Monday, March 19, 2007

Content Management Frameworks -- Tractare and Configuration

There are a large number of Content Management "Frameworks" out there -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_management_framework lists just a few. What is a "Content Management "Framework?" In essence, it is a programmable API for creating customized content management systems. In other words, a programmers way to create (using the framework) a CMS that supports all the stages of content lifecycle: Organization - Workflow - Creation - Repository - Versioning - Publishing - Archives (or some subset thereof). In essence, a CM framework is a foundation on which a custom CMS can be built.

The key features I would expect to see in a CM framework include (http://www.cmsreview.com/Features/Lists.html):

  1. a way to acquire both text and non-text content (acquisition, aggregation, authoring)
  2. a way to store and retrieve content
  3. a way to control workflow (roles/permissions, checkin/checkout, messaging/routing)
  4. a way to control versioning
  5. a way to control personalization and localization
  6. an interface to administration (reporting, management, etc.)
  7. a way to control content delivery (extraction, slicing, publishing, syndication, update)
  8. a way to implement business rules
  9. and others...
The trick is making this work as a framework. How much needs to be customized by a programmer and how much can be done by a very tech-savy non-programmer.

In our CM Framework (Tractare), we permit most of these features to be customized by scripting. For example, many organizations have IT departments that mandate the use of a particular DBMS (Oracle or SQL Server, for example). So in Tractare, there is a fairly simple configuration setting that allows selection of the database interface driver. But, since Tractare is a CM framework, we also expose the driver interface so that a programmer can create a driver for a database for which we have not supplied one. We make heavy use of configuration files so that non-programmers can customize the CMS.

Another area that we use scripting is in the interface elements (the "view" of the CMS). Internally, Tractare generates most interaction responses as an XML stream. This way, the entire user interface to Tractare can be tailored using XSLT scripts.

Depending on the application however, Tractare could still require an investment in programming. It is written in JAVA and intended to run as a web application (using servlets, etc.). So extending the code is a matter for a JAVA web programmer. But many features can be customized without this level of involvement.