I’m going to kick off 2010 with a blog post about Web Content Management, enough for now of my wittering on about my place in the social web or even web engagement.

Content is still king and as I catch up with three weeks or so of my RSS reader, it seems that at the end of last year – the decade – that there was a new CMS blogging trend and it’s for talking about trends, the CMS blogosphere was alive with predictions. All worthy of comment and I thought maybe I can chuck in some thoughts of my own.

For starters I’d better set some context, of what I think about our market historically, so you know where I stand.

Content Management has gone through various trends, casting my mind back, it was once believed that the CMS services (CMS only mean’t web publishing back then) would be commoditised down into the application server and that the application server in turn would be part of the operating system. We would then build content management and deliver applications (or portals) on this common back end – and of course this Java centric world view never came to pass.

Back then a CMS was an IT enabler and part of the infrastructure and that infrastructure grew to become managing all content and knowledge of an enterprise – an Enterprise Content Management System – it’s reach extending to Digital Asset Management, Document Management – the world became obsessed by compliance, records management and the vision moved from the geek to the librarian – of turning organisations into filing systems.

All very worthwhile, but in the meantime the budget and requirements pendulum swung toward the business – and marketing specifically – as they didn’t like the IT focus of these early CMS implementations, didn’t get the greater good of ECM and wanted to focus on the marketing problem at hand – a website they could own.

So, an agile, diverse, vibrant bunch of open source, small to mid-tier vendors rushed into the space the old titans of CMS (now ECM guys) had disconnected from. The focus was on ease of use, of rapid implementation, of appealing to this newly empowered business user and for some, their chums at the agency with easily accessible and cheap site building skills like PHP and ASP.NET.

And increasingly, through social media making people at ease with web publishing – a democratisation of content authoring.

Yes I know, I’ve simplistically crashed through quite a lot of history in a few crude paragraphs, but in a nutshell – we’ve gone from pleasing the geeks, then the librarians to it being all about the business user, the marketer or the communicator.

This broad band of website building offerings, delivery models and tools that enable real people to add pages to a website, from a range of vendors – the ECM leviathans to open source projects – came to be known as WCM. And it is a broad church of technologies, best practice, capabilities (from a blog, a brochureware site to a multi-national roll out of hundreds of personalised sites) and of course prices.

To some a WCM is nothing more than a PHP UI on a database, or maybe it’s a web delivery infrastructure and to others its an intelligent purveyor of well understood personalised content to the discerning, well understood visitor – its hard to tell what’s out of the box and what’s down down to the skill of the crew that builds with it.

Which brings me back to my trend topic and the predictions – this nebulous haze of requirements, product and solution capability has attracted a fair amount of comment, as my fellow bloggers swish around the tea leaves for what’s next.

The general view is that WCM – the acronym, the definition of this as a software space is up for debate and that maybe 2010 is the year we see some changes.

Barb Mosher in Emerging Trends in Web Content Management over at CMSWire says:

we really need to think less about WCM as the only way to categorize a product/solution/platform and start thinking tag lines like “Web Publishing Framework”, “Integrated Online Marketing”, “Content Creation and Management”. Are we caught up in trying to define a market that is changing so rapidly that it really defies definition?

Laurence Hart (@piewords) also touches on this, in his Predictions for 2010 post:

Constantly Hyping Acronyms Of Systems: WCM is suffering. It doesn’t really cover mobile platforms well and there are big differences in the presentation and the management of the landscape.

Enterprise Content Management and WCM will go their separate ways. Okay, that isn’t going to happen, but it NEEDS to happen. Why? Because it is distracting them from their core, which is the platform and their core applications.

This last comment was inspired by the CMSWatch predictions, one of which being that Document Management and ECM will go their separate ways (so if ECM and WCM are splitting, who’s left at the ECM party?). CMSWatch also inspired a typically entertaining post from Jon Marks – in which he says:

Enterprise Content Management is well defined. The term WCM is horseshit, unnecessary and should take a long walk off a short pier….. I can already see the news headlines: LONDON, 2009 – SHOCK HORROR! WCM Geek Demands Death of term WCM. But it’s true. I’m of the camp that wished the term WCM would cease to exist.

Jon then goes onto de-construct WCM into its constituent parts, with an underlying content infrastructure layer with common standards (CMIS/JCR), separated from a delivery framework.

His post inspired Seth Gottlieb at Content Here, who agrees, wondering if we should go back to calling it CM  – you should also check out Peter Monks and The Case for Killing “WCM”, inspired by Jon (and he nicely puts how we WCM folks feel about Jon calling us losers!). Then, if you haven’t had your WCM predictions fill, then I’d also suggest a look at this from Peter Monks on his shiny new personal blog.

I am not sure how one goes about creating the tipping point that defines a new software segments or niche, how do we get customers asking for one of these new website-publishing-but-not-WCM-doohickies?

Clearly the analysts are key to this, CMSWatch had a stab at realigning their tiers and I think that’s definitely work in progress and needs at least a bit more explanation, Gartner have got back into WCM after a long absence of ECM focus and Forrester have long observed WCM as part of the marketing platform mix. But – I am sure that CMSWire, Jon, Peter, Seth, Barb and Lawrence have more influence than they admit, so perhaps it could be the year of the death of the definition of WCM as we know it today.

OK, so I had better venture my own predictions, it would be rude not having had a look at what these folks have had to say.

Personally, I think whatever we call it – we’ve had the era of IT, the librarian and the business user/marketer – and whilst clearly all of these folks should be catered for in the WCM of 2010 – I think it’s the era of the audience, our community, citizens or customers – the visitor.

Yes folks, it’s web engagement – sorry, did I say I wan’t going to talk about that…?

Image of cystal ball published under Creative Commons License, courtesy of  Bitterjug