. You’ll have to wait for those, said Andy Warzecha, a VP with the Meta Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based market research firm.

‘‘Microsoft at this point is providing very rudimentary tools,’’ he said. Microsoft currently bundles its Commerce Server 2000 with a version of Interwoven’s software. But that won’t last forever, Warzecha insisted.

Once IBM and Microsoft are in the market, Warzecha concluded, content management should become a standard feature on the b-to-b Web.

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