Have you used a legacy content management system? An enterprise CMS? Something a little older and stodgier than WordPress? How about SharePoint, even — either as a document management system or a CMS?
Now…think for just a minute … Imagine that you’re 24 years old, on your first job. You’re experienced in using Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and [don’t admit it out loud] even Facebook. Imagine your reaction to seeing how the guts of that legacy system work. It’s not a pretty picture.
Once you get past Tumblr, Twitter, or a social system that relies heavily on APIs or drag and drop [both simple and seamless for the user], content management feels very awkward at best. When you move past WordPress, it becomes quite complex.
Some of that complexity is for good reason. Enterprise-scale content management systems are complex partly because the work they do is complex.
Many of the trickiest issues lie in how the content management system is created and customized, far more technical than the day-to-day work of a typical content creator. Some content management systems tie into other systems and databases for rules, templates, data storage and presentation, while some are all-in-one products. The more platforms you add to the work, the more complicated things get for the content creator.
I’ve worked in many systems that can’t get beyond the document concept for each piece of content in their user interface representations, even if the way the system works is far more flexible than simply displaying a facsimile of a piece of paper. When we represent to users that they’re creating documents, their mental model thinks “page.” In many CMS today, we need to think chunks, not pages. Not articles. Even if we put chunks together in the end in a way that resembles an article, our mental models need to change to allow us to do other things, as well.
And we need user interfaces that help content creators visualize these content chunks, and their broad [or specific] applicability in a complex system.
And let’s not forget — we need to meet content creators’ increasingly sophisticated expectations of how they want to interface with technology. While unicorns are awesome, most people using most systems won’t be so ambidextrous. We need systems designed for real users that allow us to efficiently solve complex content problems.